Cigi’s first executive director dead at 97

Teaching himself as he went along, Victor Martens quickly rose through the grain industry

Victor Martens, seen here in 1981, was the founding executive director of Cigi.

The man who conceived the Canadian International Grains Institute and was the organization’s first executive director died on July 26.

Victor Martens was 97 and had a formidable career in the agriculture sector, all without the benefit of formal post-secondary education.

In 1938 he visited the Grain Research Laboratory in Winnipeg searching for a job. He quickly distinguished himself as an able technician and was noted for developing his skills and quickly moving up the ranks of the organization.

He was also responsible for many improvements in the ability to test and grade grain.

Among his many achievements he contributed to the invention of the official electronic moisture metre to test the moisture of grain in Canada and the U.S., he drafted and helped negotiate the passage of the Canadian Grain Act of 1971, he brought the International Cereal and Bread Congress to Winnipeg in 1978 and acted as the event chair.

While Martens was largely self-taught, he always regretted never attending university. However, that didn’t stop him from contributing to the academic world. He taught himself calculus so he could better work with cereal chemists and published a dozen academic papers and completed a further 56 for internal use at Cigi. In 1979, he was awarded Honorary Membership in the American Association of Cereal Chemists for “rendering unusual service to the science of cereals and related materials.”

Martens’ career took him across the country and around the world, making the case for Canadian grain in more than 50 countries, including two early visits to China in 1966 and 1970, predating the famous visit of U.S. president, Richard Nixon in 1972.

Martens also contributed to the unique nature of downtown Winnipeg with the unusually shaped ‘mushroom’ building where Cigi is currently headquartered on Main Street.

Its unique design allowed the top two floors to be larger than those below to accommodate a full grain mill, while still fitting into the limited footprint at street level.

Victor married Anne Toews in 1942, and they had three children and later nine grandchildren.

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