Edward “Ted” Poyser doesn’t remember too much about the Manitoba village the provincial soil is named after.
“Just that it wasn’t a very big place,” says long-retired provincial soil specialist now 90, who grew up on a farm at Austin, Man.
Many decades have passed since he and his colleagues spent time there, digging and classifying soil samples nearby. But Poyser has extensive knowledge of the work that produced the Manitoba soil survey itself. He worked on it from the 1940s onward and has detailed recollections of criss-crossing rural Manitoba with township maps, gathering and documenting data that would ultimately become the soil survey’s extensive series of reports.
Young soil scientists working on that survey made Newdale the namesake of the clay loam which they’d identified across a wide area of western Manitoba.
“That was where the boys hit it and that’s where they decided they would name it,” he said in an interview earlier this spring at his residence in Winnipeg.
They were working under the direction of Joseph “Joe” Henry Ellis, head of the University of Manitoba’s soils department, who’d begun the provincial soil survey in 1927. The work continued through the decades, coming to a halt only between 1932 and 1934 when federal and provincial governments’ coffers dried up, then resuming in 1935 in the southwestern corner of the province where drought and soil erosion were most severe.
Information from the survey was initially made available locally in a preliminary form. Final reports and maps on southwestern and south-central Manitoba were published in the late 1950s. Poyser is widely credited with publishing some of the first reports — although he says that praise is due his mentor Professor Ellis.
Poyser can remember when the report material was still raw data.
“Joe had all this information and when I started working, one of my jobs, when land surveyors would want to know something… I’d have to dig all this damned stuff out of his vault… and answer the letters,” he recalls.
“One day I said to Joe, ‘what we should do is get it published.’”
Poyser’s career, as a soils specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, was devoted to soil health and conservation. He was instrumental in establishing the first conservation district of Manitoba — the Whitemud Watershed Conservation District — and recently was honoured by the province when it named a protected area within WWCD’s wildlife management area the Edward A. Poyser Unit.
The Manitoba soil survey reports themselves remain an invaluable resource and foundational documents for ongoing soil science and research today.
In some parts of Manitoba these reports remain the only source of soil information ever collected, soil scientists of today note. They contain detailed descriptions of surveyed areas’ physical features, factors affecting soil development as well as describe the potential of soil in a given region for various agricultural, engineering and urban uses.
“There’s a wealth of information in it,” said Elaine Gauer, a provincial land use specialist with Manitoba Agriculture. “It describes the general soil of the area, the texture, the limitations and challenges that farmers can face.”
It is in the Report of Reconnaissance Soil Survey of Rossburn and Virden Map Sheet Areas (Soils Report No. 6) which covered 5,768 sq. miles and was published in April 1956, that the Newdale Association was documented.
There are many detailed and intriguing references, including that ‘a complimentary livestock enterprise for farms on Newdale soils is not only desirable from the standpoint of suitability of the area to feed crops and utilization of wasteland…’ and how ‘prior to the development of early-maturing varieties of wheat this area was known as oat country…’
Many other soil associations, also bearing small-town names such as Miniota, Harding, Carroll, Rackham, and so forth appear in this report.
An association is a group of soils, explains Curtis Cavers, agrologist with Agriculture Canada.
“You’ve got ‘Newdales’ in the association, which is one particular soil type, but then you also have those that represent the wetlands, ones that represent hilltops and things like that. There’s similarities in other parts of the province but there might be slight differences in climates and vegetation,” he said.
“It’s kind of like a family of soils. There’s individuals and then there’s cousins and parents and siblings.”
Cavers is a member of the Manitoba Soil Science Society (MSSS) which in 2017 is marking its own milestone — its 60th anniversary. It’s an organization Poyser recalls the early days of back in 1957.
“No. 1, it was for communication,” he said. “We’d have the soil conservation guys talking about what they were doing, and the land assessors talking about the problems they were having and the fertility people talking about their fertilizer trials,” he said. “And then we’d have two or three students talking about something.”
Today members of the MSSS continue that conversation, sharing research with each other and strengthening their collaboration. The proclamation of Manitoba’s official soil in 2010 was the cumulation of years of MSSS members’ efforts to have one soil named and serve as a starting point for talking about soil with all Manitobans.
A new sign on Newdale’s Main Street, plus two others along Hwy. 16, will now do that talking, and tell the story of its namesake village too.