Soy intersects with Canadian history

Hey, Canada! Our 150th milestone is coming up on July 1. When you think about it, we are more than furs, fish and firs. The forgotten milestone is that 400 years ago – July 15, 1617 to be exact –Louis Hébert arrived on the site of Quebec City and began to plant apples, vineyards and grain crops.

Many of Canada’s historical signposts celebrate agricultural firsts: the McIntosh apple in 1811, Marquis wheat in 1904. But soybeans are also part of the history in becoming the country’s most important grain legume crop.

Back in 1881, the Ontario Agricultural College tested its first soybeans in Guelph, using Japanese soybean lines. A few years later, the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa followed suit.

By 1909, the Japanese immigrant population on the British Columbia coast was large enough to warrant a shipment of soy sauce from the homeland. Eight thousand Japanese consumed 250,000 litres in short order. The following year, the first tofu shops appeared in Vancouver.

In Ontario, breeding efforts by Charles Zavitz continued apace, producing OAC 211, the first soybean variety to be registered in Canada in 1923. When World War II arrived, there was a critical shortage of both oil and protein – a need fulfilled partly by soybeans grown in southwestern Ontario. In 1946, the Ontario Soybean Growers’ Association was formed in Leamington, encouraged by soybean production that topped one million bushels for the first time.

The rapid development of soybeans did not go unnoticed by Japanese agricultural traders, and in 1972, Ontario growers developed an identity-preserved program that favoured varieties suitable for making tofu and miso for the Japanese market. As recently as 2015, exports of Canadian food-grade soybeans to Japan totalled $260 million.

Our ingenuity knows no bounds, as the quality of Canadian soybeans earns praise both globally and domestically.