Motherwell Homestead History
William R. Motherwell (1860-1943) — Ontario schoolboy, prairie homesteader, Saskatchewan dry farmer, provincial and federal Minister of Agriculture, and eminent Canadian — was most aptly described as “first, last and always a farmer.”
Farming was indeed Motherwell’s first love. Yet that personal experience with the enormous challenges of homesteading the southern Saskatchewan prairie was what pushed him away from his model farmstead in Abernethy to serve in the Saskatchewan legislature in Regina for thirteen years, and in Canada’s House of Parliament for another eighteen. It spurred him on to be an advocate and a political voice for the farmers of Western Canada.
Born in Ontario on January 6, 1860, William Motherwell was the fourth son of his Irish father, John Motherwell, and English mother, Eliza (Janet) Motherwell. On the family farm in Lanark County near Perth, Ontario, Motherwell’s boyhood was spent in the pattern of rural Ontario life — attending the country school in the winter and working on the farm in the busy summer season. After graduating from the college, Motherwell headed west and in 1882, Motherwell was one of the first to select land in the Abernethy district.
With a pair of oxen and a plough he broke the land and began to farm. In December 1884 Motherwell married Adeline Rogers and had 4 children. The Motherwells farmed and raised their small family in the log house for thirteen years until it was finally replaced in 1897 by an impressive stone house that stands to this day, the centre of the Motherwell Homestead National Historic Site.
At the age of 44, Motherwell’s wife, Adeline passed away just as Motherwell was beginning his political career. After Adeline’s death Motherwell took on his duties in the Saskatchewan legislature and resided in Regina for three years with the children.
Appointed Saskatchewan’s first Minister of Agriculture in 1906 he began making the changes he thought most essential to improving the lot of western Canada’s farmers.
However, the homestead in Abernethy, referred to as “Lanark Place“, again became the Motherwell family’s centre in 1908 when William Motherwell married Catherine Gillespie. Motherwell resigned from his Saskatchewan cabinet post in 1917, and his seat in 1918 in protest to the provincial Liberals’ pro-conscription stand during the World War I years, as well as their policy to curtail French language rights in the Saskatchewan public schools.
But after only a few short years, Motherwell was again tempted back into public life. He was nearly 62 years old in 1921 when he ran for federal politics and was elected in the Regina constituency by a large majority. Prime Minister William Lyon MacKenzie King invited him to serve as Canada’s Minister of Agriculture, which he did from 1922-25 and 1926-30. After August, 1930 Motherwell sat on the Opposition side of the House under Conservative Prime Minister R. B. Bennett until MacKenzie King’s Liberals returned to office in 1935. The 1935 federal election was Motherwell’s last.
Just before he reached the age of 80, he retired from politics in 1939. W.R. Motherwell was designated an eminent Canadian for his contributions to the development of agriculture on the prairies; his activities as a farm activist and reformer; and his years of service as a provincial and federal Minister of Agriculture.
His homestead was designated a national historic site in 1966 because of its architectural interest and its historic associations with the career of Motherwell, and as an illustration of a prairie homestead of Western Canada’s settlement period.
The Motherwell Homestead National Historic Site depicts the lifestyles, costumes, and architecture of the early 20th century. Costumed guides gives a glimpse of the life and career of W.R. Motherwell, and his significant influence on the development of scientific agriculture in Western Canada.
Parks Canada. 2014