When W.J. Elliott arrived in Alberta to become the first president of Olds College, he quickly decided he needed to enlist supporters for his bid to modernize agriculture in the province.
So he started Alberta’s first 4-H club — the Olds Junior Pig Club.
“He had noticed that there were some poor livestock genetics in the area so he actually started the club to enhance the breeding and seedstock of livestock — in this case, swine,” said Cameron Horner, a communications specialist with the provincial government’s 4-H Section.
Elliott’s decision to turn to kids to upgrade agriculture was a deliberate one.
“He said that not everyone was of the same scientific mind that he was and I think that was one of the reasons that the kids were important for him,” said Horner.
“Some people, as they get older, aren’t as open to new things, right? But the kids would be more open because his ideas would be new and innovative. It’s just like now with things like social media — kids tend to be earlier adopters than their parents.”
Elliott’s faith in youth would, of course, be proven over and over again as the 4-H concept spread across the province.
“This year’s numbers aren’t in yet, but last year we had 350 clubs, 6,000 members, and 2,000 leaders — so we’ve come a long way,” said Horner.
Those accomplishments will be on display as Alberta 4-H celebrates its 100th anniversary.
“We’ll be kicking it off on Nov. 9 at Farmfair International,” said Horner. “I can’t release some of the details yet but we’ll be unveiling some cool and exciting ventures we have planned. And we’ll have a new 4-H song that’s been written by an Alberta country and western artist, so that will be exciting, too.”
The kickoff at Farmfair is one of the ‘big three’ provincial events planned for the anniversary celebrations. The second takes place in March when the Western Regional Leaders’ Forum is held in Edmonton. The forum will bring together 4-H leaders and staff from Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, Nevada, California, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Hawaii, Alaska, and Alberta.
“This is the first time it’s ever been held in Canada,” said Horner. “We’re expecting about 650 people. Our (Alberta) leaders’ conference is usually about 200 people, so this will be more than triple the size. We’re really looking forward to it.”
The final big provincial event (there will be numerous regional ones as well as club celebrations) has been dubbed 4-H Centennial Fever or just 4-H Fever.
“That will be held at our birthplace of 4-H in Olds on the August long weekend,” said Horner. “This is a signature event and will be open to alumni, current members, and people who just want to learn more about 4-H. We’ll be showcasing some of our projects — some livestock projects, some of our life-skills projects, our speaking competition — along with a concert and kids’ activities.”
Back in Elliott’s day, 4-H was known as the Boys and Girls clubs and the focus was squarely on livestock and agronomy.
“I guess the biggest difference since the swine club was started in 1917 is that we now have 35 projects,” said Horner. “And it’s really unlimited because some of those projects have creative options that allow kids to do a lot of different things. You can do just about anything you want and still get the benefit of the 4-H experience — such as public speaking, record-keeping, entrepreneurship, or governance.
“Livestock is still our base, but we offer a lot more.”
For more information on anniversary events, go to 4H.ab.ca.