4-H Canada Celebrates its 100th Anniversary

Pledging Head, Heart, Hands, and Health

By Ania Swiatoniowski

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Celebrating a century since their formation, 4-H in Canada has been helping youth grow, learn, and recognize their potential. Since 1913, the club has enjoyed a long history in the agricultural education of youth, but also in introducing youth to new ideas and opportunities. 4-H Canada’s origins are in working with rural youth to help “improve agriculture, increase and better production, and enrich rural life.” Today members engage in projects that cover a breadth of topics, but the core tenants and structure of 4-H encapsulated in the official club motto, “Learn to do by doing”, have held true. 

The home of 4-H in Canada is recognized as Roland, Manitoba, a rural municipality where in 1913 a Boys and Girls club was formed. Shortly thereafter, other Boys and Girls clubs that would also become 4-H clubs were formed. In 1952, the organization took on the name of 4-H and, in 1971, they adopted the current title, Canadian 4-H Council.

In 1990 a museum was established in Roland to commemorate the birthplace of 4-H in Canada as its official museum. “The museum accepts artifacts related to 4-H that are donated by individuals,” explains Kyla Orchard, curator of the museum. “The museum is very important. It has a huge influence because 4-H’ers are very proud of it, especially in Roland.” The museum is open for visitation during the summer months. The 4-H Museum holds artifacts from the formation of the club in Roland to the present.

As of 4-H’s centennial anniversary, over 24,000* members across Canada participate in over 40,000 4-H projects and 7,500 dedicated volunteer leaders give their time to guide these members. There are 4-H clubs in every province and are open to both rural and non-rural youth.  [*Most recent data.]

The four H’s pledge is accompanied by the club’s official motto: “Learn to Do by Doing”. The motto gives a good insight into the core of the 4-H philosophy and the club structure. The structure of 4-H revolves around members – between 8 and 21 years of age — joining or forming projects of interest to them and being guided by 4-H leaders.

Projects in 1913 concerned perfecting techniques for field crops, livestock, garden projects, and others. These were submitted for competition in agricultural shows. Today thousands of projects are available to 4-H’ers, including various sciences, leadership, public speaking, technical trades, computers, outdoor living, as well as the traditional agricultural projects. The early agricultural projects were meant to be relevant to the futures of the rural Manitoba youth. The range of projects now shares this aim, but also introduce youth to new topics and idea.

4-H Canada Profiles and Projects

Devon Baete is a 4-H volunteer leader and a former member. He is the 4-H leader for the outdoor living projects in Bruxelles, Manitoba. Baete and Bruxelles 4-H members have accomplished an impressive multi-year project in creating the Bruxelles Wetland Classroom, where they transformed an abandoned marsh into an educational wetland area.

The Bruxelles Wetland Classroom project is an illustration of 4-H principles at work. Members helped with designing and building the site, which improves the health of the wetland ecosystem and which is available for use by the public and schools within the area.

“Members have also done a lot of volunteer education at the school,” says Baete, who is a Resource Technician working with water and soil sampling at the Assiniboine Hills Conservation District. “It was [also] great to see them using skills they had learned in previous 4-H projects, such as welding and carpentry.” The site was completed in June.

As a former member participant in outdoor living projects, Baete knows how important the experience will be to the members he now guides. “It’s a very good programme. I still use skills I learned as a young member. [The programme] gives you the skills and confidence to [spend time] outdoors.”

Clayton Robins is a Manitoba 4-H Council Executive Director and has participated in 4-H throughout his life, as both a member and leader. He is a 4th generation agricultural producer from Rivers, Manitoba and a 4th generation 4-H member and leader in his family. Robins was a researcher at the Brandon Research Centre in the Beef and Forage programme for 22 years before joining 4-H in 2011. He has recently been awarded the prestigious Nuffield Scholarship. During his Nuffield research, he is travelling to eight countries, “looking at ways to produce higher quality forage to [reduce] time in traditional feedlots in Canada,” says Robins, research that could improve forage management and which has implications for greenhouse gas management. He has also been working on bringing the 4-H programme to existing youth education on environment and conservation.

Robins participated in the beef club as a member. He indicates that his experiences as a 4-H member “strongly influenced [his] choice of careers”. When asked if he’s seen 4-H change over his time involved Robins says, “Not really. Not in the core principles. Those are the same. There are new activities, but 4-H itself has remained true to its core principles.”

Morley Handford was born and raised in southern Manitoba and was a 4-H member as a youth. He was Senior V.P. and Exec. VP with Exxon/Imperial Oil for 30 years and has worked throughout the world. In his retirement, he continues to be a passionate supporter of 4-H Canada.

When asked about the applicability of 4-H projects to youth in terms of future careers in the resources industries, Handford explains, “responsibly managing the environment has been critical for years in the energy industry and now we’re just really beginning to get 4-H involved in environment projects…. Growing up in 4-H today, there’s a rapid increase in the number of clubs that get involved in the environmental [issues]… such as preservation of streams and natural habitat. That’s a big deal today in the energy industry, in renewables and fossil fuels. We have clubs like this [now]”.

Projects like the Bruxelles Wetland Classroom give members some experience and exposure to environmental management, which Handford believes will be important skills for 4-H members that may choose to pursue careers in natural resources infrastructure.

“But 4-H is one thing that I’ve always had a genuine appreciation of,” says Handford, reflecting back on his time as a member. “A little bit of work way back when you were a kid in 4-H can come in handy.”

The Roland Museum is the official museum for 4-H Canada. The Gala celebration for the 100th anniversary was held on May30th in Winnipeg.  A large celebration was held to commemorate the centennial anniversary at the Roland Museum on May 31st as well. There were several prominent guest speakers and each province donated an item to the museum.

The common themes of the individuals’ dialogues above is that the most important aspect of participating in 4-H as a member was learning and personal development.

“Planting a seed of interest and exposure to new ideas,” Baete cites as important. While the projects have expanded into new topic areas, the core tenants of 4-H remain solid and agricultural education of rural youth remains a critical element in 4-H, a century later.

Projects and research undertaken by 4-H members, leaders, and directors can have important and positive impacts on their communities, the environment, and even broader implications. Combined, the 4-H programme can have an important impact on the future agricultural workforce and that of other resources and in environmental work and will continue to have an important impact on the thousands of youth who have joined 4-H.

For ways to get involved and help grow the 4-H movement in Canada, see the 4-H Canada website:


Resources Quarterly - Fall 2013

This feature originally appears in the Fall 2013 edition of Resources Quarterly.

Click here or on the cover to view the entire issue.