Herman Trelle: World Wheat King

Image: Herman Trelle in his wheat field, Alberta, ca. 1936. (SPRA

In January and February, we featured Kay Trelle in our Telling Our Stories blog series. This month we’re going back a generation to meet his father, Herman.

Herman Trelle was an internationally recognized grain farmer who won many international grain championships and awards in the 1920s and early 1930s. The Herman Trelle family fonds (fonds 193) documents his life in the South Peace and journey to international renown.

Trelle took over his family’s farm with his wife Beatrice in 1920, when his parents retired.  By this time, Herman had already spent many summers proving up his homestead and working on the family farm.  He also completed an undergraduate degree from the University of Alberta, and enlisted in the 1st Depot Battalion, Alberta Regiment during World War I. After the war he married Beatrice Irene Burdick whom he had met while working in his father’s mill.

Herman and Beatrice Trelle farmed very successfully near Saskatoon Lake, and soon gained international recognition for growing prize winning grain in the Peace Country. Their first award was at the Edmonton show in 1922 for Ruby wheat and Banner oats. Only one year later, they won third prize in spring wheat at the Chicago Fair. This was the beginning of multiple awards.

In 1928 the Trelle farm won a double championship in wheat and oats at the Chicago Fair: the first time in history that the two championships had been won by a single competitor. According to an article by Ina Bruns, “from 1926 to 1934 he won 135 international awards. Between 1926-1928 he and his wife entered 56 exhibits in thirteen major shows and won 43 championships, 14 were international. In 1931, Herman Trelle won not only the wheat crown, but world titles for oats, rye, flax and timothy.”

To achieve these distinctions during the Great Depression brought hope for a hungry world. Trelle was a motivated self-promoter, and made use of his title as World Wheat King to bring international attention to the South Peace area. In 1931, after winning numerous international titles, Herman and Beatrice embarked on a promotional tour around the globe. Fonds 193 contains numerous documents related to Trelle’s World Tour, including: travel artifacts, letters, and more than 300 photographs and postcards. According to Trelle, the trip had been financed by Canadian Pacific, although this claim was later disputed when the family’s mounting debt forced them to relocate to Grande Prairie. The travel documents within the collection chronicle numerous speaking engagements and social events but provide little information on the source of financing. However, many of the postcards are from hotels owned by Canadian Pacific Railways.

On February 3, 1931, Herman and Beatrice left New York on the Empress of France on a round-the-world tour on the Canadian Pacific Steamships lines. A typical world tour lasted 128 days and included the Mediterranean, North Africa and the Holy Land, through the Suez Canal and into the Red Sea, then to India, Ceylon, Southeast Asia and the Dutch East Indies, on to China, Hong Kong and Japan, then across the Pacific to Hawaii and California before traversing the Panama Canal back to New York. The Trelle’s tour includes many of these locations but appears to have been much longer. They were still touring in January 1932 and planning to sail on the Empress Russia from Kobe, Japan in February.

Trelle’s work, along with that of other grain award winners, proved the potential of the rich farmland of the Peace River Country. His world tour turned the agricultural limelight on the north and encouraged many to settle in the South Peace. His records document the global attention and hope directed at this area during the Great Depression.

This article was originally featured in the December 2018 issue of Telling Our Stories.

Herman and Beatrice in Gibraltar, 1931 (SPRA