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Canadian Hybrid Roses

Canada has species (wild) roses growing over a wide range of climatic zones. These range from zone 2 up to zone 8 on the Canadian Plant Hardiness Scale. In zone 2 the most common species roses are R. acicularis and R. woodsii. In zones 3 and 4. R. arkansana and R. suffulta enter the list. Zone 2 covers the northern Prairie provinces, Zone 8 occurs in the South West corner of Vancouver Island and possibly in some isolated micro-climates in Southern Ontario. The Canadian Plant Hardiness Scale is close to the USDA zone classifications but is not quite identical. The result of this wide range of zones has been the development of a wide range of hardiness of rose hybrids. In all the zones there are species roses which have contributed to the rose gene pool. Over the last 3 years a database has been compiled of all known Canadian Rose Hybrids with a total of about 700 names of which about 250 are thought to still exist. This database was compiled from a variety of sources. Valuable assistance came from a more detailed database prepared by the Saskatchewan Rose Society which, under the leadership of Arnold Pittao, has prepared a database of Canadian bred hardy roses, those hardy to zone 4 or lower. Most of these are entered into HMF. Hyperlinks have been entered for the breeders and roses mentioned here so please follow them for more information if you wish.

The first known Canadian Hybrid is 'Agnes' Bred by Dr. W. Saunders in about 1900 and introduced by Agriculture Canada, Ottawa in 1922. Dr Saunders founded the Agriculture Canada's rose breeding program but 'Agnes' is the only rose of his that is still widely grown. The rose breeding program was set up to develop rose hybrids which were hardy down to Zone 3 or 4 and was based on the Agriculture Canada Research Stations in Ottawa, Ontario; L'Assomption, Quebec and Morden, Manitoba. These locales will be described first.

Agriculture Canada, Ottawa

As noted above the first rose introduced by Agriculture Canada, Ottawa was 'Agnes' introduced in 1922 but thought to have been hybridized in 1900 or 1902, by Dr. W. Saunders who was followed by Isabella Preston who hybridized 21 roses in Ottawa from 1920 to 1938. Most of these are believed to be extinct, but five still survive including 'Carmenetta' and 'Conestoga'. Preston used many hardy species in her work including R. glauca, R. rugosa, R. cinnamomea, R. spinosissima and R. setigera. After a period of 20 years, including the 1939 – 1945 war, the Explorer series started to be introduced in 1968. This and the Parkland, or Morden, series to be mentioned later are the two most important groups of roses hybridized for the cold climates. Most of this work was done by Dr. Felicitas Svejda who came to Canada from Poland and worked in Ottawa till the section was closed there and then transferred to L'Assomption, Québec. In all 21 roses of the Explorer Series were created in Ottawa and most are still in commerce. The Explorer Series are named for explorers of Canada, 'David Thompson' and 'John Franklin' being two examples. Dr. Felicitas Svejda made extensive use of “R. kordesii” and R. rugosa and its hybrid 'Schneezwerg' The last Agriculture Canada, Ottawa, Explorer rose was introduced in 1991.

Agriculture Canada, L'Assomption

At L'Assomption working with Ian Ogilvie, Dr. Felicitas Svejda hybridized another 11 roses in the Explorer series, the last being introduced in 1999. This work was a continuation of her work in Ottawa. In total Dr. Felicitas Svejda hybridized about 32 rose varieties most of which are still in commerce. Although happily retired, she still has an interest and was able to provide much additional information on her roses for the HMF entries.

Agriculture Canada, Morden

The roses hybridized at the Morden Research Station were generally hardier than those at Ag. Canada, Ottawa, from zones 2 to 4. William Godfrey was the first person working here and created his first hybrid in 1946. This was the foundation of the Parkland series with 'Prairie Sailor', 'Prairie Wren', 'Prairie Youth', 'Prairie Charm', 'Prairie Dawn' and 'Prairie Maid'. These should not be confused with the prairie roses produced by Dr. Griffith J. Buck at Iowa State University, USA nor with the cultivars 'Prairie Pink' and 'Prairie Sweetheart' bred by Ed Robinson of Wawanesa, Manitoba. Most of Godfrey's roses had R. spinosissima altaica in their parentage. 'Prairie Maid' was produced in 1959 in conjunction with H.F. (Bert) Harp. The latter also produced 'Metis' in 1967.

Henry Heard Marshall produced 'Cuthbert Grant' and followed it with 'Adelaide Hoodless' in 1967. Then in 1977 he started a group of roses with the first name of Morden which was continued by his successors. From 1988 Lynn Collicutt produced more Morden roses and also 'Prairie Joy', 'Winnipeg Parks' and 'Hope for Humanity'. From 1988 she worked with Campbell Davidson who also produced the last 'Prairie', 'Prairie Celebration' and the very popular 'Morden Sunrise'.


Agriculture Canada has since introduced two 'Canadian Artist Series' roses from the remaining seedlings from the earlier programs. These are 'Emily Carr' and 'Félix Leclerc' introduced in 2007. However, the Canadian Artist series has been discontinued, marking the end of Agriculture Canada's involvement in hardy rose breeding.

Other Hybridizers of hardy roses

Georges Bugnet was a very interesting man. A French immigrant he was a farmer, writer, teacher and rose hybridizer who lived in Northern Alberta, a zone 2 to 3 habitat. He used a variety of parents, including R. rugosa, R. acicularis and R. amblyotis. Many of his roses were named for members of his family the best and most well known being 'Thérèse Bugnet'.

Robert Erskine was a prolific hybridizer and Rosa was not the only genus he worked with. He worked in Zone 2 in west central Alberta where the growing season was typically around 100 days. Largely self taught, he developed over 20 superior varieties of roses. He made extensive use either directly, or indirectly, of R. acicularis and R. woodsii. Erskine considered 'Prairie Peace' to be his finest, being hardy to zone 2. Check the entry in HMF for its parents which are complex and one generation back include 'Butterball' from Frank Skinner of Manitoba which is one of the few roses hardy in Alaska.

Joyce Fleming is one of Canada's still active hybridizers. Living in Southern Ontario in zone 4/5 she has created 29 hybrids of which “Roberta Bondar' (a Canadian Astronaut) is her best known. Her first Hybrid was introduced by Hortico in 1986.

Percy H. Wright Canada's most prolific rose hybridizer with over 40 roses to his credit. He worked in Wilkie, Moose Range, and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. His roses are hardy from zone 4 down with 'Hazeldean' being his greatest, and most enduring, a R. spinosissima altaica hybrid and hardy to zone 1.

Frank Skinner homesteaded near Dropmore, Manitoba, in 1900 and created roses hardy between zone 2 and 4. He also used R. spinosissima altaica as one of his source plants. 'Betty Bland' was one of his best contributions to hardy rose breeding, a hybrid of R. blanda and 'Captain Hayward'. Skinner Hybridized about 30 roses of which about half are still in commerce. Another well known rose of his was 'Butterball' which is grown in Alaska, USA.

Other Hybridizers of less hardy roses

H.M. Eddie and Sons operated a nursery in the Fraser Valley, British Columbia. Roses were hybridized with the following hybridizer's names H.M. Eddie and J.M. Eddie. 'Eddie's Crimson' and 'Eddie's Jewel' are two of their best known. Roses were hybridized from 1932 to 1967. The nursery ceased operating due to a serious flood.

Brad Jalbert of Select Roses close to Vancouver BC started introducing his hybrids in 1983. He has created a variety of classes with a preponderance of Miniatures. 'Gerda Hnatyshyn ' is one of his shrubs. His website can be checked for availability. He credits George Mander with helping him with advice on hybridization.

George Mander, also in the British Columbia lower mainland was an immigrant from Germany. His first hybrid rose was 'Canadian White Star' in 1980 and he has continued to produce hybrids since with an emphasis on Miniatures. 'Glowing Amber' being one of his classic miniatures.

Keith Laver working in Ontario was a prolific hybridizer principally of miniature roses with over 30 to his credit. Most were introduced by Springwood nurseries and are still in commerce with them. Check HMF for an extensive list of his introductions.

There are other Canadian Rose Hybridizers with one or two roses to their credit but one of the oddities is that there seem to be none in any province east of the province of Quebec. I would be interested in finding out if there are any. All known Canadian Hybrids have been added to HMF so further information of them can be found there. Though the Agriculture Canada program was of great importance and produced more roses which have survived to the present day in commerce, more hybrids have been produced in the private sector with fewer surviving. Check out the breeders for a full list of their roses or follow the advanced search, breeding, and select Canada then hit search on the right hand side. It will take some time but the full list will come up, all 11 pages!

Thanks to Arnold Pittao of Saskatchewan, Canada for much of the information on the roses and hybridizers of the Canadian Prairie Provinces.

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