Like many others of our local Metis people, Monkman’s family fled the troubled Red River Colony after the Red River Rebellion. When Alex was fourteen the family had reached Edmonton via Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. On the way the alert boy had acquired much knowledge about the agricultural practices then being carried out in the settlements. There were also Mission schools where he got his formal schooling.
Youths went to work young in those days. Alex was no exception and he sampled several ways of making a living, notably at mining and ranching. When he was twenty-eight he joined the Klondike gold rush on the overland trail from Edmonton that passed over the Grande Prairie. The certainties he saw in a wealth of furs, a fertile soil, and lakeside home sites dear to Manitoba lake country Metis hearts suddenly changed his plans.
He became a post manager at the new Bredin and Cornwall trading post at Saskatoon Lake near the future city of Grande Prairie, and the future world-famous crop country of Wembley.
Monkman early resolved to develop a home site. That meant fields and gardens to sustain himself. It was not necessary to start from scratch in adapting to the country, for the Callious and Gladues and perhaps other immigrants were already settled in the country. They were not so far away from Monkman’s chosen farm site at Flying Shot Lake, a beautiful spot. Long before he was settled there he had begun the enterprise that differentiated him from the ordinary settler. He began to grow superior seed.
Very early in the century the Federal government began to set up experimental stations where they tried new seed varieties and from which they sent out on request small packets or bags of the more promising varieties.
The recipients were expected to multiply them, and report on their performance. If the recipient carried out the research well, he might become a recognized researcher. It wasn’t easy! A few precious seeds to plant and keep away from mice and rabbits; fencing against the farmyard poultry and the family cow. To harvest — saving every precious seed — and to replant again and again until there was sufficient to plant a field, and eventually to share some by gift or sale.
The Monkmans were famous for their garden. One could imagine that something about the area fostered an affinity for work with seeds because near here Herman Trelle and others grew the exhibits that won many World Championships. Later the Experimental Substation (now the Beaverlodge Research Station) under men like Albright, Stacey and Guitard has done outstanding work for the area.
Alex Monkman seems to have been the first recorded resident to have made a personal effort to improve cereal agriculture in the South Peace.