Mrs. Laura Patterson holding a stem of her namesake lily Laura Patterson
Mrs. Laura Patterson holding a stem of her namesake lily Laura Patterson

The Canadian Prairie Lily Society (CPLS) was founded in 1967 by a group of individuals with a strong interest and love for the genus Lilium. The Society received its charter under the provincial societies act in 1973.

The aims of the Society then and now are:

  • to promote the interest of growing lilies in home gardens,
  • to provide information to members and the public in matters pertaining to growing lilies in the garden,
  • to sponsor a public exhibition in July each year and to make suitable awards to judged exhibits, and
  • to encourage hybridizing of lilies and to make suitable recognition of outstanding achievements in this field.

History of CPLS

On March 10, 1967, letters went forth to a large number of lily growers across Saskatchewan. Ten lily enthusiasts responded and met at the University on April 1, 1967. Thus, Father M. Doll, Mr. Don McPhedran, Ed Maginnes, R.B. (Pops) McCombs, Eugene Mossman, Stu Nelson, Bert Porter, G. Smithson and Herb Sunley formed the first Saskatchewan Lily Committee. Father Doll was elected chairman, Herb Sunley co-chairman and Ed Maginnes secretary. The meeting decided that with the help of the Horticulture Department, University of Saskatchewan, the committee would stage a Centennial Lily Show on July 13 and 14, 1967. That show featured 214 entries in competitive and non-competitive classes, as well as a display from Jan de Graaff of Oregon. The blaze of colour in the Kirk Hall auditorium served to provide the many visitors a new insight into lily culture.

We were fortunate to have Mrs. Laura Patterson help with the judging of the first show. The next year when the committee decided to proceed with the naming and registration of meritorious Patterson seedlings, she gave guidance by relating some of her late husband's concerns with regards to his seedlings. As a result of Art Delahey's purchase of the lilies from the Patterson's Sutherland property, then owned by the Oblate Fathers, the opportunity arose for the Horticulture Department to select seedlings for registration from a stock that was not entirely common to that grown in the Horticulture Department plots (Dr. Patterson did a lot of his work at home and either intentionally or through oversight that work was not incorporated into his University research). Registrations resulting from committee work included: Cardinal Beauty, Cohoe, Honey Queen, Indian Lady, Northern Splendor, Snow Drop, and Tiger Queen. In 1970 three more varieties were registered: Laura Patterson, Northern Princess, and Rose Marie.

On a warm April morning in 1973 Herb Sunley, Dr. Bert Porter, Dave Robinson (Univ. of Saskatchewan Extension), Dr. Ed Maginnes (Horticulture Department), Pops McCoombs and Don McPhedran both of Prince Albert, Bob Caldwell and Art Delahey met in the Horticulture Dept. Header House to create the Canadian Prairie Lily Society. Interest in the initial shows was spreading across the prairies, and a more formal and extensive organization was required. Because of his leadership Herb Sunley was elected president, a position he held for many years. Bert Porter was elected vice president, Ed Maginnes as secretary and Art Delahey as treasurer. In addition to serving as president Herb agreed to develop the first newsletter.

The inaugural meeting approved a set of bylaws which called for the association to be named the Canadian Prairie Lily Society with the mandate of disseminating information on lily culture to the public, to hold an annual judged show and to affilliate with the North American Lily Society.

The first newsletter was published in October 1973 and in his President's column Herb detailed much of the background organization which resulted in the creation of CPLS. As well it included the first offer of bulbs for sale - a total of 12 varieties including such long-timers as Bittersweet, Citronella, Enchantment, and Golden Chalice. The newsletters were sporadic at first, due no doubt to Herb's busy life and the lack of submitted articles. In December 1973 the second newsletter outlined a suggestion from Dorothy Baker in Gravelbourg suggesting that a photo album be set up to include all lilies grown on the prairies. While she started it off with a donation of photos the project never really got off the ground until Dr. Milt Bell took it under his wing and today several albums exist receiving annual additions.

Over the years CPLS accumulated funds due to annual bulb sales and hosting NALS shows. These funds are used to now provide annually two scholarships to students enrolled in Horticulture at the University of Saskatchewan; and a scholarship and a bursary to Horticulture students at Olds College of Agriculture, Olds, Alberta.

discussion at a CPLS lily showOur affiliation with the North American Lily Society grew stronger as we hosted the 1977 show just four seasons into our existence as a Society. It was hailed as one of the best by those attending. Later we had very successful NALS shows in 1984 and 1998. Each show grew larger, both in stems shown and costs involved.

From humble starts come great developments and CPLS is a prime example. Credit must go to the original group, twelve lily enthusiasts, who had the foresight to formalize their interest into a very viable organization; and to the many volunteers who have built on those beginnings.

It should be noted that the prairie regional societies all owe their beginnings to the efforts and hard work of many CPLS members and those that served as CPLS executive officers. The individuals involved in the formation of these regional societies received their initial insight and encouragement as members of CPLS.