Although never actively engaged in agriculture, Sir William Macdonald used his considerable influence and great wealth in ways that exerted a profound impact on Canada’s basic industry.
In 1899, acting on the recommendation of Dr. J.W. Robertson, he provided funds for the Macdonald Seed Grain competition, the results of which had a direct bearing on the establishment of the Seed Branch of the Canada Department of Agriculture and the formation of the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association.
It was his firm belief that the only way to improve the quality of rural education was by consolidation of several township schools into one, where classes would be separate and better teachers and equipment provided. To set an example of the advantages of consolidation, he provided the funds to construct several such schools, one of which was located on the campus of the Ontario Agriculture College.
Sir William Macdonald also believed that manual training, nature study, and gardening should be included as courses of instruction in rural schools, and supported this belief by providing funds to prepare teachers for this specialized work by financing their training at the Ontario Agricultural College and a number of American universities, including Cornell.
Undoubtedly, he is best known and most fondly remembered for his generous action in establishing institutions of higher learning that bear his name, namely Macdonald Institute and Macdonald Hall at Guelph in 1903 and 1904 respectively, and Macdonald College at Ste. Anne de Bellevue, Quebec, in 1904-1906. The contributions of staff and graduates of these institutions to agriculture and better rural living are beyond comprehension.