Though it seems a bit cliched to say that the Canadian economy is based on reaping the bounty of the land and sea, like many clichés, it happens to be true. For centuries, immigrants came to this corner of the New World seeking a patch of land to till, or as safe anchorage for their fishing boats. The first European visitors to Canadian shores - the Norsemen of the eleventh century - came with agriculture and not conquest in mind. The fishing fleets of Brittany and Wales soon followed. They harvested the rich waters of the Grand Banks in order to fill the Friday dinner plates of Catholic Europe. Basque sailors set up whaling stations in what is now Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. According to legend, when the great explorer John Cabot sailed westward in 1497, he was guided by Breton fishing charts.
By the eighteenth century, the establishment of New France and British North America added furs and timber to the European sailing ships, and the long list of the colony's exports. Still the immigrants came, pushing ever westward to the Selkirk settlement and then to the heart of the Prairies, cutting down trees and sinking their plows into the rich soil along the way.
Today, Canada is one of the world's leading exporters of wheat and corn despite the fact that less than five percent of the national labour force is employed in agricultural production. It is humbling to realize that, in this age of virtual reality, cloning, and space travel, the traditional occupations upon which Canada was built still account for a large part of the economy.
However, on the edge of the twenty-first century, occupations in agriculture, fisheries, and forestry are far less traditional than one would think. We have come a long way from the days when small, family-owned farms were passed on from parents to children with no possibility for the latter's education. Like everything else nowadays, agriculture is high-tech. Computers are standard farm equipment - just like tractors and combines - and understanding the latest advances in genetics and bioscience are essential to running a successful agricultural operation.
With a growing population to feed and finite resources to preserve, agriculture has left the old traditions behind in favour of hard science. It has become a field for highly-trained specialists. Today, raising crops is all about soil science, botany, and studies of environmental impact. Livestock farming is as much a question of veterinary science and genetics as herding and pasturage. Animal care, agriculture and bioscience technicians and technologists play a huge role in these areas.
A revolution in organic farming has created the need for new techniques and technical specialists to raise crops the natural way. Other types of agriculture, however, have become just as high-tech. In the dairy industry, for example, milk production has been computerized and involves the monitoring of individual cows throughout the production and distribution process.
There's no limit to how advanced agricultural technology may become (a Danish researcher has even developed a cheese simulator!), and thus there's no limit to where careers in agriculture may lead.
With the decline in fish stocks over the last few decades, the fisheries have had an even greater need for highly trained technicians and technologists. The industry has had to find ways of doing more with less - of maximizing resources without doing additional damage to fish stocks. Despite a recent decline in the fisheries' workforce, or maybe because of it, the fishing industry has placed a premium on skilled professionals trained in biology, technology, and resource management.
The fisheries' crisis has also led to a revolution in aquaculture, the controlled cultivation of fish. The industry is expected to grow from $220 million in 1992 to as much as $1 billion in 2001, and for good reason. We have begun to understand that nature is not an unlimited resource. Aquaculture is a technological answer for sustainable development that requires specialists with wide-ranging expertise in subjects from biology and genetics to resource maintenance. This has led to increasing demand for trained aquaculture technicians and technologists.
The forestry industry is undergoing a similar revolution. The old ways of timber clear-cutting are simply too hard on forests, the underground water table, and the environment in general. The demand for wood has never been higher, but our forests have never been more endangered and, as a consequence, there has never been a greater need for trained specialists who can ensure that Canadian forests remain a sustainable natural resource. There are far fewer forestry workers today than there were decades ago, but those who are left are highly skilled technicians and technologists trained in the sustainable harvesting, preservation, and recreational use of Canada's vast forests. Forestry technicians and technologists are at the forefront of this new way of harvesting the bounty of the forest.