Colleen Sawyer 1943 – 2018
What defines an individual as “hall of fame” material, what characteristics do “hall of famer’s bestow. While searching the definition of “hall of famer” a pile of descriptive characteristics popped up. After reading through many, one word stood out above the rest, this word is exceptional. According to the Cambridge English dictionary, the definition of exceptional means: much greater than usual, outstanding in skills, intelligence and quality; not like most others. Exceptional defines Colleen Sawyer and the life she lived and her lifetime contributions to the agriculture industry, especially to our Canadian and Provincial sheep industry.
Colleen Sawyer of Pike Lake, Saskatchewan was raised on a mixed farm near Warman. Once married, she and husband David purchased their first sheep in 1969 and expanded to a 400 head commercial flock quickly. Colleen then diversified into purebred sheep over the next 40 years with Sawyer C Farm, making significant genetic contributions in the Dorset, Hampshire and Canadian Arcott breeds, which she marketed Sawyer C ewes and rams under the prefix “MHL” throughout Canada as well as to the USA and Mexico.
Colleen was a dedicated sheep breeder and all her fellow producers can recall her trailer loads of sheep on long hauls to shows and sales, as she attended events across western Canada. Colleen believed in mentoring new sheep producers, thus her farm was a willing host to assist producers through tours, demonstrations, workshops and advice sessions with veterinarians and ag extension specialists. From ag college students, 4-H members to international farmers, Colleen was always open to discuss important details of sheep production and genetics. She marketed lamb carcasses throughout the year to Saskatoon consumers, always explaining which cuts were best for each purpose and offering lamb recipes long before farmers' markets became trendy.
Colleen was willing to dare greatly in life. She knew that it took courage, she let her passion become her purpose which then became her profession, she took risks when needed and she lead by example with poise and unwavering tenacity. She understood that it is not the loudness of our words but the depth of our character, to keep going no matter what the circumstances and above all, that intelligence is about knowledge and so education was key. Colleen’s life experiences provided her with the expertise needed to be a pioneer in educating the public and fellow producers on the sheep sector and its important contribution of meat and wool before “agriculture advocacy” became a strategic phrase. Colleen organized and led the first 4-H sheep project in the Saskatoon area, which when I think about her strong mentoring abilities it is not surprising at all, as she preferred to celebrate the accomplishments of others just as much as her own.
As a volunteer for over 35 years at Canadian Western Agribition, she tirelessly assisted the sheep industry to display at the Agri-Ed Showcase with its busloads of school kids and enthusiastic questions. She served as a sheep committee member, as well as assisted with lamb cooking demonstrations.
Besides her volunteer contribution with Agribition, Colleen volunteered on multiple industry boards and committees, in particular, the Saskatchewan Sheep Breeders Association and as a delegate to the Canadian Sheep Breeders Association. She was one of the originators of the Vanscoy Sheep and Wool Fair, which eventually moved to Lloydminster then Assiniboia and Drake and was renamed the Grasslands Sheep Exhibition. It in is its 41st year, and this sheep show and sale is held in Humboldt annually in July and is a major promotion event for Saskatchewan’s purebred sheep industry.
Colleen served as director of the Saskatchewan Sheep and Wool Commission and in 1989 became the manager when it was renamed the Saskatchewan Sheep Development Board. She held this position for 10 years and later took on the role of producer extension. Her important milestones include the introduction of livestock guardian dogs for predator control, and assisting the PFRA to include sheep grazing as a sustainable method to manage the noxious weed leafy spurge.
Colleen judged purebred and commercial sheep shows across Canada and once in Mexico. She also served in a professional advisement capacity within a Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) grazing project in Inner Mongolia, China. She served on Saskatchewan’s Record of Performance sheep committee and helped direct the performance test station at Govan, Sask.
In 2003 she was nominated to the Saskatchewan Agriculture Hall of Fame for outstanding contributions to agriculture. In 2005 she was an Honour Scroll recipient from the Saskatchewan Livestock Association. Upon her volunteer retirement, the Saskatchewan Sheep Breeders Association announced a youth scholarship in Colleen’s name, because she was a true pioneer for our Saskatchewan Sheep industry.
While Colleen’s achievements and contributions were huge, her real pride was in her family of three children and five grandchildren. Colleen was a widow at an early age with young kids, but that didn’t stop her passion or keep her from giving back to the industry. She really was a true inspiration to many of us who knew her. I personally recall from a very young age being mesmerized by Colleen’s presence; her nails always perfectly painted, lipstick on point and she always had a lovely scent that drowned out any barn smell. But the most memorable point was how her eyes sparkled when she talked about the things she loved the most which were her family and sheep. Many people with agriculture careers in producer education cite her as one of their best mentors on how to work with livestock producers. Others identify her as a strong and determined woman, farmHer and friend. It is a great honour to be able to nominate Colleen into the Canadian Western Agribition Hall of Fame. I want to thank Colleen’s children – Monte, Mariah and Paula for lending her to the sheep industry for so many years. Colleen’s knowledge, passion and presence will be greatly missed but I am assured that her presence and legacy will continue to carry on in the hearts of all of us who knew her!
Bethan Lewis & Courtney Mish are presented their scholarship awards by President: Laurel Johnson on the right
Congratulations to Devery Stachura from Yorkton, SK. Colleen presented the awards at this Canadian Western Agribition, prior to the sheep sale.
Congratulations to Amy Tweedie from Delisle, SK. Colleen presented this award at Canadian Western Agribition. Amy completed her Bachelor of Science at the University of Alberta and will be applying to do a Masters in Physiotherapy.