Wheat Kings references


"...Sundown in the Paris of the Prairies."

As you'll read below, "Wheat Kings" tells the story of David Milgaard, a young Winnipeg-born hippie wrongly convicted of the grisly rape and murder of Saskatoon nurse Gail Miller.

Long before this incident, during the period of Western Canadian settlement that spanned 1896 to 1914, western immigration agents began flaunting the merits of their soon to be settled towns. As each agent was paid only on the percentage of settlers he could attract, stretching the truth became a common trick of the trade. Winnipeg, which before the turn of the 20th century was a dusty railway stop, was first to be called the "Paris of the Prairies." Calgary also billed itself as such later on. One early 20th century pamphlet for Saskatoon, the town where the Milgaard saga later unfolded, read: "The fastest growing city in the world, an astounding modern miracle. The eighth wonder of the British Empire, it is the largest city in the world for its age. The greatest example of town and city building in the world's history."

I have always thought Saskatoon, site of the crime in question, was the city being referenced here. It has been my experience that people in Winnipeg (Milgaard's home town) are certain the line is about their city, while people in Saskatoon feel just as strongly about their claim. I haven't been able to find confirmation for either. This 2009 Globe and Mail article touches on the various Paris'. It is not unreasonable to think that Gord would have preferred it to remain uncertain.

"...Wheat Kings have all their treasures buried."

Atlantic Canada was built on endless fish stocks coupled with skilled and fearless maritime labourers. Central Canada was developed by the fur traders and couriers du bois. And in the Canadian West, the "breadbasket to the world," wheat was certainly king. Western Canada's wheat farmers and grain growers were known as Wheat Kings after the development of Marquis Wheat. This strain was specifically designed and engineered at the Canadian Experimental Farm in Ottawa. It grew in accordance with the shorter Canadian harvesting season. Without this development, it is questionable whether the West would have grown as fast, or at all. "Marquis" is French and refers to nobility or royalty.    

"...Twenty years for nothing, well that's nothing new
Besides, no one's interested in something you didn't do."

The Milgaard story is unfortunately one in a too-long list of wrongful convictions in Canada. Guy Paul Morin, Donald Marshall and Stephen Truscott have been through what Milgaard experienced. However none lost so much of their lives as did David Milgaard. It may be a testament to the advocacy, appeal and investigative zeal of Canadian lawyers and legal professionals that so many high profile cases have been successfully overturned. Yet it may also point to a dark and shameful blight on the record of Canadian crime and punishment.

In January of 1969, Milgaard and two friends took a road trip to Saskatoon. On the same night that the trio intended to briefly visit their friend Albert Cadrain, Gail Miller was attacked and killed in a downtown alley. Such a crime shook Saskatoon, and the local police were under serious pressure to find the killer and halt the minor hysteria that was spreading through the quiet Prairie town. After four months of no leads, the police used high pressure interview tactics and a $2,000 reward to coax a statement out of Cadrain. Although he and David's fellow road trippers kept changing their stories, Saskatoon's finest felt they had their man.

The jury showed no sympathy for the hippie who had already been convicted of petty theft and taking a truck for a joyride at age 14. The evidence seemed to fit, especially since such a horrific murder had to have been committed by an outsider. No one in idyllic Saskatoon could do such a thing, the police had said so themselves. David became a 17 year old convicted murderer and was condemned to spend the next 23 years of his life in prison.

Perhaps the most poignant and powerful aspect of the Milgaard story is that even though David had 20 opportunities for parole during his sentence, he did not once make a request for an early release. This would have required him to admit to the crime, something he was never prepared to do. Had David accepted responsibility for Gail Miller's death, he could have been released. 

"...Hung with pictures of our parents prime ministers."

While David's life wasted away as a convicted murderer, five Prime Ministers of Canada held office and oversaw more than a dozen ministers of justice. Joyce Milgaard, David's mother and this story's heroic figure outside the prison walls, lobbied all of them. She personally pleaded her sons case with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and Justice Minister, future Prime Minister, Kim Campbell. 

"...Late breaking story on the CBC
A nation whispers, we always knew that he'd go free"

Joyce Milgaard made it her life's mission to champion the cause of her wrongly convicted son. She was the public persona of the struggle to free David. She managed to famously confront Prime Minister Mulroney on television and demand a new trial.

The CBC, which is Canada's publicly funded national broadcaster, not only gave heavy coverage to the Milgaard story on its newscasts, but also exposed the flaws and unanswered questions of David's initial conviction during special editions of their "Fifth Estate" and "The Journal" programs. Joyce Milgaard appeared on the networks popular "Front Page Challenge" to explain David's plight. She also managed to confront future prime minister, then Mulroney's justice minister, Kim Campbell. The CBC's cameras caught all of it.

On April 16, 1992, after David had spent 8,355 days behind bars, CBC anchorman Peter Mansbridge announced what everyone knew was coming: David Milgaard was finally a free man.

In 1997, Milgaard was completely cleared of the crime and legally absolved of all charges when DNA evidence proved he could not have killed Gail Miller. The same evidence linked another convicted killer with the murder. David accepted a 10 million dollar settlement from the Canadian and Saskatchewan governments.

Although physically free, the ordeal took a psychological toll on David. Some incidents were publicly reported. His recovery and reconciliation process was long and difficult. Its early stages included a 1993 trip to meet The Tragically Hip and hear "Wheat Kings" played live for, and dedicated to, David Milgaard:

Milgaard segment from "Heksenketel"

The famous loon call

Rob Baker told Ottawa radio station Chez 106 (and perhaps other affiliated stations) in 2016 that the famous loon call at the beginning of Wheat Kings was the source of some controversy. It seems the man who originally recorded that call recognized his work and sent the band a legal threat. "We had to cut a substantial cheque in his name to Ducks Unlimited," recalled Rob.

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