By Alexander York von Sivers, Yukon Gold potato archivist
It was the Incas who first introduced the yema de huevo, or “yolk of egg,” as an edible treat.
It was former first lady Hillary Clinton who attracted unexpected publicity when she incorrectly stated that everything on the White House state dinner menu was American. It was an astute New York Times food editor who knew better.
And it was Mr. Bowers, a former principal from Fergus, Ontario, who strongly encouraged a young man to take advantage of a Veterans Affairs Canada sponsorship and return to college. In the fall of 1949, Gary Johnston enrolled at the Ontario Agricultural College.
Johnston flourished and became a reputable, brilliant University of Guelph potato scientist who created a potato with a brand recognition on par with Blackberry. His potato was the first branded vegetable that shoppers would ask for by name and countless food editors and chefs developed a deep loyalty for.
Known in lab-speak as G6666, the Yukon potato cross took place in fall 1966. It was the unprecedented 66th trial in the year of 1966. I can only imagine what it must have felt like when Johnston harvested and tasted his first sample. It must have been a genuine eureka moment, though it would take another 14 years to reach the marketplace.
In November 1980, Johnston’s experimental Yukon Gold finally received the vital federal government registration number necessary for market launch. Johnston wrote several articles for American magazines and, coincidentally, Harrowsmith (“There’s Gold in Them Hills”). Consumers generally preferred the white potato that they were long familiar with, so Johnston did double duty, educating the public on the greatness of his mighty Yukon.
If only Johnston could have experienced the moment of acceptance when Hollywood chef Wolfgang Puck brought out 1,400 baked Yukon Golds wrapped in gold foil at the Oscars’ Governors Ball. Topped with caviar to satiate the hungry stars, it was an Oscar-worthy potato deserving of a standing ovation.
Maybe a future prime minister will break with tradition and award Gary Johnston a posthumous Order of Canada. We should never forget our achievers—his Yukon Gold branding was no small potatoes.
The Yukon story should be documented in every Canadian high school, college and university textbook to inspire the next generation of innovators and risk takers. Few scientists achieve this level of success.
I wish to thank former White House executive chef Walter Scheib for his steady support. He inspired and motivated me to archive Gary Johnston’s amazing Yukon story.
Alexander York von Sivers is an international media researcher specializing in innovation. His father, Hans von Sivers, was a laboratory technician with Garnet “Gary” Johnston at the University of Guelph.