John Mitchell, born in 1897 in Bradwardine, Manitoba, moved to Saskatchewan as a youngster. His family farmed in a small rural community 30 km from the railway at Marsden. He enrolled in the College of Agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan in 1915, interrupting his studies to serve in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces from 1916 until 1918. He saw action in France as an officer in the artillery division and, wounded in 1917, he returned home. Mitchell completed his Bachelor of Science in Agriculture in 1924 and joined the Saskatchewan Soil Survey that same year. While a student, he had worked summers with the Soldiers' Settlement Board, assisting returning veterans to become farmers. In 1925, he became an instructor in the College of Agriculture and continued his work mapping soils and measuring their chemical and physical properties. He did graduate work at the University of Wisconsin, then one of the leading universities in soil science, completing an MSc in 1929 and a PhD in 1931 before returning to the University of Saskatchewan. He was appointed professor and Head of the Department of Soils in 1935, positions that he held for the rest of his career.
Mitchell was regarded internationally as a distinguished scientist. His papers dealt with topics as diverse as comparative ratings of Saskatchewan soils or the use of radioactive forms of phosphorus to determine the proportion of phosphorus taken up by plants. Soil Survey Report No. 12, covering most of southern Saskatchewan and written with Harold Moss and J.S. Clayton, is not only a highly readable description of the soils and how they formed, but gives ratings of their productivity. John Mitchell gave presentations on the themes of soil, scientifically based agriculture, stewardship of the land, and good citizenship; for many years he gave radio addresses on the CFQC farm broadcast. He was the first president of the Saskatchewan Agricultural Graduates Association, and figures in the Saskatchewan Agricultural Hall of Fame. The John Mitchell Building, once the Soils and Dairy Building and presently the home of the Department of Drama, recognizes his contribution to the University of Saskatchewan. John Mitchell died in 1955.