Regina Morning Leader
February 19, 1919. p.19
By George Broadley, Assistant Supt. of Organization, S. G. G. A.
No history of this province would be complete without at least a passing reference to the Saskatchewan Grain Growers’ association. It is the parent body of the 75,000 farmers composing the ever-increasing organization which for the last seventeen years has successfully developed into one of the most powerful movements in western Canada. We may be living too near this phase of provincial history to be able to obtain the right perspective; but its record of success and achievement is entitled to recognition.
The Indian Head Planing Mill
The score or so of farmers who met on the afternoon of December 18, 1901, in the old planing mill at Indian Head were as truly makers of history as their illustrious prototype, Robert Owens--the father of the Co-operative idea--had been 150 years before.
“The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind uncommonly fine,” is an axiom which has been frequently applied to other progressive and reform movements, and this is no exception. During the century and a half which has elapsed since that other celebrated Welshman gave to the world his co-operative ideal, many evolutions in the line of human progress have made the perpetuation of Robert Owen’s ideal, not only possible, but necessary.
The advance of education and the evolution of the printing press has revealed a more perfect understanding of cause and effect. The centralization of industry and the aggregations of capital have produced a condition which forced the unorganized units to the wall. The survival of the fittest were recognized as those most effectually organized; whose influence could be most successfully brought to bear upon provincial and federal legislation.
HISTORY REPEATING ITSELF
Like other economic reforms, whether evolutionary or revolutionary, the Saskatchewan Grain Growers’ association owes its origin less to the greatness of the vision than to the necessities of the hour.
During the lean years of 30 and 40 cent per bushel wheat the lot of the prairie farmers was depicted by abandoned farms and heavily mortgaged homesteads. In spite of frequent attempts to improve their positions in the economic world, life became like that of the dog, “Just one darn thing after another.” Accompanying frost, hail, drought and gophers, were elevator combines and transportation monopolies, with inevitable low prices; until the farmers’ lot seemed to be well summed up in the hackneyed phrase, “Heads you win; tails we lose.”
Two Historic Meetings
On the above mentioned date, this bunch of farmers killed two birds with one stone: as December 18 had been set for that other historic event the famous debate between Sir R. P. Roblin, the newly elected premier of Manitoba and Hon. F. W. G. Haultain, premier of the North West Territories legislature. The subject of this debate was the wisdom, or otherwise, of enlarging the “postage-stamp” province--as the sister province was contemptuously described by the Manitoba premier--by a surgical operation on the then unorganized territory.
On the afternoon prior to the debate, a short and businesslike meeting was held, resulting in the election of Mr. W. R. Motherwell, of Kindersley, as president of the newly formed Territorial Grain Growers’ association and Mr. John Miller, of Indian Head, as secretary-treasurer.
Referring to that event Mr. Miller recently wrote: “As the charter members of the Territorial Grain Growers’ association climbed into their cowhide coats they may not all have been blessed with the ‘big vision,’ but there seemed to be a grin of determination to stop growing grain to be equally divided amongst the C. P. R., the Winnipeg grain men and the gophers.”
First G. G. Convention
On the first day of the following February the first Grain Growers’ convention ever held in western Canada was convened at Indian Head. The report of the secretary-treasurer showed that although the association was only a few weeks old there were already twelve branches, with a membership of 500.
Amongst those who attended that first convention were the following: Geo. Brown and G. Spring Rice, Regina; J. A. Brown, Spy Hill; Messrs. Barwell, Stevens, Invarson and McKinnon, Balcarres; H. Dorrell, Moose Jaw; George Lang, Indian Head; D. D. McFarlane, Welwyn; M. Snow, W. Gibson, J. Nix, Wolseley; R. J. Phin, Moosomin; Messrs. Wright and Fitzgerald, Grenfell; W. H. Ellis, J. B. Gordon and R. J. Campbell, Ellisboro; Robert Mills, W. P. Osler, I. Tinnel, Summerberry; Thomas Smith and E. Shaw, Kinlis; R. G. Ward, Firndale; W. M. Tate, Chickney; H. Oldors, Torlie.
Three of the most important resolutions adopted dealt with such important matters as the appointment of a warehouse commissioner, loading platforms and car shortages.
Success of Movement
The success of the movement spread like a prairie fire on a windy day and two months later Mr. Motherwell assisted at the christening of the Grain Growers’ association in Manitoba. Four years later the Alberta Farmers’ association was organized, which having amalgamated with the Canadian Society of Equity--a Nebraska importation--became known as the United Farmers of Alberta. Its first president was Mr. D. W. Warner, of Edmonton; the present head of the organization being Mr. H. W. Wood, of Calgary, who is also president of the Canadian council of agriculture.
Purposes, Aims and Ideals
This history of this remarkable movement has been so well and frequently described in western periodicals and so ably discussed by its leaders from the public platform during the last few years that little worth recording has been left unsaid. The wrongs which western farmers endured are now so well known and the success attending the efforts to rectify them so universally understood, that any attempt to break new ground would be merely attempting to paint the lily.
There is, however, still the need, as well as the opportunity, to emphasize the ideals and aims for which the association stands and are well expressed as a chain of three links; ciz.: political, educational, economic.
Its Political Activities
The inception of the movement grew out of existing wrongs, which could only be eliminated by legal enactment. To understand aright the farmers’ position it is necessary to briefly dip into the past. It was not until 1884 that the Canadian grain trade was established. A shipment of wheat, which was made by an all-Canadian route, created the epoch which marked the beginning of the Canadian grain business and subsequently became one of the most extensive and profitable--to the grain manipulators--in the Dominion.
Modern Elevator System
At this time the only method of shipping grain was the crude and unsatisfactory one of hauling it in sacks to flat warehouses, which were entirely void of machinery, plus a pair of scales. With the rapid increase of acreage under cultivation it will be readily understood how tediously unsatisfactory this was to the shippers. Weary hours of waiting were the result; and in not a few cases an all-night vigil.
As a supposed remedy for this condition the Canadian Pacific railway--at that date the only line of railway in western Canada--encouraged the construction of the modern system of elevators, which had rendered such efficient service in the Dakotas and other states across the border. As an inducement for their erection the C. P. R. not only offered free sites, but guaranteed that no grain would be received from flat warehouses, or farmers’ wagons.
Within a decade it was apparent that the system lent itself readily to numerous evils, and finally led to the farmers organizing themselves for the fight, which for the last seventeen years they have with more or less success waged against elevator and railway combines.
Dockages and Shortages
Amongst the evils arising from the elevator system was that at the end of a season, sometimes through an error in judgment, there was a shortage of several thousands of bushels. This lent itself so readily to “graft” that it soon become more or less general.
Arising out of this shortage was the vicious and general practice whereby loads of wheat which measured sixty bushels on the farmers’ scales mysteriously shrank to fifty bushels on its delivery into the elevator.
Along with this evolved the system of wholesale robbery, known as “dockage.” This is so well known and understood by everybody who has been even remotely connected with agriculture, that it needs no elucidation here.
Following in their trail was another palpable and barefaced robbery, whereby farmers, after having drawn their grain for twenty or thirty miles, were compelled to sell it as No. 3, because there was said to be no room in the elevator for No. 2; or accept the alternative of taking it home or dumping it in the coulie. During the same day, however, it transpired that another farmer, arriving with a load of No. 1, before any grain had been shipped from the elevator, was subjected to similar treatment, and compelled to sell as No. 2, because there was no room for No. 1.
The Canadian Grain Act
A comparison of notes amongst the farmers let the pussy out of the sack. A constant airing of their wrongs created mutual confidences, until the little meeting in the saw mill at Indian head inaugurated a movement which recognized the need of organizing their forces along legislative lines.
One of the direct results of this vision of the Indian Head farmers was the enactment of The Canadian Grain act, which has been described as “The Grain Growers’ Magna Charta.” Through their constant agitation the act, which was originally known as the Manitoba Grain act, of 1900, has been so amended that it has effectually eliminated many of the evils which the grain growers of the three prairie provinces experienced during the latter part of the last century.
Through the agitation of the Grain Growers’ associations the Canadian Grain commission was appointed by the Dominion government, of which Mr. John Miller, of Indian Head, was a member. During the course of its investigations it was shown that an annual leakage of 50,000 bushels of wheat occurred between Fort William and the eastern transfer stations. As a result of provisions in the Canada Grain act this leakage has been stopped, and represents approximately a million dollars to the western farmers, in this one item alone.
This, however, is a mere fraction of the savings in dollars and cents which have accrued to the western grain growers, as a result of their invasion in the field of legislation.
Another result of their agitation was the construction of the government-owned terminal elevators at Saskatoon, Moose Jaw and Calgary. These interior elevators were erected as a sop to quiet demands for the nationalization of the huge storage elevators at Port Arthur and Fort William; which will eventually be included in the national system by the nationalization of the railways of Canada.
Council of Agriculture
Another far-reaching measure of political significance which owes its existence to the Grain Growers’ association is the Canadian council of agriculture. This was formed in the year 1916 for the purpose of linking up the Grain Growers’ association of the west with the organized farmers of Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime provinces. Through its agency the organized farmers of Canada have been enabled to press their demands for better terms, upon the government at Ottawa.
One of its most direct results has been the fixing of the price of wheat at $2.21 per bushel and has had such a salutary effect in determining the prices of breadstuffs that it is a wonder to many why the same principle could not be applied in fixing the price of pork and beans, etc.
The power of the association to affect provincial legislation has been shown in the Municipal Hail Insurance act, The Women’s Suffrage act, Banish the Bar, Rural Credits, marketing facilities for livestock, Co-operative Elevators, etc.
An interesting illustration of the influence which the grain growers of Saskatchewan have upon provincial legislation occurred at a provincial convention for Saskatoon county, during the early part of last year. A well known and influential member of the association was offered the nomination by one of the political parties, which there is no doubt he could have secured, in addition to a reasonable certainty of being elected. In declining the nomination he significantly remarked that in his capacity as a member of the advisory committee, with whom the provincial government frequently consulted on matters affecting the agricultural interests of the province, he could be of more service to them than as a member of the legislature.
When there is added to this condition the fact that four of the members of the provincial government were formerly active members of the Grain Growers’ association, in addition to the further fact that the present minister of the department of agriculture at Ottawa, as well as other western members are members and officers of the association, it is safe betting that the interests of western farmers will be better safeguarded than they had been suspected of being, in the days which are past.
Its Educational Work
With such a record of achievement one would naturally expect that every grain grower in the province would be identified with the association. Unfortunately, such is not the history or experience of any reform movement. In the early stages of all agitations for better conditions it has been the experience that: “The greatest barrier and the most disheartening to those self-sacrificing leaders is found to be the indifference and mistrust of the farmers themselves.”
In view of this generally recognized and regreted condition there was also inaugurated an educational policy, which has undoubtedly been chiefly instrumental in securing the large increase of membership, the approximate number of members being 50,000.
ELEVEN HUNDRED LOCALS
Amongst the methods employed for this educational campaign was the establishment of an organization department, which is financially supported by an allocation of fifty per cent. of the membership fees and voluntary contributions. During the first few years the organization work was conducted by the central secretary and his stenographer. As a result, however, of the increasing interest in the movement about six years ago the province was divided into sixteen districts, which are represented by one director and a number of sub-organizers for each district. The directors are nominated at the annual district conventions and are elected by vote of the annual provincial convention. During the latter convention five “directors at large” are also elected and these twenty-one directors meet immediately following the annual convention to elect three of their number as members of the executive, the president, vice-president and general secretary being ex officio members of the same.
These districts are sub-divided into locals, the total number of which, at the time of writing, is eleven hundred.
A Separate Department
As a result of the enlarged membership, in addition to the multiplication of duties created by the trading activities, which was added in 1914, it was found necessary in April, 1917, to divide up the organization work by the appointment of Mr. H. H. McKinney as the first superintendent of organization. Under his direction the membership, during the first half of last year, increased by 10,000 and this work, which formerly was discharged by the central secretary and his stenographer has now a staff of nine employees.
Arising out of the educational work there has been created a publicity department, which during the last twelve months has assumed various forms and covers a number of activities. Many thousands of leaflets have been issued and distributed amongst their members; in addition to a complete network of public meetings, which have been addressed by the leading members of the organization.
During the summer months a new feature was introduced along the line of educational work. A series of twenty-four meetings were arranged in connection with the Saskatchewan Chautauquas, which were addressed by Mr. W. H. Wood, president of the United Farmers of Alberta. Through the courtesy of the Chautauqua management the organization department was granted the free use of the Chautauqua tent, immediately following Mr. Wood’s address and as a result the propoganda of the association has been presented to the farmers of these districts at a comparatively small outlay.
WINTER STUDY PROGRAM
The educational work of the association also finds a place in the winter study program. About two years ago an educational committee was appointed, which last winter issued a suggestive program of studies, which was sent to all the locals. As an experiment it was only a partial success. But for the present year a more expansive course was prepared, which has been placed in the hands of the secretaries and is doing useful work.
During the last convention the education committee succeeded in having placed on the minutes the convention’s approval of a scheme for establishing “A Training Course,” which it is expected will sooner or later be organized.
Another method of propoganda and education in the principles of the association is the summer rallies. For the last three years this method has been pursued; which during the present summer has taken another form. During the late summer, week-end and holiday rallies were held at Carlyle Lake and Crystal Beach, the success of which was so universally admitted that they are destined to become annual events, equalling in importance and excelling in popularity the annual district fall conventions.
In addition to the thousands of pamphlets which have been spread, knee deep, metaphorically speaking, throughout the province, early in the fall of 1917 arrangements were completed with a number of daily and weekly newspapers for the supply of weekly reports of the association’s activities. This, with the weekly page in the Grain Growers’ Guide, keeps such members as are interested in the work of their movement in the closest touch with its successes, failures and ambitions. At the present time seventeen daily and weekly papers are being thus supplied.
Its Trading Activities
Until the year 1914 the Saskatchewan Grain Growers’ association confined its operations to “organization, education and the defence of the farmers’ interests in the matters of legislation.” During the intervening years, however, the successes which have attended their efforts in the field of legislation, created a demand for an invasion of the field of commerce. This was brought about on the afternoon of the second day of the convention, viz.: February 12, 1914, when the following resolution was unanimously adopted, on the motion of Mr. J. B. Musselman, of Cupar, and Mr. Thomas Sales, of Langham: “Whereas this convention is in favor of co-operative trading by the members of this association, under the provisions of the Agricultural Co-operative Association act. Therefore, be it resolved, that the board of directors be instructed to make immediate arrangements to act as purchasing and selling agents for any locals of this association which may organize under the said act and for such other organized bodies or members of the association as the executive may see fit. Such arrangements may, if deemed advisable by the executive, involve the formation of a special department to undertake the trading and organization work of this association and if such department is organized an official shall be put in full charge of the same who shall be responsible solely to the executive.”
A DARING ENTERPRISE
During the discussion the opinion was freely expressed, which challenges denial, that “the farmers of the prairie provinces create more wealth per capita than those of any other province in Canada and retained for their own use a smaller portion of this wealth than was retained by any other class of wealth in the Dominion of Canada.”
With a knowledge of the conditions under which this new enterprise was given birth, it was, in the language of the west, “a big order”; was accepted with more or less misgivings by those upon whom the responsibility rested of carrying out the project, and destined to go the way of all flesh, as had happened in so many other attempts of the kind.
Three difficulties to be encountered at the outset were: 1. No provision was made for financing the scheme; 2. No suggestions were offered as to where or how the trained staff of assistants or department heads was to be secured for the fulfillment of this dream, and 3, the only office accommodation was the two rooms in the Walter Scott block, Moose Jaw, and the only staff which the organization possessed was the general secretary, Mr. J. B. Musselman (who was appointed during that convention in succession to the late Mr. Fred W. Green), and his stenographer, Miss Kate Winton.
Annual Turnover of $1,800,000
But the cloud, no bigger than a man’s hand, has in four years so overspread the provincial sky, that last year, ending December 31, the turnover was over $1,800,000.
The staff, which at the time of the 1914 convention was represented by the general secretary and his stenographer, is now represented by departmental heads and assistants numbering fifty-two. The little “dinky” office of two rooms in Moose Jaw has been replaced by the present palatial Farmers’ building in Regina, which was erected by the Saskatchewan Co-operative Elevator Co. (whose offices are on the ground floor), in 1915 at a cost exceeding $160,000.
Borrow One Thousand Dollars
This trading activity of the association was commenced without one cent of capital, and their first effort to finance the scheme was by borrowing one thousand dollars from one pocket to place in another one. This amount was loaned from the organization department, but as there were adequate deposits received at the very commencement (which was not until June of the same year), to liquidate the loan, it was only drawn upon for the sum of $200, the balance still remaining to credit of the organization department.
During the first seven months of operations the turnover amounted to $300,000; in the following year the receipts had aviated to $850,000, which in 1916 exceeded the million dollar mark by $86,000; while the returns for 1917 were $1,643,000.
SOME OF THE ACTIVITIES
It is the proud boast of the trading department that it is in a position to supply from the Regina office everything required for the construction of houses and farm buildings, from the plans and specifications, to the last coat of paint, at a saving of from ten to twenty-five per cent. These trading activities also include flour, groceries, drygoods, fuel, etc., with a similar financial result. The purely domestic supplies are handled by the association mail order house, with headquarters in Winnipeg, with a staff of eight employees, which therefore brings the total employees in this and of the association work to sixty.
When the association’s wholesale activities were first established, their first large contract entered into was for the supply of binder twine. In response to a circular sent to the members a perfect deluge of orders arrived, far exceeding the most sanguine expectations of the promotors. During a single week orders for 700,000 pounds of twine were received and the total amount of bona fide orders, accompanied by cash deposits, received that season amounted to approximately two million pounds. This was principally due to the fact that the retail price for twine the previous year was from 20 per cent. to 50 per cent. higher than those quoted by the association.
Discounts on Building Material
Similar savings were effected on building material. During the first year dimension and shiplap, which had been retailing at $29 and $31 per thousand feet, were supplied at $17.50; while mixed paints, the same quality as that supplied by the mail order houses and wholesalers, ere sold to the grain growers at the unheard of price of $1.65 per gallon. Owing to the war conditions, however, these prices do not at the present time obtain.
During that year 20,000 tons of coal was supplied to the membership, which business is increasing so rapidly that it is only a matter of time before the association will be under the necessity of owning and operating its own coal mines.
In addition to the large domestic supplies through their mail order house in Winnipeg and the increasing volume of trade which is being handled from the central in Regina, one of the association’s most spectacular undertakings was the shipment of potatoes and apples. Two years ago, during the potato famine which affected the prairie provinces, potatoes were selling all over Saskatchewan at prices ranging from $1.75 to $1.98 per bushel, with the threat that unless immediate orders were placed the price would go up to $2.59. Quick to respond to such a challenge the association at one got busy and shipped in 100,000 bushels of potatoes, which were disposed of, without loss to the trading department at 85 cents per bushel.
Similar results have been achieved in the handling of fruits. During the first year of operations the association shipped in fifteen thousand barrels of apples, which has been repeated in subsequent years.
Inasmuch as the association is not engaged in these trading activities for the purpose of making dividends, but for the purpose of securing more of those comforts and advantages of a higher standard of living to which all right-thinking men and women aspire, it has been enabled to purchase in large quantities at advantageous terms, and by the elimination of the middlemen’s profits, has effected great savings to the members of the organization, in spite of the secret, as well as the avowed hostility of organized interests, who naturally assume that the existence of the Saskatchewan Grain Growers’ association, with its record of service and future possibilities, is inimical of their ambitions to monopolize the trading activities of the nation.