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Growth Of Farm Organisation

Western Producer
December 8, 1927. p.17

By Geo. F. Stirling, Publicity Department, United Farmers of Canada

There are many young farmers in the west today, members of the organised farm movement and contract signers in the Pool who have not the least idea of the years of struggle, anxiety and battle success and failure, that has been the lot of many valiant pioneers who have given the best of their lives to bring the farmers' business under the control of the farmer himself. They enter into their heritage of comparative prosperity without thought, just as a child jumps into the car or talks through the telephone, or turns on radio entertainment without giving a thought to the trials and dangers and poverty of the early pioneers who tracked west in a covered wagon drawn over the roadless prairie by the slow moving but faithful oxen.


It is sixty years since the first organised farm movement started on the American continent. In 1867, when the Fathers of Confederation brought into being the Dominion of Canada there was being established in Washington an organisation known as the Patrons of Husbandry which was laying the foundations of a movement of vastly greater import to the people of Canada and their descendents. The father of the National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry was Oliver Judson Kelley, a New Englander, who had been pioneering in Minnesota, and who later was a clerk in the Federal Bureau of Agriculture at Washington. Associated with him was his niece, Carrie Hill, later a distinguished singer for the Grange.

At first the pioneers had great difficulty in getting the farmers to accept the idea, but by the year 1875, so quickly had the movement grown that there were at that time throughout the States, nearly 22,000 separate lodges or "Granges' as they were called." A movement like this could not be carried on quickly in the United States without some word of it spreading into Canada. Tariffs and boundary lines may be more or less of a hindrance to trade but nothing can stop the spread of ideas and it was not surprising therefore, to find that in 1872, the National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry spilled like a flood across the 19th parallel.


The organisation was a Secret Order, its main characteristics being patterned somewhat like the Free Masons. The ritual of the Order was symbolic and was said to be "pleasing, beautiful and appropriate, designed not only to charm the fancy, but to cultivate and enlarge the mind and purify the heart having at the same time strict adaptation to rural pursuits."

Seven degrees were conferred on the Patrons, four of which were obtained in the subordinate Grange. In ascending order the degrees were (for the men) Laborer, Cultivator, Harvester, and Husbandman. For the women, Maid, Shepherdess, Gleauer, and Matron.

The Fifth Degree Pamona or Hope which was conferred on either men or women was only obtained through the State Grange. The National Grange conferred the Sixth Degree called Flora of Charity, and the Seventh Ceres of Faith. Those who had the degree Ceres had oversight of all the secret work of the Order. There is no doubt that the secret work and ritual had a great influence in developing the Order and one might trace also the rapid rise of the Farmers Union to a similar cause.


Organisation was begun in Canada by Eben Thompson a Vermonter of 22 years of age, a graduate of Dartmouth College, N.H. who later became a doctor of medicine and a practicing physician. Thompson died in 1897.

The first Canadian units were set up in Stanstead County in the province of Quebec in 1872 and in 1874 the movement spread into Ontario. After considerable discussion over the government of the Order in Canada, a National Grange was set up in Canada on June 2, 1874.

It is interesting to note in the principles of the new organization. "The Order holds no enmity to Capital, legitimate business must obtain: transportation companies are necessary to agricultural development. On the other hand the Grange is firmly determined to bring Producer and Consumer more closely together. "We must dispense with a surplus of middlemen, not that we are unfriendly to them, but we do not need them; their exaction's diminish our profits." Partisan political and sectarian questions were prohibited from the discussions of the Order although the Granger was permitted to take an interest in political issues. A barrier was introduced against the non-agriculturist and there was an equality of status as between men and women.


In the year 1876 the movement spread to the west and Grange was formed at High Bluff, Manitoba, in that year, and several other Granges were formed although there was little attempt made to develop the organisation in the West. It reached its zenith in Canada in the year 1879 when the membership numbered 31,000. From this time it began to wane and although it is still alive today, one must consider it merely as in a state of senile decay. The Grange went into the sphere of Trading and Mutual Fosterance, but through internal discussion it made little headway. The insurance company got into difficulties, was accused of mismanagement and later as the Order began to wane, the Insurance business was finally taken over by a Boston Benefit Association.

The Grange had consistently kept away from the area of politics, but many farmers had felt that they were not getting a square deal from the legislators and they began to talk about going into the political fight. It is quite likely that this had something to do with the waning interest in the Grange, and the rise of the Patrons of industry.


This latter organisation was a politico-economic body which came in on a wave of enthusiasm. The patrons was a body which hoped to link up the industrial workers and the farmers, but it became almost wholly agrarian. In the United States its membership in the State of Michigan in a few years rose to 75,000 and because of its Co-operative Buying it soon raised the animosity of the merchants. In 1889 Norman Smith came over to the Sarnia district in Ontario and organised the first Canadian Lodge. The Patrons, like its predecessor, the Grange was also a secret order with a ritual.

Its platform adopted at London on September 22nd, 1891, amongst other things advocated.

  1. The Maintenance of British Connection.
  2. Purity of Administration.
  3. Abolition of the Senate.
  4. Tariff for Revenue only.
  5. Reciprocity.

Its membership rose to 50,000 in 1893, but in spite of the political victories it had been able to gain internal dissension began to undermine its power. It was accused of mismanagement of the association's finances and its leaders were accused of profiting largely "at the expense of the poor deluded toilers." These charges were found on investigation to be without foundation but they were sufficiently widespread to weaken the power and usefulness of the organization. It received a great setback in the elections of 1896 and by 1908 it began to wither away. By the year 1900 it was completely extinct.


Meanwhile in Western Canada the farmers were feeling the pinch. The land boom had just about faded and in 1883 frost and drought visited the crops, and there was considerable suffering and discontent. This discontent developed into the organisation of the Manitoba and North West Farmers' Protective Association at Winnipeg in December 1883. A declaration of rights was drawn up demanding amongst other things.

Control of Natural Resources.
Construction of needed railways.
Granting of power to municipalities to erect their own elevators, warehouses and flour mills.
Appointment of Grain Inspectors under provincial authority.
Construction of Hudson Bay Railway.

There are no figures available of the strength of this new western organisation, but 300 delegates attended the annual convention in 1885 at Winnipeg which shows that the movement had grown to considerable strength and that western farmers were feeling the need of a strong organised movement.

Meanwhile in Ontario the Farmers' Association had sprung up from the ashes of the Patrons of Industry in 1903 to be amalgamated later with the remnants of the Grange. Amongst those who joined the Grange at this time as a result of amalgamation were E.G. Drury and J.J. Morrison, the present secretary of the United Farmers of Ontario.

The Farmers' Association was instrumental in forcing the railway companies to pay compensation for stock killed on the tracks. For fifteen years the farmers had been unable to get any compensation for damages no matter how careful the farmer might be or how careless the railway companies might be. The law however was finally altered, thanks to the persistent efforts of the organized farmers who were thus saved thousands of dollars in Ontario alone each year by this means. That organisation was also responsible for the appointment of a Railway Commission to control the rates charged by the railway companies for carrying freight and passengers.


Though both the Farmers' Association and the Grange were small in point of numbers at this time the union of the two brought together force which finally evolved in 1914 into the United Farmers of Ontario. The U.F.O. is made up of three distinct corporations, the United Farmers of Ontario: The United Farmers' Co-operative Company Ltd. The parent body is the organising and educating medium and publishes the Farmers' Sun, a vigorous farm paper particularly adapted to voice the interest of agriculture. The Sun is the official organ of the U.F.O. movement. The early struggles of the various organisations have taught the farmers that they must have a strong educational body, they must go into the field of Co-operative Buying, and they must have control of a newspaper to give publicity to their aims and ideals. The U.F.O. was able to take advantage of these lessons and to build up an organisation in the East which is full of vigor and vision for the future.


Whilst these changes were taking place in Ontario great developments were going forward in the new West, and with the opening up of the prairies there began to develop side by side with the agriculturists a strong grain monopoly, exercised mainly through the control of the elevators. Through this control by a small company of men, and the refusal of the C.P.R. to handle any wheat except through the elevators, the farmers soon began to feel themselves entirely at the mercy of the Grain Buyers, and unless they took united action they were soon to find themselves mere slaves of the soil for the enrichment of the Elevator Companies. James Douglas member for East Assiniboia in 1898 took up the fight for the western farmers in this House of Commons a Commission was appointed to enquire into the trouble and the farmers won again the right to ship his grain from the loading platform in carload lots.

Still there were many troubles and difficulties which the pioneers of the west had to face.

The big crop of 1901 had found the railway company unprepared to handle it, this together with the exactions of the elevator companies caused a great deal of discontent amongst the grain growers.

"One day," says I. A. Wood in Farmers Movements in Canada in November 1901, John Millar and John Sibbold were trudging towards Indian Head behind brimming loads of wheat. As their wagons jolted and rumbled along the trail they were talking of the car shortage, the favoritism of the railways, and the exactions of the elevator companies. Of a sudden Sibbold eyed his companion. "You are secretary of the agricultural society," he said, striving to think of some way in which the farmers might give vent to their feelings. "Why not call an indignation meeting." Millar acquiesced willingly and a meeting was arranged. The meeting was a protest and no one thought that it might be the nurturing ground of a new farmers' movement."

Shortly after this W.R. Motherwell and Peter Dayman talked together over the situation and came to the conclusion that some form of combined action was necessary on the part of the grain growers.

They got together at Indian Head on December 18th, 1901, with a small gathering of farmers and after discussing their problems from every angle the meeting decided upon organisation of the Territorial Grain Growers' Association.


At the first Annual Convention in 1902, W.R. Motherwell was elected President: Matthew Snow and G.W. Brown, Vice-President: and John A. Millar was appointed Secretary. Thus was founded the Saskatchewan Grain, Growers Association which for 25 years was destined to keep up a continuous fight in the interests of the farmers of Western Canada. The accomplishments of the S.G.G.A. would make a list too long for the purposes of this summary. But many of those things which grain growers now accept as a matter of course were only obtained by the continuous fight and the continuous vigilance of many men and women whose names will always be linked with the development of Western Agriculture.

Some of the most outstanding of these benefits and improvements are as follows.

The right to the Car Order Pool was won by the Association in 1902.
The right to the Leading Platform for the loading of wheat on the track.
The establishment of the Grain Growers' Grain Company.
The Municipal Hail Insurance Association.
The Co-operative Elevator Company: Interior Storage elevators.
The Incorporation of Co-operative Societies.
The securing of Special Seed Grain Rates: this practically cut the rate in half thus saving the farmers many thousands of dollars.
The Dower Law requiring the wife's signature before the husband can sell the homestead, was gained at the insistance of the Association.

In 1917 when the Government commandeered the wheat crop they proposed to fix the price at $1.30 per bushel. The organised farmers refused to agree to this and as a result of their action of price secured was $2.21 making a difference of approximately $200,000,000 to Saskatchewan alone. The establishment of the Debt Adjustment Bureau was also brought about through the solicitations of the organised farmers and also the founding in 1923 of the "Progressive" now The Western Producer, which gave the farmers of the West a mouthpiece wholly devoted to their co-operative interests.

Another very important decision was made in 1925 when the S.G.G.A. won its case for the right of the farmers to combine for the purchase of supplies. The Hawkers and Peddlers Act as a result of this victory was amended in 1926.


With the introduction of policies into the S.G.G.A. and the wide-open door policy the organisation began to lose its force and it was felt by many farmers that a more militant body should be created on strictly farmer ?. The ? of the dissension was the ? of the Farmers Union in 1923 which adopted several of the features of the original Grange movement. It adopted the closed door with a simple ritual; made the membership open only to a bona-fide farmers; put a two year limit on the rule of elected officials and showed a more active sympathy with the aspirations of industrial workers, and adopted a non-party political basis.

The Farmers' Union had a very rapid growth and soon it became apparent that the competition between the two bodies in Saskatchewan at least was not in the best interest of the organised farm movement. Negotiations were begun towards the amalgamation of the two Saskatchewan bodies on a broader constitutional basis which finally resulted in the establishment of the United Farmers of Canada, Saskatchewan Section.


The history of the farm movements in Canada has been a history of ebb and flow, of rise and fall, but through it all there has been a steady improvement of the conditions of the men and women and children on the farms of the west. This improvement, however, has not been handed to us on a silver platter. It has not been won by those who keep away from co-operative effort. It has been won by the persistent and faithful effort of those men and women who recognising the value of united effort have given their time, their money, their services, and their ability wholeheartedly to the cause of organised agriculture.

Our present organisation is not perfect, far from it. It will not last for ever. Changing needs will develop different plans of organisation. But one thing is certain, our organised co-operative effort has brought many advantages to us and we must continue to support our Pools, our trading enterprises, and our educational organisation if we are to reach to still higher and nobler ideals.