Drawing Dividends from a Silver Lining

Drawing Dividends from a Silver Lining


It is nearly fifteen years now since a blue-eyed pioneer farmer of keen vision, a man by the name of Partridge, away out on the bleak Saskatchewan prairie, pointed to a silver lining which he saw edging the dark cloud of conditions in the grain trade at that time. He called it co-operation.

“Why not let’s get together and market our own grain instead of taking so much sass from the other fellows?” he suggested.

“You’re crazy, Ed!” cried many of those with whom he talked. “We’re from Ontario! Go into business? What, us farmers? We’ve tried that before, and we’re still paying for the mortgages it cost us.” And they looked where he pointed; but they saw only the dark cloud.

The story of those early days of struggle and unsettled conditions is an old one now. Partridge got his “Grain Growers’ Grain Company” started in 1906 and the fight began. Today over sixty thousand farmers in Western Canada are operating more than six hundred country elevators, two large public terminals at Fort William and Port Arthur, two large private terminal elevators at the same ports, and marketing about one-third of the total grain crop of the three prairie provinces. Also the farmers are conducting a grain export business, which, prior to the war, was one of the largest on the continent, headquarters at New York; in 1916 it reached a volume of 90,000,000 bushels, and upon entry of the United States into the war, the export company’s services were placed at the disposal of the Allied Governments.

Besides United Grain Growers, Limited, who organized this export business, the commercial activities of the Grain Growers in Western Canada, include two other large companies - the Saskatchewan Co-operative Elevator Company and the trading department of the Saskatchewan Grain Growers’ Association. Two of these three concerns handle farm machinery, lumber, coal, flour and other farm supplies to the value of more than $7,000,000 annually.

Also the Western farmers own a publishing and printing plant, worth a quarter of a million dollars, where their official organ, “The Grain Growers’ Guide,” is turned out each week for 70,000 subscribers. In addition they own a large office building, coal sheds and flour warehouses by the hundreds, several large machinery warehouses at different centres, a large flour and feed department at the Pacific coast, and a timber limit (300,000,000 feet) in British Columbia, with a $250,000 sawmill, manufacturing lumber for prairie buildings. Also, 3,000 carloads of live stock are shipped by the organized farmers each year. Their newest commercial activity is selling farm lands to settlers on a straight commission basis.

These farmers’ companies in the West have a total paid-up capital of $3,000,000 or more, with a reserve fund of $2,000,000. The assets exceed $12,000,000. Their contribution in actual cash war taxes exceeds a cool million dollars.

The old abuses in the grain trade, which forced the first handful of Western farmers together in self-defence, have disappeared in the complete evolution of the grain trade during the past dozen years. With the war, of course, came the Board of Grain Supervisors, with almost unlimited powers to manage Canada’s main crop; but even prior to the war the whole system of crop marketing had reached a highly efficient basis. So rapidly are things moving in new directions these days, that the early struggles of the farmers’ companies, particularly those pioneer troubles of the Grain Growers’ Grain Company, seem very far away. The Grain Growers’ Grain Company itself merged its identity with that of the Alberta Farmers’ Co-operative Company in 1917, and the two became the powerful United Grain Growers’ Limited. But the result of the fight which the farmers were forced to wage at every forward step in earlier years finds expression to-day in the solid foundation upon which their co-operative enterprises stand in Western Canada. Only by their service, competitive business service, have they gained their headway, and because of that very fact they are built for permanency. The younger generation, which is being trained for management by the farmers’ companies, will be fully competent when the time comes for them to assume full responsibilities.

As monuments to the farmers’ ability to organize, stick together and fight a winning battle against long odds, these successful co-operative institutions acquire special significance now that the farmers have decided upon political action. It has been predicted that if ever the farmers started “monkeying” with politics the requiem would be sung over the wreck of the entire edifice - “Good-bye Forever.” That was what had happened in the past to gay little Farmers’ Movements, both in Canada and the United States. But the Grain Growers’ Movement in Western Canada is vastly different to the old Populist Party, just as the commercial aspects here are vastly different to farmers’ elevators and similar attempts at co-operation in the States. Incidentally, it is worthy of note that the political organization of the farmers is being kept entirely distinct from the established co-operative institutions; so that while these thews and sinews undoubtedly add force to the farmers’ political punch, political defeat would not upset the economic applecart.

From the prairie country, where the farmer first asserted himself, the movement spread to Ontario. Here, although conditions were very different among the farmers, it was not long before co-operative organizations attained success also in a commercial way. During the war the membership of the United Farmers’ associations developed rapidly, with strong political tendencies concomitant, so that it has fallen to the Ontario farmers to take the political lead. Undoubtedly the result of the last election in Ontario has speeded up the political organization of the farmers in the West and opened the eyes of the farmers in the Maritime Provinces to new possibilities.

Down there, amid peaceful pastoral scenes, the hot agitation of fellow-farmers in the West was but a far-off echo for many years. For a long time even the news of what was taking place was but fragmentary. But there are a lot of young farmers from the seaboard out West making good, and some of them visited the old home occasionally. And Ontario papers, containing the news, circulated more freely, and the time came when co-operation was applied among the fruit growers with considerable success. And once the Maritime farmer gets started on anything he travels far and stays late.

Just what stage of co-operative development he has reached may be of interest. In Nova Scotia, the apple growers of Annapolis Valley rebelled against the speculators eight years ago, by beginning to market their own fruit. Farmers’ companies were organized at local shipping points, and two or three years later a central organization became necessary. The United Fruit Companies of Nova Scotia now has forty-five locals, with a head office at Kentville, and they own fifty-two warehouses. Of the 2,000,000 barrels which represent this year’s apple crop, they are handling between 40 and 50 per cent. The total membership of these farmers’ companies is 2,000; the paid-up capital is $350,000, of which 20 per cent is paid into the central company, which markets all the fruit. Great Britain is the chief buyer of these choice Canadian apples, and for that reason the Nova Scotia growers have not gone in for box trade. War conditions were unfavorable for its development; but in due course it is intended to box certain dessert fruits for the Canadian market.

Europe is also a good market for evaporated apples, and about 350,000 barrels of the crop - number threes and culls - are evaporated and canned. A big business is done by the farmers’ company in potatoes; 85,000 barrels were marketed last year in Cuba, where the company has its own representatives as well as in London. Fertilizers, flour and feed, grass seed, spraying solutions and machinery are supplied by the company to its members, the past year’s total volume being almost $2,000,000. Each local company buys from the central organization, which acts as wholesaler and purchaser.

When it is remembered that the Annapolis Valley, approximately 100 miles long, by five to eight in width; can produce over 4,000,000 barrels of apples the opportunity for the development of the United Fruit Companies becomes apparent. The potato business and the supply business will increase many times over, and as the organization is a live one, it's overwhelming success seems assured.

In neither Nova Scotia or Prince Edward Island are the farmers organized along the same lines as in Ontario and the Western provinces - that is, politically and educationally, as well as commercially. But in New Brunswick, they are organized and actively in the field, modeling their associations after the Grain Growers’ organizations and the United Farmers of Ontario. The United Farmers of New Brunswick came into being in February, 1918, and already the paid-up membership is over 5,000, with sixty-five local associations in different parts of the province. In their monthly meetings these locals discuss the same questions as the farmers in Ontario and the West, and have adopted the “New National Policy” laid down by the Canadian Council of Agriculture, which comprises representatives from all farmers’ organizations, irrespective of provinces, and is the body which formulates the official policies of the farmers. The only plank which the New Brunswick men have thrown out is that relating to public ownership. It was the New Brunswick organization which put their president, T.W. Caldwell, in the field in the recent by-election and elected him to the seat vacated by Hon. F. B. Carevell.

Their [sic] is talk of the United Farmers of New Brunswick widening their organization to include the other two maritime provinces; so that one powerful organization would speak for all maritime farmers. A chain of co-operative stores is the form which their commercial activities have taken in New Brunswick; although organized only last January, thirteen of these co-operative stores are now doing a profitable business at the rate of more than $50,000 per month. The buying is done by the head office at Woodstock, and the locals sell on a cash basis only. With the retailers hostile and the wholesalers mostly inclined to boycott them, they are having their own fight; but the New Brunswick farmers are holding on their course with every determination to win. In their first year they have made a wonderful record and enthusiasm predominates.

Getting back to the political aspect, the maritime provinces have at least 20 Federal seats which are controlled by the rural vote. Early last summer there was an election in Prince Edward Island, and the Conservative Government passed away before the determination of the farmers to put more farmers in the Legislature. They had not organize as a Farmers’ Party or anything like that - just got mad over a few things, put up candidates who were farmers, and surprised themselves. Politics is a serious business in the maritime provinces; but it looks as if even down there the day had come when it was no longer the custom to be born of Grit or Tory parents, live as born and die as lived! Speculating as to what the future holds in store is a futile indulgence just now. In common with other parts of the world, Canada is passing through times of sudden change and confusion. But presently when the snapping of war tensions and consequent relaxations lengthen into perspective things will adjust themselves to the great era of opportunity which is opening up for Canada. The one thing to which the average citizen can fasten is the truth that no matter what new names governments may acquire, they must base their only hope for success upon service to Canadian citizenship as a whole.

Then may the A.C. step forward and grasp them by the hand and say, like the parishioner to the new preacher, “Your sermon was very good, indeed, sir, and so instructive. We really didn’t know what sin was till you came here.”

By Hopkins Moorehouse
(author of “Deep Furrows”)


Celebrating 150 Years of Canadian Agriculture