NOVEMBER 5, 1861 - AUGUST 3, 1931
Edward Alexander Partridge was born on a farm in Vespra Township, Simcoe County on November 5, 1861. His Methodist upbringing, though imperilled by an early crisis of faith, imparted in Edward a keen sensitivity towards injustice, and a stubborn belief in the perfectibility of man that would inform his later radicalism. A bright and hard-working young man, Edward attended high school in Barrie and became a schoolteacher upon graduation; but he could not escape his desire to return to the land. In 1883, Edward and his brother left Ontario to seek opportunity on the expanding western frontier.
The Partridge brothers settled north of Sintaluta in the District of Assiniboia, which would later become the province of Saskatchewan. However, as Edward did not have the money to afford the necessary equipment and supplies to pursue his dream of homesteading, he fell back on his earlier training and became a schoolteacher in the region for several years. In 1886, Edward married Mary Stephens and, using the money he had saved up as a schoolteacher, started a farm which they called ‘The Bluffs.’ Together they had five children and made a start as grain farmers on the fertile prairie soil.
However, life on the frontier did not provide the freedom and opportunity that Edward and many other settlers had hoped. With the last spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway laid in 1885, lucrative eastern markets were opened to western farmers. But in order to ship their grain, farmers were at the mercy of the railroad, grain elevator companies, millers, and exporters; all of whom colluded to ensure they kept as much of the profits as possible. For their part, farmers had little choice but to cooperate; they were driven to sell their grain right after the fall harvest to get cash to pay their creditors. It was this situation that Edward Partridge sought to organize farmers against.
Edward became active in the Territorial Grain Growers’ Association in 1902, where he advocated for a farmer-owned cooperative trading company to replace the Winnipeg Grain Exchange. Then, in 1906, Partridge and some farmers met at a hardware store outside of Sinatula to form the Grain Growers’ Grain Company (G.G.G.C.) to negotiate grain prices cooperatively. The Winnipeg Grain Exchange was nearly successful in forcing them off the exchange and putting them out of business, but the strong support of farmers and the Manitoba government saved the young enterprise. Dismayed by the negative press coverage they received from the big business-aligned media, the G.G.G.C. formed the Grain Growers’ Guide in 1908 to serve as a voice for prairie farmers. Partridge served as the publication’s editor for a brief time, a position he used to promote his radical social and agrarian views. In what became known as the ‘Partridge Plan’, Edward called for the public ownership of grain and terminal elevators, and gained considerable support within the prairie provinces. Edward resigned from the G.G.G.C. in 1912 due to a dispute with Thomas Crerar, the president.
Edward Partridge’s life after departing the G.G.G.C. was a time of great tragedy and increasing radicalization. Having lost his foot in a binder accident during the 1907, Edward relied more and more on his sons to help around the farm. With the outbreak of war in 1914, Edward and Mary’s two sons both enlisted and were shipped off. That same year, their eldest daughter drowned while swimming in a pond near the farm. Then, the Partridge’s received word, one after the other, that their boys had been killed fighting in Europe. As it did with the Canadian farmers’ movements in general, the war and its aftermath radicalized Edward. He was influential in the formation of the Saskatchewan chapter of the United Farmers of Canada, and was made its honorary president. Edward’s Methodist upbringing contributed to his Social Gospel views which combined Christian ethics with calls for radical social transformation. He staked out his position most clearly in his 1925 book, A War on Poverty. One passage in this book read, “It seems a silly thing to pray every morning for the Kingdom of Heaven, and not be expecting it, and what is more, working for it … To me the Kingdom of Heaven suggests a co-operative commonwealth.” These and other ideas outlined in the book anticipated many of the founding principles of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, the party of J.S. Woodsworth and Tommy Douglas, which would become the New Democratic Party. But Edward would not live to see this.
In 1925, Mary Partridge died unexpectedly of a heart attack. Edward left The Bluffs forever and moved to Victoria, B.C. to be near his youngest daughter. Lame, destitute, and lonely, Edward was overcome with despair. With the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, he lost all hope of ever seeing his dream become reality. On August 3, 1931, Edward Partridge tragically took his own life. Edward Alexander Partridge’s life and accomplishments were remembered by western farmers, however. In 1962, he was nominated and inducted into the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame by the United Grain Growers, and then again in 1972 into the Saskatchewan Agricultural Hall of Fame.