Manitoba Grain Act

Submitted by Patricia Sherman:  email

The railway's refusal to furnish cars for loading direct from the farmers wagon compelled the shipper to sell to the elevator operator for whatever price he could get, accepting whatever weight the operator allowed, and whatever "dockage" he chose to decree.  There was no alternative.  There was no other way to dispose of his grain, if the farmer did not like the treatment he received, he could take his grain home.

These briefly were the conditions that caused discontent and agitation among the farmers.  A Royal Commission was apppointed on October 7th, 1899, and consisted of three Manitoba farmers: W.F. Sirett, of Neepawa; William Lothian of Pipestone; and Charles C. Castle of Foxton.  In March 1900, the Royal Commission made a complete report.

They found that the farmer, in order to have relief from the possibility of udue dockage and price depression, should have the utmost freedom of shipping and selling.  To this end they considered that the railroads should be compelled by law to furnish farmers with cars for shipping their own grain, and that flat warehouses should be allowed so that the farmer could have a bin in which to accumulate a carload of grain, if he so wished.  Loading platforms for the free use of shipping were also recommended.

With no rules to regulate the grain trade except those laid down by the railways and elevator owners, the need was great for definite legislation.  The Manitoba Grain act was passed and became operative in 1900.  The farmer looked upon this grain act as a sort of Magna Charta and felt evrything would be alright now, but they were to learn different.

With the appearance of the Grain Act the elevator owners proceeded to organize the North-West Elevator Association, afterwards called the North-West Grain Dealers Association.

The crop of 1900 was light and caused little trouble, but when the grain began to pour in from the good crop of 1901, and the railways paid no heed to the farmers request for cars, the farmers were up in arms.  This disappointment so angered the farmers that at a gathering of a few leading farmers W.R. Motherwell drafted a letter which summoned the men of Wolsely, Sintaluta, Indian Head, Qu'appelle, Wideawake and other places together for action.  No one could have foretold the bitter
struggle which those letters were destined to unleash and the stirring events that lay ahead.  In response to this letter about 15 farmers gathered at Indian Head on December 18, 1901.  Outcome of this meeting was the organizing of the "Territorial Grain Growers Association."

W.R. Motherwell, John Miller, and Matt Snow of Wolsely went to work at once to organize locals.  The movement took hold of the farmers like wildfire.  When the annual convention was held in Indian Head in February, 1902, there were delegates from thirty locals.

The fall 1902 when the grain commenced to move to market, the railway people disregarded as before those provisions of the Grain Act which aimed to protect the farmer in getting his fair share of cars in which to load direct.  The Association promptly took legal action at Sintaluta against the Company's station agent there.  The farmers won.

With the winning of their first clash the farmers movement was gaining momentum.  In the latter part of December in the town of Virden. Manitoba, a committee was appointedat a meeting of the Virden Agricultural Society, to arrange for a district meeting for the purpose of organizing the first Grain Growers association in Manitoba.  A strong local association was formed at Virden on January 9th, 1903.  In about six weeks over fifteen local associations had been formed in manitoba. On March 3 and 4, 1903, the Manitoba Grain Growers Association held their first convention at Brandon with 100 delegates present.

With experience the farmers found weak spots in the Grain Act and suggested remedial legislation which the government granted.  In 1904 the farmers began pressing for something more than the proper distribution of cars and the freedom of shipment.  They were dissatisfied with the grading system and the re-inspection machinery. The farmers subscribed $100.00 to send E.A. Partridge to Winnipeg to watch and find out all he could about this grain marketing.  As a result E.A. Partridge became obsessed with a big idea; why couldn't the farmers themselves form a company to undertake the marketing of their own wheat?

Partridge told a convention of the Manitoba Grain Growers what he learned at Winnipeg and about his idea of a farmers company to do the job.  He went on to Sintaluta where he outlined his idea of a joint stock company for the co-operative marketing of grain by farmers.  He then reported to the Teritorial Grain Growers Association at Moose Jaw. On January 27th, 1906, the Grain Growers Grain Company was launched.  A campaign was launched in a small way to sell shares.  The Manitoba Grain Growers met in Brandon, in February, for their 1906 convention.  E.A. Partridge was there and again urged the advisability of establishing a company to handle the farmers grain, but the convention did not give its approval.

There were those who were in sympathy with the idea.  The word was passed around for all who were interested to meet in the council chamber of the Brandon Town Hall.  About thirty farmers attended this meeting and the plans of the Sintaluta men for a co-operative trading company were approved.  It was decided to meet at the Leland Hotel in Winnipeg some time in March or April to formulate plans for an active campaign of selling stock.

A little office was opened for business in Winnipeg on September 5, 1906.  This infant of a farmers co-operative trading company was ready for business.  From the very beginning the volume of business was far beyond all expectations and almost swamped the small staff.  Not only did the company have an unexpected volume of grain to handle, they had
stiff and vicious opposition from the private grain trade.  At one time the company was expelled from the grain exchange because it undertook to pay a patronage dividend.  The company started with a provincial charter.  In 1911 it was granted a Dominion Charter in the face of considerable opposition at Ottawa from those whom the farmers regarded as representing the Canadia Manufacturers Association and the Retail Merchants Association.

Of all the threatening situations through which this organization passed none was more critical than the test of a serious internal disagreement.  It demonstrated the mettle of the farmers in a significant manner.  It was all because of heavy losses in the export business totaling more than $230,000.00.  After considerable consideration, the farmers asked "Can the export part of our business be developed successfully with a little more time?"  "Yes, we believe so," replied the officers.  "That's all we want to know, write a cheque to cover the loss, reorganize the export company and stick to it."