The Honourable Thomas Alexander Crerar, Marquette Riding and the Union Government Election of 1917
by Foster J. K. Griezic
MHS Transactions, Series 3, Number 28, 1971-72 Season
The importance of the prairie provinces participation in the formation of Union Government and the general election of 1917 is well known as is the bitterness of the electoral campaign. Most often emphasis is placed on the reaction of the French Canadians and Quebec to Union Government, conscription and the franchise manipulations. Frequently ignored are the dissident grain growers of western Canada.  The Unionist sweep in the prairies is generally seen as a grass roots response to the clarion call to "win-the-war". A study of the Marquette constituency of Manitoba indicates that this response was less enthusiastic than appears and that on both Union Government and conscription, unionist candidates had their difficulties. This obtained in spite of the candidacy of the Honourable Thomas Alexander Crerar, recently appointed Minister of Agriculture.
Alex Crerar was well known in Western Canada, particularly among the grain growing community. He was born in south western Ontario in 1876 and five years later the family took up homesteading near Russell, Manitoba. The Crerars, of Scottish ancestry and Presbyterian religion, readily fitted into the new community and became influential members of it.
Crerar had a varied career. He was an accomplished athlete. He played baseball, tennis, curling and was a marksman in the local gun club. He also helped organize many of the clubs that developed in the area. He was ambitious. As the eldest son, he assisted his father on the farm. At eighteen years of age he returned to school and obtained a formal education; he then combined teaching and farming. He branched into the sawmilling business and soon entered the grain business as manager and secretary of the Russell Farmers Elevator Company. Crerar became involved in the cooperative movement - the grain growers' associations - developing in the province as a member of the executive of the Russell local, but was never a member of the provincial executive. His experience, his father's reputation, and the support and encouragement of John Kennedy and Edward Partridge, vice-president and president respectively, contributed to his appointment July 1907, at the youthful age of thirty-one as president of the Grain Growers' Grain Company. It was begun as a farmers company to provide a means of alleviating the abuses that western grain growers believed they suffered. In spite of numerous difficulties he helped consolidate the company and give it respectability in the eyes of the grain growers and the business community. Under his presidency the company, in 1917, amalgamated with the Alberta Farmers' Co-operative Elevator Company to form the United Grain Growers' Grain Company which became one of the largest single handlers of grain in western Canada. The U.G.G. also greatly diversified its business activities. Through the company he secured his position of power. He continued his interest in the provincial associations and the Canadian Council of Agriculture. All were assisted financially by the company. He also encouraged the development of the Grain Growers' Guide, a subsidiary of the company, as the journal of the organized farmers in western Canada. When he moved to Winnipeg he retained ties with the Russell area through relatives and friends and the company.
Crerar had entered Union Government after considerable soul searching as the on-again, off-again negotiations travelled their tortuous path. He was not the political novice he claimed to be; indeed, his history of political activity began in the 1899 provincial election which his father unsuccessfully contested as a Liberal.  Crerar's involvement with the Liberal party was well established as he had been vice-president of the Russell Young Men's Liberal Club and had discreetly assisted Liberals in elections, provincially and federally.  He was close to the provincial Liberal administration of T. C. Norris and offered advice on how to make Liberal platforms acceptable to the farmers. Early in 1917, when it was rumoured he would become Manitoba's Minister of Agriculture, he rejected overtures from Sir Wilfrid Laurier to contest the upcoming federal election as a Liberal. At the Western Liberal Convention at Winnipeg in August 1917 which endorsed Laurier's leadership, Crerar, who was a delegate and on the resolutions committee, supported the call for a national government.  Realizing, however, the degree of opposition that existed toward the union government scheme, in mid-August he toyed with the idea of contesting the election as an independent Liberal grain grower candidate. He would stand for
And he was prepared to bear fifty per cent of the election expenses.
Crerar was in a difficult position. He had been involved in the Unionist negotiations, as early as June, but did not gain prominence until later in the discussion. Union Government would demonstrate Canadian unity in the war effort and conscription would replenish the military manpower shortage that developed in 1917. He was opposed to Laurier's leadership; but he was also opposed to Borden's. Crerar was suspicious of the Conservatives and of the influence of Sir Clifford Sifton who was closeting with Borden to bring about union government. The attempt to obtain a new leader had failed. The Borden administration's electoral legislation, the War Time Elections Act and the Military Voters Act, were objectionable to Crerar; and the prospect of introducing reform was not too promising. He must have been satisfied with the compromises hammered out on taxation and civil service reforms, cabinet personnel and cabinet restructuring to direct the war and handle internal matters. There seemed to be no viable alternative. The farmers' agitation for independent political action, according to Crerar, had too many drawbacks. The time was impropitious, there was a lack of leadership, organization and finances.  He also appeared to have been opposed to the principle of third parties per se. His obsessive fear of the Conservatives in control, his concern for the Liberal party, and his belief that it was his duty to assist in administering the war effort  apparently outweighed his suspicions, objections and reservations.
Crerar, it should be noted, had been brought into Union Government as the representative of the West specifically of the grain growers' associations. His inclusion was crucial to the administration's formation; it hopefully would weaken the known opposition of the grain growers to union government and conscription and would bring grain grower support to the administration.  His relation with the farmers' associations received wide and erroneous publicity; he was referred to as the "President of the Grain Growers' Association of Manitoba".  His name as a possible member of a new government gained currency by late August. But Crerar's entry into the administration surprised the Guide. At some point he had discussed the situation privately with the company Board of Directors and had overcome some opposition.  He apparently did not discuss the possibility of his entry with other western farmer or grain grower leaders. In fact it was necessary for Crerar to advise Chipman and the grain growing community through the Guide that he was entering Union Government as their representative.  This, as well as the composition of the government,  may have contributed to the difficulties that developed.
Crerar had to locate a constituency to represent. Rumours circulated of potential seats such as Winnipeg South, Souris and Brandon, but he was very interested in Marquette. He wanted to represent a rural riding and his familiarity with the area would minimize the possibility of defeat.
Demographically Marquette was inviting to Crerar. Geographically it was located in the central south western region of the province and was bordered by Saskatchewan. It was a large riding, overwhelmingly rural with a few small towns, the largest being under 2000 in population, and a few villages.  There were practically no industries in the constituency and the major business was farming. It was a relatively healthy grain growing agricultural community in which four-fifths of the farmers owned their own farms, the average size of which was one hundred to three hundred and twenty acres.  The population had increased since 1911,  likely due to natural increase and probably by the arrival of a few new settlers. Approximately two-thirds of the residents were English-speaking Canadians of English, Scotch and Irish extraction; more than one-half of those designated British born were from Manitoba or Ontario; the largest groups from the British Isles were from England and Scotland.  The aliens were in a distinct minority being outnumbered by more than two to one; the largest group was categorized Austro-Hungarian, and in decreasing order numerically Galicians, Austrians, Poles, Ruthenians, Swedes and Norwegians.  Most of the population was Protestant. The largest sects were Presbyterian, Anglican, Methodist, and Lutheran in that order; and there was a large Greek Orthodox Church congregation as well as a good number of Roman Catholic adherents but neither was as large as any of the three leading Protestant sects.  The riding was ideal for the campaign strategy of the Union Government.
Since 1871 when the constituency was created, it had been represented by both Conservatives and Liberals. From 1871 to 1891, only two Conservatives had represented the riding (Sir John A. Macdonald briefly held the seat in 1878). In 1892, the Conservatives won the by-election and four years later Dr. W. J. Roche retained the seat and held it for the next twenty-one years. The Liberals might have had hopes after the close contest in the 1911 election but Union Government had changed the situation.
The composition of the riding and Crerar's past association with it suggested that his nomination would be a mere formality. Such was not the case. He may have forgotten that Marquette had a history of political dissidency as demonstrated by the support of the Patrons of Industry in the 1890s. There were difficulties confronting him in the constituency - from the local grain growers.
The grain growers had not been inactive politically in spite of the manufactured agitation for union government and conscription. Independent political action had been discussed with increasing frequency since 1911. This did not end with the war. A new Farmers Platform produced under the auspices of the C.C.A. late in 1916 and outlining demands of the organized farmers was readily adopted by the prairie associations and their Ontario counterpart in 1917. Yet it is true that opinion was divided on the question of political action. The prairie grain growers' associations either tabled or opposed resolutions endorsing independent political action. The C.C.A. held a special meeting in March, 1917 to discuss this issue but they denied that they were starting a third party.  Although they did not become the central organizing body for such a movement they did not discourage the move to select independent farmer candidates supporting the platform to contest the upcoming election. In Manitoba John Kennedy, George Chipman, W. R. Wood, J. S. Wood, and R. C. Henders endorsed political action while J. L. Brown and others opposed it. Henry Wise Wood, on his way to fame in the Alberta and western farmers movement, opposed entering politics while Rice Sheppart supported it. Charles Dunning in Saskatchewan opposed the idea while George Langley and Edward Partridge, who earlier opposed the suggestion, now endorsed it. The splits did not restrict the farmers' political activities; only gradually did support develop for a national or union government. This was not incompatible with their goal. Grain growers en bloc could be a pressure group or balancing bloc in a national government.
Politicization was encouraged by opposition to the Borden government and conscription. Farmer leaders were not so divided on conscription. Early in 1917 the Manitoba and Saskatchewan associations passed resolutions accepting conscription, but the conscription of wealth should precede the conscription of manpower.  In July the United Farmers of Alberta passed a resolution of the same tenor. Local grain growers held constituency conventions. Fifteen grain grower candidates supporting the C.C.A. platform and political independence had been elected in the West to contest the election.  The farmers appeared to be in earnest. The Guide only reluctantly eased its support of such activity, while the Free Press and the Winnipeg Telegram, strange bedfellows though they be, vehemently denounced the farmers' actions, the Guide's defense of the farmers and wildly categorized opponents of Union Government as "Bolsheviki".  But the farmers wanted their candidates to run in the election as they could best represent the agricultural communities' interests as well as win the war. Farmer candidates had in fact, publicly repudiated Union Government developments. To them Union Government was a facade and would not improve the prosecution of the war effort and the domestic situation; they were prepared to forgo immediate tariff changes if an adequate excess profits tax was adopted.  It was not surprising therefore that of the fifteen nominated, only five were acceptable to joint Conservative-Liberal union government conventions. Grain grower leaders like Rod McKenzie and Peter Broadfoot, for whom Crerar lobbied, were rejected.  Some farmer candidates, nonetheless, contested the election as independents.
The Marquette grain growers had been active. They too wanted their own political representative in Ottawa, who would be independent of the old parties. A non-partisan, enthusiastic convention, attended by two hundred and fifty delegates had been held June 28. Robert H. Dennison, a farmer and former Conservative, was nominated from a large number of nominees as the grain grower standard bearer in the upcoming election.  The meeting, reflecting the prevailing mood of those in attendance, entitled their political organization the New Independent Political Association. They endorsed the farmers' platform, winning the war, and claimed independence of the old line parties. It appeared that the riding had a grain grower representative and that Crerar would have to contest the election against a grain grower.
Aware of the dissatisfaction, Crerar, travelled West after Union Government had been formed to reassure westerners of the developments and to defend the formation of Union Government. He used the rhetoric of Union Government to claim:
He also emphasized that he had not changed his reformist ideas, and stressed that the Government would implement reforms such as eliminating patronage, controlling the cost of living, and that conscription of wealth would receive "very careful attention". This position apparently had not assuaged the farmers.
In the riding activity was pursued in Crerar's behalf. At the recent western Liberal convention he began to act covertly with J. A. Glen  a lawyer from Russell and Union Government supporter who handled the leg-work for Crerar, in order to obtain the candidacy. Glen was mainly responsible for keeping Crerar informed about the riding and, after consultation with other leading liberals, encouraged him to seek the candidacy for the constituency.  Crerar did not discourage the activity of Glen, G. J. H. Malcolm, George Grierson and others in preparing the riding for him. By the time Crerar had been appointed Minister of Agriculture, he had travelled to the riding to meet these men and feel out the situation. The pro-Unionist Liberals of the riding contacted some grain grower leaders, but not Dennison or his leading supporters, to discuss holding a new convention to select Crerar as their candidate and this was agreed to.  The politically independent-minded farmer leaders were apparently to be presented with a fait accompli.
Not unexpectedly, the farmer leaders, who had taken the initiative in nominating their prospective representative and had been ignored by the Union Government activists, resented the attempt to foist Crerar upon them. He seemed to be out of touch with the rank-and-file and a good number of agricultural leaders in the community, but he was prepared to work with others to obtain the nomination. Crerar, it seems, either was misinformed by his supporters in the riding about the farmers or perhaps believed that they could be bullied or finessed into accepting him. It may be that he deluded himself into believing that the farmer leaders were not opposed to him and his activities, for he repeatedly referred to the farmer leaders being agreeable to holding a new convention,  which was not the case. In an attempt to win the farmers' support, he outlined his position in a lengthy letter to W. J. Short, President of the Marquette Independent Political Association.
And he mentioned his hopes for reform. It was, however, ineffective. There was no thought of withdrawing their candidate.
Two sharp blunt letters from John S. Troughton, who had nominated Dennison at the June convention, and from Robert Dalgarno, a prominent municipal politician, grain grower and President of the Marquette Grain Growers' Association, informed Crerar of the grain growers' attitude toward the situation. On October 25 Troughton, a grain grower for eighteen years advised Crerar that
Two days later Dalgarno sent his missive to Crerar. It explained how the grain growers, after briefly considering Crerar as an independent candidate, had elected Dennison who was not withdrawing from the contest  Their position regarding a new convention and their reasons for opposing Crerar were also presented:
Crerar's conception of the farmers in the riding and the prospect of obtaining the candidacy unanimously as he had hoped,  were abruptly shattered. Crerar's motives and tactics were questioned.
In an attempt to smooth over the difficulty he called Dalgarno and Dennison to Winnipeg to discuss the situation, likely in the hopes of pacifying them and winning them over. Realizing his difficult position he declared that he did not want to contest the riding against a grain grower candidate.  He denied any intention to harm the grain growers' organization, but did not deny that he was working with the Unionist Liberals. His actions were explained by the very critical war situation which made it his duty to enter Union Government; and he claimed that his views were consistent with the organized grain growers.  The Winnipeg meeting was successful as the reluctant grain growers agreed to Crerar's nomination at the November 15 convention.
The meeting held at Shoal Lake was in many respects an anti-climax. Three hundred and fifty delegates were in attendance. There was little doubt that the Conservatives of the riding supported Crerar as Roche, the former sitting member, retired leaving the constituency open for Crerar. The officers in charge of the convention were Crerar supporters, and to impress the delegates of the need for his nomination, prominent and successful men, who were former residents of the riding, such as Colonel H. A. Mullins, were present to speak in Crerar's behalf.  The grain grower leaders who supported Dennison likely realized the futility of their position: to oppose Crerar would label them traitors and the carefully weighted convention to which they were incidentally invited offered little prospect of satisfying their supporters. They were not, however, prepared to accept this dictation silently.
At the convention the grain growers recorded their token resistance to what had occurred. Dennison was officially nominated. He explained how he had been contacted by Crerar regarding the riding after the formation of Union Government and how he agreed not to contest the election against the Minister of Agriculture until after the war.  Dalgarno followed and stated the opposition to Crerar was due to the attempt to impose himself on the riding, but after discussing the situation they agreed to withdraw Dennison and accept Crerar. It is difficult to assess the discontent of the Marquette grain growers over Crerar's actions. They probably acquiesced because of his reputation and position, and they were fully aware that their organization might be emasculated if they ran a farmer candidate against him. He was unanimously nominated as the candidate for Marquette. His acceptance speech was a succinct (and somewhat garbled) explanation supporting his position. He admitted his earlier refusal of a candidacy in the west and claimed that he had rejected an offer to contest the election as an independent supporting conscription (it was he who had suggested such a position); but he had entered Union Government when asked by Borden.  He also wisely reiterated the reforms to be initiated by the new administration. Crerar had successfully overcome the local grain growers who could have been quite an embarrassment.
The Laurier Liberals in the riding, on instructions from Ottawa, initially had been reluctant to contest the seat as "Mr. Crerar [sic] was a bright fellow and a friend of ours,"  but the situation changed. They were advised to run a candidate. The day before the Unionist convention, F. C. Hamilton, who like Crerar formerly lived in the riding and was a successful businessman in Winnipeg, was nominated as the Laurier Liberal standard bearer at a poorly attended meeting.  There would be no acclamation for the new cabinet minister.
Conscription was the major issue of the electoral campaign. Union Government and conscription supporters charged that a referendum on conscription as proposed by Laurier was inadequate, time consuming, unnecessary and likely to defeat conscription, and as a result had to be opposed. The majority of organized labour was opposed to conscription and consequently more labour candidates ran in the election than in any previous federal contest. The organized farmers, (it was admitted by both old parties), were opposed to conscription. After the conscription bill had become law, six in seven farmers were seeking exemptions, much to the annoyance of conscriptionist advocates such as the Free Press and Dafoe.  Some means had to be employed to allay the suspicions and apprehensions of the farmers who feared that conscription would call up their sons and their necessary labour force, thus destroying the agricultural production campaign (and the farmers' chances at economic improvement). The farmers believed they had volunteered their share of manpower to the war effort. They complained about the tribunals mishandling of exemption claims and Crerar's nomination meeting he had steered clear of the touchy subject of conscription. Crerar attempted to resolve these complaints. However, he had been unable to obtain cabinet endorsation to advise tribunals of the need for agricultural labour and increased production in order to ease the farmers' concern and complaints about the local tribunals' actions in handling farmers' claims for exemptions.  But the situation for the farmers quickly changed; their apprehensions were conveniently eased. On November 24, Adjutant-General S. C. Mewburn, Minister of Militia and Defense, publicly enunciated the Government's attitude towards the farmers.
Bona Fide were not to be conscripted by Union Government. And Mewburn confirmed for Crerar what had been said about exempting farmers.  A week later, hoping to minimize farmers' complaints against tribunals, the government granted him the right to nominate his representative to tribunal boards, to appeal tribunal decisions and investigate appeals.  The appointments were, of course, to be an adroit means of dispensing patronage to attract support for Union Government. The farmers' position vis-a-vis conscription was clarified additionally when Chief Justice Lyman Duff of the Supreme Court of Canada passed judgment in the W. J. Rowntree test case declaring in favour of granting exemptions to farmers. Wide publicity was given to Mewburn's statement and Duff's decision which led the farmers to believe that they had little to fear from Union Government: conscription did not apply to the farmers or farmers' sons needed on the farm.  The agriculturalists, it seems, were prepared to accept conscription - of urbanites and non-agriculturalists - so long as farmers and their necessary help were exempted. Crerar could move into the campaign in his own riding with increased confidence.
The campaign in the constituency was accelerated in the last week of November when Crerar returned to the riding after approximately ten days' absence. Before he left he had instructed his workers regarding their organizational tasks;  and there was an elaborate and seemingly well-functioning organization. Working with Glen were a number of politically experienced individuals such as Malcolm, W. W. W. Wilson, Liberal M.L.A., and, although ill during much of the campaign, A. B. Hudson, provincial Minister of Telegraphs and Telephones. Local and Manitoban Conservative leaders also were included, such as W. C. O'Keefe, employees of the U.G.G. like Norman Little, and Crerar's relatives. Army personnel entered the riding speaking in his support, as did prominent supporters of Union Government, like Premier T. C. Norris, R. S. Thornton, Provincial Minister of Education, Isaac Pitblado and S. R. Tarr.  Union Government also had the support of ten of the eleven local newspapers. 
Crerar's campaign opener at Roblin on November 27 was poorly attended but such an event did not occur again. Accompanied by supporting Conservative speakers, W. J. Tupper and R. W. Craig, of Winnipeg, Crerar criss-crossed the riding to appeal to the electorate for their votes. He reassured the voters by repeating his statements on the government's reformism and particularly the exemptions from conscription for farmers and their necessary labour. He pointed out to the Laurier Liberals that the election, not Laurier's referendum, was the answer to the conscription issue.  But the campaign was not without incident.
At this juncture a potentially dangerous situation was injected into Crerar's campaign. James Weir,  the second Vice-President of the United Farmers of Alberta, and favourably known to Crerar, attacked and questioned his position as representative of the grain growers of western Canada in the administration. Weir had written a lengthy letter to the Guide but it had not been published. It appeared subsequently in other newspapers such as the Alberta Non-Partisan and The Labour News. The letter was a scathing denunciation of Union Government and Crerar's role in it. Weir claimed that "while I am not at liberty to speak for the others I know of no leader in the U.F.A. who is a supporter of it [Union Government] and ... the rank and file of the membership is overwhelmingly against it"; he denied the national content of Union Government and questioned the administration's reformism.  He also levelled the charge which recurred throughout the campaign that the government was merely a refurbished administration still controlled by the interests. Crerar was specifically taken to task for his acquiescence in utilizing the iniquitous electoral legislation, for the lack of tariff reduction on farmers' necessities of life, and for his position vis-a-vis the farmers.
The situation was made more uncomfortable for Crerar when Weir took to the hustings to attack Union Government. Crerar accepted Weir's challenge to a joint debate in his constituency.  Weir's actions, however, spirited a perturbed Crerar into a flurry of activity. Telegrams were shot off to Henry Wise Wood, President of the U.F.A, and Cecil Rice-Jones, formerly of the Alberta Farmers' Co-operative Elevator Company who had become Vice-President of the amalgamated United Grain Growers' Grain Company. Crerar wanted to discover the reasons behind Weir's actions. His campaign would give the impression that the new Minister of Agriculture could "claim the right to represent the organized farmer"; and Crerar wanted to publicize that he and Wood had discussed his entry into the administration and had Wood's private endorsation.  Weir's attempt at using his position in the election was criticized by Wood; but Wood refused to state that he had given his approval to Crerar's entrance to the Government. Wood also refused to endorse Union Government but he did endorse Crerar:
But Crerar was taking no chances; all available means were being employed to make his position as secure as possible. Rice-Jones faithfully carried out requests to feel out the situation in Alberta. He used his influence with Wood to obtain his support for Crerar, to obtain a resolution from the shareholders of the A.F.C.E.C. (U.G.G. shareholders by the amalgamation) endorsing his action in entering Union Government; the appeal to other executives of the Non-Partisan League for support was not so successful.  Crerar continued his campaigning but watched Weir's activities closely. Weir held two meetings in the riding and then seemed to disappear, while Crerar unsuccessfully attempted to track down his elusive critic.  Weir, however, did appear for the confrontation at Minnedosa. He elaborated what he had expressed in his letter but emphasized the failure of conscription in spite of the supposed urgent need for men; he admitted Crerar's ability but claimed he was outmanoeuvred by the government.  In reply Crerar attempted to demonstrate the organized farmers' support of Union Government. Saskatchewan and Manitoba associations, he claimed, supported Union Government.  He briefly referred to the qualified resolution in support of Union Government passed by the U.F.A., thereby neatly evading their refusal to officially endorse the new administration. He also contended that the tribunals were functioning satisfactorily and Canada would not opt out of the war; thus conscription was necessary if Canada was to play its part. He denied that the administration was controlled by the interests, as was frequently charged, and noted the important political leaders who endorsed Union Government. He defended himself successfully. The possible explosion about which he had been concerned did not occur.
Crerar also had to contend with the campaign of Hamilton, his official opponent. Hamilton, however, lacked Weir's prestige. Hamilton and his supporters charged Crerar with ambition in seeking office, he countered by defining it as duty.  Hamilton attacked the unfair franchise legislation as a "blot" to democracy, which Crerar either ignored or attributed to the difficult situation. Hamilton charged that Borden was working with Bourassa; Crerar denied it. Hamilton made the attractive offer to the farmers of duty free implements, and Crerar replied mentioning increased personal and excess profit tax reforms and repeated that winning the war was the most important issue. Hamilton stressed fair treatment for soldiers and a referendum on conscription; Crerar emphasized farmers' sons exemptions and incorrectly claimed that all countries in the war had adopted conscription of manpower. Both contestants appealed for conscription of wealth and an end to profiteering. Hamilton, despite the siren call of tariff reduction, appeared to have little effect on the electors in an electrically charged atmosphere.
In the last weeks of the campaign Unionist advertisements thrust home their appeals. Manitobans were exhorted to "VOTE UNION [and] SAVE CANADA."  Bread and butter issues were not ignored. Specific sectional economic appeals were made. The defeat of Union Government, voters were warned, would mean "our wheat must rot in the elevators, ... our farmlands [would be] worthless ... [and result in] RUIN... especially in the Canadian Prairie West."  With this spectre of economic catastrophe facing them could they afford not to endorse the administration.
In December Crerar did not stray far from his constituency. He assisted fellow union candidates in rural Manitoba where, in some instances he was brought in to appeal to English speaking Anglo-Saxon voters who were hesitant about Union Government  The week-end before the election the tall and handsome Minister of Agriculture addressed meetings, including special women's meetings, in Winnipeg where it was necessary to offset the tremendous reception given to Laurier. Crerar then returned to his riding to conclude the campaign and await the electors' verdict.
The factional support of the candidates can be established with some accuracy. There seems to be no evidence of the activity of the Orange Order in the riding, although Orangemen were urged to support Union candidates. The Independent Order of the Daughters of the Empire supported Union Government, and it is probable that other like-minded organizations in the constituency also did. The French Canadian Roman Catholic press of the province was split. La Liberte was pro-Laurier while Le Manitoba, the Conservative Franco-Manitoban newspaper, supported Union Government; there was no special appeal to the French-Canadian community in Marquette riding and the majority supported Laurier Liberals as did the aliens. The Irish Roman Catholics probably gave the majority of their votes to the unionist. Crerar did have Protestant clergymen actively campaigning in his behalf.  It is true that organized labour opposed Crerar,  but his opposition was insignificant in the riding. It is difficult to discover how many of the newly enfranchised female electors cast ballots for Union Government, but almost fifty per cent of the population was female and he obtained the majority of their votes.
In spite of the intensity of the campaign in western Canada and Marquette, there appeared to be little doubt of the outcome. Hamilton was swamped. He lost his deposit. Crerar won the riding by more than six thousand civilian votes and with the military votes, by more than seven thousand five hundred. 
How could the results be accounted for? The election had been well publicized and there was considerable interest in it. There was a good turnout. Seventy-eight per cent of the electors exercised their right to vote, which compared favourably with the eighty per cent run-out in 1911; and Crerar received eighty-four per cent of the civilian votes polled.  Hamilton won only three polls. Not unexpectedly, these were located where the alien or French Canadian electorate was larger than the British, such as at St. Lazare which an organizer admitted was lost "... on account of the larger French and half-Breed [sic] Vote [sic] here."  Crerar's areas of strength were Hamiota, McConnell, Strathclair, Binscarth, Bethany, Solsgirth, Russell, Silver Creek and Shellmouth, which was strongly AngloSaxon and Protestant. They had, with the exception of the latter two polling divisions, supported Roche in 1911, but Crerar also received overwhelming support in polling divisions such as Crandall and Miniota which had endorsed the Liberals in 1911.  The War-time Elections Act was unnecessary for his riding, while the Military Service Act likely contributed to his majority. There is little doubt that his organization and the Unionist propaganda, such as the Union Bulletin churned out every three days, was superior to that of the Laurierites. There was little difficulty in obtaining funds, and it was an inexpensive campaign for Crerar.  It is difficult to establish to what degree the $2.25 per bushel number 1 Northern wheat was a contributing factor in obtaining support but it certainly must have helped. And there appear to have been no corrupt practices exercised in the election.
Why had the election been so decisive? Crerar undoubtedly benefited from the support of the local and provincial elite who campaigned in his behalf. It is probable that his position with the United Grain Growers' Company, his past association with the constituency and his relationship with the organized farmers were assets which created his power base. But there were other considerations. The appeal was not that voters should cast their ballot for Crerar or for Crerar the grain growers' candidate but for Union Government. Throughout the entire campaign only one advertisement in a local newspaper solicited votes specifically for him.  Assurance had been given that the agricultural production campaign would continue undisturbed. The transformation of the controversial conscription issue, adroitly manipulated by the administration into a non-issue for the farmers was of tremendous benefit to Crerar. The Marquette agricultural community half-heartedly accepted Union Government conscription and Crerar. The grain growers' commitment to Union Government and Crerar was not unqualified, but additional studies of western constituencies are needed to discover how prevalent such situations were in the West. It is unlikely that Crerar's experience in Marquette was unique.
1. For example G.R. Cook, The Politics of John W. Dafoe and the Free Press (Toronto, 1963); M. Donnelly, Dafoe of the Free Press (Toronto, 1968); D.G. Creighton, Canada's First Century (Toronto, 1970); J.M. Beck, "Thirteenth General Election...'To Win at Any Cost"', Pendulum of Power (Toronto, 1968); W.R. Graham, Arthur Meighen: The Door of Opportunity Vol. I (Toronto, 1960); W.L. Morton, Manitoba: A History (Toronto, 1961); D.G. Creighton, Dominion of the North (Toronto, 1957 revised edition); Henry Borden (ed.), Robert Laird Borden: His Memoirs Vol. II (Toronto, 1938); J. W. Dafoe, Clifford Sifton in Relation to His Times (Toronto, 1931); O.D. Skelton, The Life and Letters of Sir Wilfrid Laurier Vol. II (Toronto, 1921) ; Canadian Annual Review 1917 (Toronto, 1918 hereafter cited as C.A.R.); W. L. Morton, The Progressive Party in Canada (Toronto, 1950) provides useful information on the pre-1917 farmers' agitation but glosses over the 1917 activities; Paul F. Sharp, The Agrarian Revolt in Western Canada (Minneapolis, 1948) provides information on the discontent as expressed through the Non-Partisan League; L. A. Wood, A History of Farmer Movements in Canada (Toronto, 1924) also includes limited information on the farmers' dissatisfaction in 1917. The reasons for creating Union Government or the need for conscription to replenish the decreasing manpower in the Canadian armed forces will not be discussed here.
2. Russell Banner (hereafter cited as Banner), 9, 16 December, 1899.
3. Queen's University Archives (hereafter cited as Q.A.) Thomas Alexander Crerar Papers (hereafter cited as Crerar Papers). Crerar to Oliver Nichol, 18 November, 1909 and enclosure: Crerar to J. W. Dafoe, 4 April, 1910; J. H. Woodside to Crerar, 20 October, 1917: Robert Cruise to Crerar, 25 May, 1910; Crerar to Cruise, n.d. June, 1911 and enclosure; Crerar to A. Garnet, 3 July, 1912.
4. Manitoba Free Press, 10 August, 1917. C.A.R. 1917, pp. 572, 575. Crerar Papers, handwritten draft of resolutions undated/August, 1917/. P.A.C. Newton W. Rowell Papers (hereafter cited as Rowell Papers) Vol. 3, J. W. Dafoe to Rowell, Confidential, 25 July, 1917. P.A.C. Sir Wilfrid Laurier Papers (hereafter cited as Laurier Papers) Vol. 715, C. W. Cross to Laurier, 21 October, 1917 and enclosure (clipping The Vancouver Sun, n.d.). It is possible that his actions at the convention may have aroused some antagonism.
5. Crerar Papers, Crerar to J. A. Glen, 17 August, 1917.
6. Ibid., John Kennedy to Crerar, 22 March, 1917.
7. Ibid., Crerar to H. B. Cowan, Confidential: 27 August, 1917; Crerar to W. J. Short, 25 October, 1917; Crerar to F. S. Jacobs, 29 October, 1917.
8. P.A.C. Sir Robert Borden Papers (hereafter cited as Borden Papers) 1 (a) Vol. 77, J.G. Harvey to Borden, 12 October, 1917. P.A.C. John W. Dafoe Papers (hereafter cited as Dafoe Papers) Vol. 1, Sir Clifford Sifton to Dafoe, 14 August, 1917. Borden Papers, extended Diaries Vol. 1, p. 254 (14 August, 1917); 1 (a) Vol. 78, J. S. Willison to Borden, Confidential, 30 August, 1917. P.A.C. Arthur Meighen Papers (hereafter cited as Meighen Papers) Series I Vol. 2, Isaac Pitblado to Meighen, Private, 1 October, 1917.
9. In Ottawa and the East there was considerable ignorance of Crerar's position in Manitoba and the West. To the Duke of Devonshire, Governor General of Canada, Crerar was "President of the Grain Growers' Association of Manitoba", Borden Papers, 1 (a) Vol. 77, Devonshire to Mr. Long, telegram, copy, 12 October, 1917. The Toronto Daily Star, 13 October, 1917 also referred to Crerar as holder of this position as did advertisements from Union Government election headquarters.
10. Crerar Papers, Crerar to T. A. Springmann, personal, 4 October, 1917 ("almost unanimously").
11. Ibid., Crerar to Chipman, telegram, 14 October, 1917; Grain Growers' Guide (hereafter cited as Guide), 17 October, 1917. For the difficult position of the Guide compare the issues from September to November, 1917. The issues of 10 October and 17 October, 1917 underscore this flip flop.
12. In the cabinet there were two farmer representatives, Crerar, who was no longer a farmer but a businessman, and Martin Burrell a former fruit farmer. Crerar's colleagues included 14 lawyers, two manufacturers, one labour representative (a Senator, and the Minister of Labour was a lawyer) and three businessmen, one who had been an academic, and one who briefly had practised medicine. The Liberals were outnumbered eight to thirteen and the cabinet included one representative of Labour. In terms of race, creed and religion there were only two French Canadians (both Conservatives) and all the others were Anglo-Saxon (Scotch, English, Irish); there were three Roman Catholics (two French Canadian and one Irish).
13. Census of Prairie Provinces 1916 (Ottawa, 1918), p. 10.
16. Ibid., p. 142. In 1911 there were just over one thousand American born in the riding. Census of Canada Vol. II, 1911 (Ottawa, 1913), p. 380.
17. Census of Prairie Provinces 1916, p. 142. The French-Canadian population was less than one thousand.
19. Guide, 21 March, 1917. Manitoba Free Press, 15 March, 1917.
20. Guide, 17 January, 1917; 2 February, 1917. W. L. Morton, Manitoba: a History, pp. 357-8 ignores the opposition from the grain growers in Manitoba.
21. Guide, 12 May, 1915; 24 March, 1915 (this is the first issue strongly advocating an independent party of free traders); 21, 28 April, 1915; 5, 12 May, 1915; 1 September, 1915; 19 January, 1916; 26 July, 1916; 27 September, 1916; 4, 25 October, 1916; 1, 22 November, 1916; 13 December, 1916; March-October, 1917. The popular shift in support for such action is readily noted in the Letters to the Editor of the Guide and its editorials from 1910 to 1917. W. L. Morton, The Progressive Party in Canada, skims over the intensity of the farmers' demand for independent political action in 1917. He points out the incipient political revolt was proscribed temporarily by the "war hysteria". See p. 58.
22. Winnipeg Telegram, 25 October, 1917; Manitoba Free Press, 19 October, 1917; 6 December, 1917. Guide, 21 March, 1917; 6 June, 1917; 22 August, 1917; 3 October, 1917, 17 October, 1917 (it is here that the transformation is first noted). The Guide was rebuked for its change, see J. B. Parker Letter to the Editor, Guide, 7 November, 1917.
23. Guide, 10 October, 1917. This lengthy letter carried the signature of candidates J. A. Maharg (President, Saskatchewan Grain Growers' Association (hereafter cited as S.G.G.A.), R. C. Henders (President of the Manitoba Grain Growers' Association hereafter cited as M.G.G.A.), J. S. Wood, Thomas Beveridge, Peter Broadfoot, W. J. Ford, and R. McKenzie.
24. Laurier Papers, Vol. 715, Frank Oliver to Laurier, 27 October, n.d. (1917). Crerar Papers, Crerar to Albert McGregor, Personal, 31 December, 1917. It is inappropriate to include Crerar in this number.
25. Guide, 13, 20 June, 1917; 1 August, 1917. Manitoba Free Press, 1 November, 1917. Shoal Lake Star, 22 November, 1917. Crerar's uncle, Alex Crerar of Binscarth, was one of those defeated for the nomination.
26. Winnipeg Tribune. 23 October, 1917 (my underscore), and Manitoba Free Press, 23 October, 1917; 24 October, 1917.
27. Glen was a Scottish born, well-educated Protestant (Presbyterian), who came to Canada in 1911. He practised law in Russell and may have been empathetic to the farmers' demands; at this point he was a Liberal. He became known to Crerar during the war years and became, in fact, his election campaign manager, a position held again in 1921. Glen represented the riding from 1926-1930 and 1935-1948. In 1945 he entered Mackenzie King's Government.
28. Crerar Papers, Glen to Crerar, Personal, 13 August, 1917; Crerar to Glen, 17 August, 1917; same to same, 27 August, 1917, same to same, 9 September, 1917; George Grierson to Crerar, decoded telegram, 9 October, 1917.
29. Ibid., Crerar to Glen, 9 September, 1917; George Grierson to Crerar, decoded telegram, 9 October, 1917; Crerar to W.J. Short, 25 October, 1917. Banner, 18 October, 1917. Crerar Papers, W. C. O'Keefe to Crerar, 23 October, 1917.
30. Ibid., Crerar to Glen, 27 August, 1917; Crerar to Glen, 6 September, 1917; W. J. Short to Crerar, 19 October, 1917; Crerar to Short, 25 October, 1917.
31. Ibid., Crerar to Short, 25 October, 1917.
32. Crerar Papers, Troughton to Crerar, 25 October, 1917.
33. Ibid., Dalgarno to Crerar, 27 October, 1917.
35. Ibid., Crerar to Glen, 17 August, 1917; same to same, 6 September, 1917; Crerar to W. J. Short, 25 October, 1917; Crerar to John S. Troughton, 1 November, 1917. An example of Crerar's certainty, and perhaps arrogance, regarding the riding was his reference to "my constituency" (the "my" was stroked out and Marquette written above it), Crerar to Glen, 17 August, 1917.
36. Ibid., Crerar to W.C. O'Keefe, 29 October, 1917.
37. Ibid., Crerar to Troughton, 1 November, 1917; Crerar to W. J. Short, 25 October, 1917 (it was here that Crerar stated Dennison had agreed to a new convention, which he had not).
38. Oak River Post, 21 November, 1917. Shoal Lake Star, 22 November, 1917; Binscarth Express, 22 November, 1917. Executive Officers of the meeting include Glen (Vice-President); J. Williamson, (Secretary); W. Ferguson, (President) was a Conservative but a friend of Crerar. Also present in his behalf was J. H. McConnell M.L.A., and Senator W. Sharpe.
39. Manitoba Free Press, 24 November, 1917. Shoal Lake Star, 22 November 1917.
41. Laurier Papers, Vol. 715, J. A. Knott to Laurier, 26 October 1917.
42. Strathclair Plaintalk, 23 November, 1917. Bert McLeod of Shoal Lake was apparently the only prominent individual who had taken part in the June convention who went over to the Laurier Liberals.
43. Manitoba Free Press, 19 October, 1917. Manitoba Public Archives (hereafter cited as M.P.A.) T.C. Norris Papers (hereafter cited as Norris Papers), T. C. Norris to Borden telegram 19 August, 1917; Borden to Norris, telegram, 20 August, 1917; same to same, 22 August, 1917. Roger Graham, Arthur Meighen Vol. 1. The Door of Opportunity, pp. 187-8. Laurier Papers Vol. 715, Joseph Troy to D. Coughlin, 27 October, n.d. , enclosure with W. G. Mitchell to Laurier, 30 October, 1917. C.A.R. 1917. pp. 340, 352, 382-4. Rowell Papers Vol. 4, C. Frederick Paul to Rowell, 23 November. 1917: Rowell to Borden, Telegram, 14 November, 1917. Margaret Prang, "The Public Life of Newton W. Rowell", (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Toronto, University of Toronto, 1959), p. 439.
44. Crerar Papers, Crerar to Captain C. E. Flatt, 26 November, 1917; Crerar to Sir Robert I.. Borden, 17 November, 1917. Binscarth Express, 22 November, 1917. Manitoba Free Press, 10 November, 1917. Borden Papers, extended Diary, Vol. II, p. 274 (8 November, 1917).
45. Cited in Manitoba Free Press, 3 December, 1917. (A truncated version had appeared in the 26 November, 1917 issue.) C.A.R. 1917, p. 625. Even Borden noted the influence of this statement on the farmers, see Borden Papers, extended Diary, Vol. II, p. 279 (26 November, 1917).
46. Crerar Papers, H. Telfer to Crerar, telegram, 27 November, 1917. Included in the telegram from Mewburn was his statement that it would be his "duty" to see that "legitimate farmers" would be discharged from the army. See also C.A.R. 1917, p. 352.
47. Crerar Papers, J. D. Reid to Crerar, telegram, 2 December, 1917.
48. See for instance Minnedosa Tribune, 6, 13 December, 1917; Roblin Review, 6, 13 December, 1917.
49. Crerar Papers, Crerar to Messrs. James E. Bain, W. J. Doig, G. J. H. Malcolm, et al., 17 November, 1917.
50. Crerar Papers, Crerar to R. S. Thornton, 22 December, 1917; Crerar to Pitblado, 22 December, 1917; Norris to Crerar, 26 December, 1917.
51. The only newspaper supporting Hamilton was the Strathclair Plaintalk.
52. Manitoba Free Press, 4 December, 1917; 3 December, 1917. Rapid City Reporter, 6 December, 1917. Birtle Eye-Witness, 4 December, 1917.
53. Weir was Ontario-born of United Empire Loyalist stock, Protestant and welleducated, who went west to Alberta; he became a farmer and newspaper man. He became a leading organizer of the Alberta Non-Partisan League and was elected to the Alberta Legislature as an independent Non-Partisan representative in 1917. He was quite prominent in the Alberta grain growers' movement.
54. Alberta Non-Partisan, 23 November, 1917. The letter then gained considerable circulation.
55. Ibid., Crerar Papers, The Labour News clipping, 4 December, 1917. There were other letters to Crerar recording their troubled consciences over the electoral enactments, see for example Crerar Papers, F.M. Chapman to Crerar, 11 September, 1917; and many years later A. K. Cameron a very close friend of Crerar was still able to criticize him for his action in joining Union Government, see Crerar Papers, A. K. Cameron to Crerar, 10 November, 1957.
56. Crerar Papers, Weir to Crerar, telegram, 1 December, 1917; Crerar to Dr. M. B. Rombough, 3 December, 1917; Rombough to Crerar, 5 December, 1917.
57. Ibid., Crerar to Wood, telegram, 3 December, 1917.
58. Ibid., Wood to Crerar, telegram, 3 December, 1917. It is interesting to note that Wood stated in the telegram that if he had time and he was closer he would assist in the riding, but Crerar had been informed by Rice-Jones that Wood did not want to go into the riding (see Crerar Papers, C. Rice-Jones to Crerar, telegram, 3 December, 1917). It is evident that the public statement was simply a gesture. For two contradictory assessments of this action see W. K. Rolph, Henry Wise Wood (Toronto, 1950), p. 59 which claims that Wood unofficially endorsed Union Government and was a member of a committee to select Unionist candidates, but offers no support for the former statement; conversely the Manitoba Free Press, 7 December, 1917 admitted Wood and the U.F.A. had not supported Union Government officially but that Wood did support Crerar personally.
59. Ibid., Crerar to C. Rice-Jones, telegram, 3 December, 1917; Rice-Jones to Crerar, telegram, 3 December, 1917; same to same, telegram, 3 December, 1917; W. D. Trego to Crerar, telegram, 5 December, 1917. The Non-Partisan League executives refused to endorse Crerar or Union Government, but stated that Weir was not representing the League, see Manitoba Free Press, 10 December, 1917.
60. Crerar Papers, Crerar to C. Rice-Jones, telegram, 10 December, 1917; R. A. Parker to Crerar, telegram, 10 December, 1917.
61. Manitoba Free Press, 14 December, 1917.
63. Birtle Eye-Witness, 11 December, 1917; Foxwarren News, 13 December, 1917; Binscarth Express, 13 December, 1917; Rapid City Reporter, 13 December, 1917. Manitoba Free Press, 28 November, 1917; 4 December, 1917; 5 December, 1917. Crerar Papers, "Notes of Hamilton's speech at Russell", 11 December, 1917; "Point Form notes of Address", n.d./12 December, 1917/; W. Ireland to Crerar, 21 November, 1917; Crerar to Josiah Bennett, 30 November, 1917. Laurier Papers Vol. 719, F. C. Hamilton to Laurier, 25 December, 1917; Vol. 720, same to same, 10 January, 1918.
64. Minnedosa Tribune, 6 December, 1917; Roblin Review, 6 December, 1917.
65. Minnedosa Tribune, 6 December, 1917. See also issue of 13 December, 1917 and the Roblin Review, 6 December, 1917.
66. P.A.C. Sir Clifford Sifton Papers (hereafter cited as Sifton Papers) Vol. 205, J. W. Dafoe to Sifton, 6 December, 1917; Winnipeg Tribune, 11 December, 1917. Crerar did not enter any alien or French Canadian area to give a speech.
67. The Reverend Thomas Neville, the Reverend Dr. Riddell of Wesley College, Winnipeg, and the Reverend A. G. Sinclair campaigned in the riding. There is no evidence of Catholic priests or alien church leaders taking part in the campaign in the constituency.
68. See for instance The Voice, October, December, 1917.
69. Sessional Papers 1920, #13, (Ottawa, 1921) pp. 237-8 (7425 to 1084, and 8672 to 1152).
70. Percentages were computed from Sessional Papers, 1920 #13, p. 238, and Sessional Papers, 1912 #18, p. 360. There were only twenty-three rejected or spoiled ballots. It is interesting to note that at one polling division (K. Smith's) there were forty-three valid votes cast and only forty-one voters on the list, a fact that must have gone unnoticed by his Liberal opponents.
71. Crerar Papers, W. C. O'Keefe to Crerar, 18 December, 1917. He also lost Erickson and Scandinavia. Sessional Papers, 1920 #13, pp. 237-8. There does not appear to be any correlation between opposition in these regions and crop production.
72. Sessional Papers, 1912 #18, pp. 259-260. Sessional Papers, 1920 #13, pp. 237-8.
73. Crerar claimed they did not receive any outside financial assistance, and, that the campaign was paid for by the organizers and in part by the electorate; this does, however, ignore the tremendous expense that must have been incurred by newspaper and pamphlet advertisements handled by the Winnipeg campaign office. See Crerar Papers, Crerar to J. A. Glen, 22 December, 1917; and untitled itemized expense account n.d. .
74. Minnedosa Tribune, 13 December 1917. The advertisement also demanded endorsation of Union Government.
Page revised: 19 November 2010