Manitoba Historical Society
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Patrons of Industry in Manitoba, 1890-1898

by Brian R. McCutcheon

MHS Transactions, Series 3, Number 22, 1965-66 Season

This article was published originally in MHS Transactions by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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There were at least three different farmers’ organizations that arose in Manitoba before the birth of the Patrons movement in the 1890s. The first of these was the Grange imported from the United States by way of Ontario; the first lodge being established in Winnipeg in 1874 as a political caucus. [1] Others were established at High Bluff (which quickly disappeared), Carberry, Mekiwin, Wellwood, Florenta, Gladstone, Arden and Eden; [2] but the movement was never strong in the then sparsely settled West.

The second group to arise, the Manitoba Farmers’ Protective Union, is of more fundamental importance, patterned as it was in part on the native radicalism of the North-West. The Manitoba Railway Boom of the early 1880s, based on many of the same premises as the American boom to the south, bred a false sense of confidence. Between 1876 and 1881, forty thousand immigrants entered the province, mainly from Ontario. With them came the necessary technological knowledge for the breaking of the prairie sod and the successful cultivation of the open plains. [3] This sudden interest in the future of the West was the occasion for the Great Boom and “Manitoba fever”. Winnipeg grew from a small village to a small city and several outlying rural towns sprang into existence. All of them, fed on inflated prices for land, planned too much too fast. Emerson, for example, was chartered as a city and assumed a large debt in anticipation of growth that never came. In the provincial capital, the rate of growth quickened to the point where lots on Main Street were exchanged for higher prices than those then commanded on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. [4]

The boom, artificial as it was, could not last and in 1883 there followed a general business collapse which affected not only the small urban population but the rural agricultural settlers as well.

Coupled to the collapse of the boom were problems endemic to the whole of Western North America. Freight rates and elevator charges in any frontier area proved to be high, but in Manitoba the farmers had a special complaint—the famous monopoly clause of the Canadian Pacific Railway guaranteed that no line could be built between the main line of the CPR and the American border for twenty years after completion of the transcontinental line. At the same time, world wheat prices had declined drastically, cutting the farmers’ margin of profit.

Nor were credit conditions good at any time. The chartered banks were slow moving into newly settled areas and consequently in a society which depended upon credit, the void was filled by locally organized banks which charged excessive interest in the farmers’ eyes. In Gladstone, the only bank until 1896 was that owned by W. S. Bailey, and the rates of interest on loans were double those charged by the chartered banks. [5]

Thus in 1883 Manitoba had a generally indebted population, bearing at the time heavy civic and municipal liabilities for hastily conceived public works, and facing a general economic depression.

Economic discontent resulted in the formation of the Manitoba Farmers’ Protective Union organized at Manitou on 5 December 1883. The objects of the Union were:

  1. To concentrate the efforts of the agriculturists of Manitoba and the Northwest in securing the repealing of laws that militate against their interests.
  2. The removal by agitation and other lawful means of the railway and all other monopolies that prevent: the securing of a free market for the products of the soil.
  3. The securing of the cheapest freights possible to the markets of the world.
  4. The removal of unjust restrictions upon trade, and generally, to guard the interests of the people against unjust aggression from any quarter whatsoever.
  5. The formation of subordinate unions in every portion of the province. [6]

In December a provincial convention was held at Winnipeg where a Declaration of Rights patterned on the earlier Bill of Rights adopted by the Conventions of the Métis and Red River Settlers at the time of the Resistance in 1869 was accepted. This document dealt with the railways, tariff, public lands, and grain inspection, laying down the basis of a program that was later to be taken over by the Patrons and later still by the Manitoba Grain Growers’ Association. [7]

The movement was short-lived, however. It became a political football for such aspiring young Liberal politicians as Clifford Sifton and R. P. Roblin. Thomas Greenway, the leader of the Liberal opposition in the provincial legislature partially adopted the program of the Union and seized upon its strong provincialism. Before long the Union was branded as another Grit organization, and thus it lost its non-partisan nature.

At the same time, Charles Stewart, who had taken over the leadership of the Union at the Brandon Convention in December of 1883, pursued a more radical course. The convention held in Winnipeg during March of 1884 passed a resolution recommending that until the grievances of the North-West had been remedied any further immigration into the Prairie region should be discouraged. Added to this was an ill-chosen threat by Stewart that if redress did not come quickly, Manitoba would secede from Confederation. [8] Not surprisingly, by 1886, the Farmers’ Protective Union had disappeared.

The final organization to appear before the rise of the Patrons was the Farmers’ Alliance. It crossed the border from the North-Central states in the winter of 1890-91 and established itself at Balmoral, north of Winnipeg. Sub-lodges were set up at Foxton, Greenwood, Alliance, Stony Mountain, Brant, and Clandeboye, the membership reaching about 500. With the advent of the Patrons, it appears that the Alliance was absorbed into the new protest movement which swept the province. [9]

We now turn to the Patrons of Industry. Originally an American organization, it crossed to Canada at Sarnia in 1887, and was promptly Canadianized by the farmers of Western Ontario. Founded by Reverend F. W. Vertican, a retired Presbyterian Church minister, Dr. David Campbell, a physician, and F. W. Krauss, a printer, its object was to give members a chance to discuss matters of an economic and scientific nature. [10] In both Canada and the United States it quickly became more an organized protest than an educational movement. And particularly in the former country it acted as the Farmers’ Alliance did for the majority of American farmers, having strong political overtones from the outset in the Eastern provinces. In the West it functioned somewhat differently at first.

During the spring of 1891, A. L. McLachlan, an American under the direction of the Grand Officers of the Supreme Association in Michigan, set to work to organize the farmers of the Canadian prairies. [11] On 6 May, the Weekly Review of Portage la Prairie noted:

The Patrons of Industry are becoming very strong on the Portage plains as there are already six associations. This work will be pushed forward as quickly as possible. This is a society that every farmer will find it his interest to join. A free lecture will be given in the various district schools by the Provincial Organizer. [12]

By the fall of 1891, the Patrons were strong enough to call a Convention to organize a provincial association. On Wednesday, 11 November 1891, the Convention met at Portage la Prairie.

During the first day, elections were held. Charles Braithwaite of Portage la Prairie was elected as Grand President, James Burland of Brandon as Grand Vice-President, H. C. Clay of Minnedosa as Grand Secretary, H. A. Sturton of Lorne County as Grand Treasurer, George Underhill of Minnedosa County as Grand Guide, and J. A. McConechy of Brandon County as Grand Sentinel. The Grand Trustees were W. M. Creighton of Norfolk County, W. J. Curtis of Brandon County, and J. H. Martin of Minnedosa County. [13]

Of the successful candidates for the various offices, Braithwaite, Clay and to a lesser extent Underhill, took the most active part in the Order.

Braithwaite is by far the most important. The first President, he was continuously re-elected to office until 1897, and was a tower of strength to the organization. Barely literate and possessing the rudest fundamentals of a formal education, he was, nevertheless, a spell-binding orator. [14] And it was in this latter capacity that he did his greatest work for the Lodge. Throughout the spring and summer for the next six years, he attended picnics organized by the various sub-associations, extolling the vices of the great moneyed trusts and exhorting the farmers to unite to oppose the giant combines intent on cheating the farmer and his family.

It is unfortunate that really very little is known about Braithwaite. Outside of the fact that he was a farmer from the Portage district and that he had been a Liberal before becoming a Patron and a one-time Conservative, [15] there is not much on the record before 1891 nor after 1897.

However, it is known that there were two sides to his character. Aubrey Wood describes him as “a romantic figure, masterful and shrewd, though dwelling for the most part in the realm of the emotional.” [16] This is well demonstrated by his speeches and in his letters to the various newspapers of rural Manitoba. On the one hand there is his energy and his oratorical skill, on the other instability and his almost child-like trust in the promises of the Winnipeg business community and the provincial and national politicians which helped to weaken and discredit the organization.

H. C. Clay was very much like Braithwaite. An Ontario immigrant, he settled at Rapid City in 1879, and in the 1880s founded the Marquette Reporter. [17] Strong-willed and of an equally emotional nature, [18] he was too much like Braithwaite to get along with him well. The internecine quarrel between Clay and Braithwaite over the editorial policy of The Patrons’ Advocate, the official organ of the movement, paved the way for the eventual collapse of both and the failure of both men’s dreams.

But in the early stages of the Patrons’ growth, the two men complemented one another’s talents. Largely through their efforts, the organization grew and flourished.

Besides electing the first slate of officers, the Convention established work committees to draft an overall policy statement. The major plank in the platform, unanimously agreed upon, was “Manitoba for Manitobans.” [19] It was a strong plea for provincial rights from a province, which was in the delegates’ eyes a second-class participant in the Confederation pact of 1870. The clause bound up the whole of the agitation surrounding the public lands question, the bitterness surrounding the boundaries award, and the CPR monopoly, which had erupted five years earlier in the Manitoba Farmers’ Protective Union. On these points, no one including the members of the Greenway ministry would seriously disagree. But it implied something else as well. The fourth clause explicitly defined the further importance of the major plank:

That we mutually agree as farmers and employees to band ourselves together for self-protection and for the purpose of obtaining a portion of the advantages that are now almost exclusively enjoyed by the financial, commercial and manufacturing classes, who by a system of combines and monopolies are exacting from us an undue proportion of the fruits of our toil and that we may have more time to devote to education, and secure for ourselves and (sic) equitable share of the profits of our industry. That our endeavor be to place the farmers and laborers of Manitoba in unison with the manufacturing laborers of the east to the exclusion of the middle men.

That we advise and aid each other in acquiring business and commercial habits, and assist in placing as quickly as possible our trade on a cash basis, believing that it will greatly conduce to the benefit of every member of our order, and the prosperity of Manitoba. [20]

This statement of class solidarity in the face of class conflict between industrial workers and the agricultural class was important. Whether the farmers of Manitoba grasped its full implications is doubtful, although when the Patrons published their political platform two years later, it was with the statement that “When the law Compels me to Contribute my just Quota to the Support of the Government, it is Taxation but When it Compels me to Contribute to the Support of Private Enterprise, it is Robbery.” [21] The ideas themselves were probably borrowed from the American example through the intervention of the Provincial Organizer, McLachlan. And many of the delegates would have come into contact with these ideas through the newspapers which published long extracts from either side in the controversy between Populism and the establishment in the United States.

It must be remembered that these were the same people who organized the Manitoba Farmers’ Protective Union five years previously.

At that time there was no question of class conflict or united action with the workers. And it is interesting to note that after McLachlan drops from sight, there is less emphasis on this philosophy. The Patrons of Industry became an agrarian pressure group in Manitoba imbued with a sense of righteousness which had its origin in the conditions of the frontier and as a result of the policies pursued by businessmen and politicians in the urbanized centres of the East. There are attacks on the eastern manufacturing interests and their brethren in the grain trade in Winnipeg, but there is no formulation of a struggle between the exploiters and the exploited.

The Committee on Printing and Publication recommended that an official organ “devoted to the interests of the Patrons of Industry” be established in the province. The Convention accepted the proposal, and it was decided by the Executive, perhaps somewhat hastily immediately after the meeting, that H. C. Clay of Minnedosa should be given the contract. [22]

Moreover, the Convention accepted the Report of the Committee on Co-operation which recommended that negotiations be opened with the “some two or three” [23] other organizations that had the same objects as the Patrons and already existed in the province. Nevertheless, the report does not seem to have passed without considerable debate—“a warm discussion” the official report reads. [24] A compromise of sorts was eventually hammered out. Because the Patrons were the first to organize a Provincial Executive it was reasoned, it was resolved to invite all organizations to send delegates to the next annual meeting of the Grand Association where they would be fully accredited delegates. Any local association of another group was invited to be chartered as a sub-association of the Patrons. [25]

There were only two possible groups to which the resolution could be referring: the Farmers’ Alliance and the Grange. The importance of the resolution is that it indicates that another group (or groups) was actively soliciting support from the farmers in the Province at the same time as the Patrons, and that the delegates to the Convention had come in contact with it.

The three months between the founding convention and the first annual meeting were ones of great activity. The Executive appointed A. L. McLachlan as Provincial Organizer with a roving commission. He was instructed to push the work of organizing with all possible speed as it was hoped by the Executive that the membership would have increased to 5000 by the middle of February. [26]

The appointment of McLachlan as Provincial Organizer proves that there was no direct break with the American parent organization as there was in Ontario. [27] The means of separation were more subtle. The actual organizing in the province was accomplished by “several assistants” appointed by the Provincial Executive. [28] Nothing further is recorded of Mr. McLachlan.

The Patrons were quickly patriated not only to Canada but to the West. In Manitoba they became the expression of a discontent which sprang from causes which bore greater similarity to those that led to the Farmers’ Alliance in the Western states than to those that accounted for the strength of the Patrons movement in Ontario. But the Patrons were born of the Ontario democracy that had spawned the Clear Grits and the Liberal-Conservative coalition. And although the Patrons continued to profess their loyalty to this democracy, they were radically altering the principles underlying it as they adapted to the circumstances of a new environment, so that they were creating a movement that while in many respects similar to those in Ontario and the United States was quite unique.

The annual meeting held in February indicated just how much they had become absorbed in the earlier Western Canadian agrarian protest movements. The Grand President, Charles Braithwaite, ignored the theme of the conflict of class interests and returned to themes expounded by the Farmers’ Protective Union in condemning the binding twine and implement combines, the unfairness of the duty on machinery and implements purchased from American manufacturers, and the lack of agricultural representation on the board which established grain standards. On the positive side, he advised that farmers own and operate their own elevators; and more radically, that the government establish banks in central locations where “upon sufficient security” loans could be obtained by farmers at 5%. [29]

The meeting also brought to light the first of the major difficulties that were to arise between the Executive and the general membership, and between the organization and the public at large, which were to contribute to the failure of the movement. The scheme of publishing a journal in the interests of the Patrons of Industry was opened again, pointing out that the settlement arrived at between Clay and the rest of the Executive was not entirely to the satisfaction of the delegates. It was understood at the November Convention, that tenders were to be let. According to the report submitted by Clay himself to the Weekly Review, the Executive let the contract to him at a meeting held immediately after the Convention without asking for competitive bids. [30] Any possibility that this action would sit well with the general membership was destroyed when it was revealed that it was necessary to increase the membership dues in order to undertake publication of the journal. In the resulting debate, no agreement could be reached, and the matter was finally referred to committee. [31] Eventually, the Patrons’ Advocate appeared, published by H. C. Clay, but not without having left scars upon the movement. The incident, while it might appear trivial, was the first in a series that suggested to the general public that the leaders of the Patrons were either extremely naive or none too honest. And it was such incidents that made the public only all too willing to believe the wild tales that the organization’s enemies told of the Executive’s personal aggrandisement.

The two years succeeding the first annual meeting were critical in the development of the new farmers’ movement. Where in Ontario they had engaged in politics shortly after their formation, [32] in Manitoba and the Territories the Patrons proved to be somewhat reluctant to take this step. The reason can be seen in the fact that Manitobans were convinced that self-help was the solution to their problems. Ontario members of the Order, on the other hand, had experimented with the Grange and failed to achieve any lasting economic success through co-operation. In the West, the Grange had established itself in a number of rural communities, but it had not been strong enough to have any real impact. Of course, many of the farmers in Western Canada would have come in contact with the Grange before leaving Ontario. But the movement collapsed after they had emigrated. Therefore the farm leaders of the Patrons undertook a program of co-operation among themselves and lobbying in the old political parties to achieve the ends of Western agriculture.

Exactly when the decision to enter the political arena was taken, it is difficult to know. The minutes for the annual meeting held in. the last week of February 1893, are not available, but at the 1894 annual meeting, Braithwaite championed the cause of political intervention: Somewhere, then, between January 1892 and the beginning of 1894, this momentous decision was made.

The failure of the original principles upon which the organization had been built is a difficult process to trace, for the newspapers of the province tend to ignore the activities of the Patrons as much as possible; and in most cases when reference was had to them, it was unfavourable. The brief honeymoon with the Weekly Review is typical. Although the editor agreed with many of the farmers’ complaints, he was not so sure about the solutions proposed by the leadership for the difficulties in which Western Canadian agriculture found itself. Farmers’ organizations were not to meddle in political or economic affairs. When they did, they were overstepping the bounds set by society. His comments on the monetary policy then being pursued by the Farmers’ Alliance in the United States are revealing. Certainly the lack of easy credit was a problem, but the methods proposed to supply the people with “more money” were deplorable. Sound money was sound economics. [33] And as the Patrons tended to become more preoccupied with the evils of the credit system, his opinion of the movement correspondingly declined.

Moreover, leading members of the: Grand Association did little to further good relations with the press. In August of 1891, H. C. Clay, then editor of the Marquette Reporter, had accused the Weekly Review of refusing to publish a letter favourable to the formation of the Patrons of Industry, commenting that the editor of that publication had little use for farmers. [34] The reply was indignant: a warning to be more careful; a denial of ever having received such a letter; and a declaration that the “Review is, and always has been, the Farmer’s Friend.” [35]

Furthermore, when Clay was elected to the position of Grand Secretary in November 1891, the action was hardly likely to convince the owners and editors of the newspapers in the province of the responsibility of the movement. It was generally agreed in the publishing fraternity that the editor of the Marquette Reporter was a very hotheaded gentleman. According to the editor of the Carman Weekly Standard, L. A. Burbank, who it must be admitted in all fairness, was not unlike Clay, even the term gentleman was inappropriate. [36] And when Clay became editor of the official organ of the Patrons, The Patrons’ Advocate, the movement as a whole was given a bad press among the rest of the provincial newspaper editors.

The rapid deterioration of press relations was not entirely the fault of Clay. The unpolished roughness of men like Charles Braithwaite and John Forsyth [37] did nothing to improve the situation. To receive a letter from the Grand President was an experience many editors would rather have done without. Spelling and punctuation were unbelievable. This fact coupled with a certain dislike for “book-learning” on the part of several prominent Patrons among whom Forsyth but not Braithwaite could be counted, created the impression that the Patrons were ignorant farmers led by uneducated demagogues.

One final factor should be noted in the deterioration of press relations and this is the secrecy that surrounded most Patron gatherings. No one was quite sure what went on behind the closed doors at these meetings. Official press releases were prepared by the Secretary of the sub-association or the Grand Association as the case might have been. Much speculation inevitably followed as to what actually did take place.

By 1895, only three newspapers in Manitoba supported the organization. [38] All were owned and operated by members. When the Patrons decided to enter politics in 1894, this indifference or outright hostility on the part of the press was to play a large role in the collapse of the movement.

To return to the main thread of the argument, the years 1892-94 saw the emphasis laid on co-operation. In 1892, the Patrons Commercial Union was organized. It was a supply company incorporated under the laws of the Province, and it began to do business at Portage la Prairie with W. C. Graham, [39] Secretary of the Grand Association, as manager. Goods were sold by mail order, most of them being distributed from Winnipeg. The Union handled such things as agricultural implements and binder twine, particularly the latter, and to a lesser extent it functioned as a selling agency for the farmers’ produce. [40]

In its first summer of operation, the Commercial Union ordered binder twine in bulk, and by this expedient was able to save its members a cent and a half a pound on over 72,000 pounds of twine. [41] By 1894, it was handling over 500,000 pounds annually at the remarkably low price of seven and a quarter cents a pound. [42]

The year 1892 also saw the Patrons attempt to market their grain in bulk directly to the millers. This was less successful than the sale of binder twine. Although the scheme was a forerunner of the later Pooling system, it suffered in that too few farmers took advantage of the facilities provided for the Patrons to get a significant premium. Moreover, farmers were unwilling to commit themselves to sell their wheat through the Union. [43] Unable to guarantee delivery of specific quantities of grain, the Union was placed in a weak position in dealing with the milling companies. In view of these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that the attempt at co-operative marketing was a failure.

The Patrons also entered the elevator business. New elevators were built at Boissevain, Holland, Glenboro, Rathwell and Alexander by the fall of 1892. [44] These were relatively successful. But it should be pointed out that this was not a radical departure. Farmers’ elevator companies had been established at various points in the Province at least as early as 1890 and probably earlier. [45] These were joint-stock companies owned and operated by the farmers. They were not co-operatives and it is fair to assume that the Patrons’ elevators were organized on similar principles.

At the same time, a major attack on the credit system was begun. Patrons were urged to do all of their business on a strictly cash basis. This admonition was rather unrealistic. Despite the constant emphasis upon frugality, it was next to impossible on the frontier not to do business on credit. The capital investment needed to undertake the moderately mechanized agriculture of the Canadian West was beyond the immediate grasp of most prospective farmers. And with the deepening of the Depression with its correspondingly low prices for wheat and other produce, many established farmers as well were forced to borrow in order to meet expenses.

It was the Depression that was the actual motivating factor in the Patrons’ decision to enter the political arena. In large measure it accounted for the failure of the Patrons’ attempts to remedy the farmers’ economic problems by means of co-operation, and yet it made the solution of these difficulties of paramount importance.

The leaders of the Patrons became convinced that the tariff wall and the trusts were at the root of the trouble. The CPR is a case in point. In the 1890s it possessed a virtual monopoly in Western Canada and set rates at its own discretion. The provincial government, although it had been more successful than its predecessors in this area, had not been able to force the railway to make sufficient concessions. Pressure was applied to both the provincial government and the company by the Patrons. From both the response was not heartening. The government ignored the farmers, being preoccupied with the schools issue; the railway begged that its financial situation was at best precarious west of the Great Lakes. [46] Neither answer was particularly satisfactory.

As redress was impossible to obtain through existing channels, the Patrons were forced to the conclusion that the only way to save the country from the trusts was to enter Parliament themselves and to force the changes necessary upon the nation.

It must not be imagined that the Patrons did not face opposition. On the contrary, bitter hostility to the movement emerged early. It came from those quarters one would suspect most—the merchants, grain traders and elevator operators. But it emerged among those engaged in agriculture as well.

This opposition usually took the form of personal indictment of leaders of the movement. An attack levelled by “Outsider” in the Weekly Review was typical. He insinuated that the Grand Secretary was paid to establish lodges and that the executive disposed of the membership fees collected for their own benefit. [47]

The Emerson Enterprise charged Braithwaite with opening an office in the Winnipeg Grain Exhange and furnishing it comfortably for himself at the membership’s expense. More damning, he was accused of getting at least a cent a bushel for handling Patrons’ wheat. [48]

In 1894, the Order grew into a full-fledged protest movement. Newspapers sat up and took notice; and politicians began to give the Patrons more than their fair share of attention. More important, leading citizens in the rural communities of the province, where in the past they had sat by and watched somewhat detached from the workings of the Lodge, now undertook the active leadership of the organization.

This interest on the part of the leaders in the rural communities was not sudden. The same factors were at work with regard to the successful and established farmers as on the newcomer. As the Depression deepened, radical solutions to problems seemed to be the only solutions. This was especially true for Liberal-Conservatives in the West. The policies of the great Liberal-Conservative coalition which had determined the destiny of the nation, also ensured certain consequences. The two keystones in the Liberal-Conservative governments’ policy of national development were the National Policy and the transcontinental railway system of the CPR. To complete the task of nation building it was essential for Canada that these policies be adopted. It was also essential that as Canadians, the people would have to make sacrifices if they hoped to create their Empire of the North. To the farmer in Western Canada it was manifest that he was making too many of the sacrifices demanded. He pointed to the prosperity of the American farmer to the south, not realizing that his plight was continental rather than regional, and demanded that something be done to remedy his situation. As long as there was prosperity, even relative prosperity, the issues could be safely ignored by the politicians. But when Depression set in—mild Depression after 1883, severe Depression after 1890—then it was an entirely different matter.

The experience of Prairies bred certain responses. With this in mind, the artificial labels of party politics of Eastern Canada came to mean less in the West. By 1894, a consensus among members of both the national parties was evident. For example, Liberal-Conservatives from the West such as Senator Boulton of Russell, [49] who attacked the government’s tariff and railway policies in the Senate, agreed more with the Opposition than with the Cabinet.

A Liberal was not confronted with so difficult a choice as a Tory. His party had a long tradition in the defense of free trade. And as the English-speaking wing had its origins in the agrarian regions of Western Ontario, a distrust of the monopolistic corporations supported by the Macdonald government followed.

What happened then was simply that while a number of Liberals found themselves to be more radical than their party, most continued in their allegiance to it, for the provincial party was a farmers’ party and the national Liberal party’s principles went a long way towards meeting their demands. For the Liberal-Conservative from Ontario who shared in the general experience resulting from the frontier conditions and the one-staple economy, there was not the same opportunity to reconcile his views with those held by his party. In an age when party feeling ran deep, it was not of minor consequence to change one’s allegiance. The Western Tories’ goal was to reform their party from within not to abandon it. When that party, as the government refused to listen to their pleas, failed, they were in the light of their economic circumstances, ready to join a new organization which was essentially to become the party of the “radical” Conservatives. Disgruntled Liberals never became more than a minority in the political movement launched by the Patrons, but their contribution of the agrarian radicalism of rural Ontario provided a link with the Canadian radical tradition. In the Patrons we see the union of the Prairie experience and the democracy of Ontario to lay the foundations of the twentieth century “radical” tradition in the West.

The annual meeting of the Patrons in 1894 was held as usual in Brandon. Between 100 and 150 delegates were present from the province and the Territories representing in all a membership of 3,172. [50] The keynote address of Grand President Braithwaite was an indictment of the membership for not supporting the Order’s co-operative activities, and the announcement of his retirement. The question is just how much did he mean of what he said. One is impressed by the fact that the greater he stressed the failure of the movement’s original purposes the more likely he was to convince the delegates that political action was necessary. His intention to resign on the other hand was sincere. In the first place, he was no longer a farmer, and second, he no longer had an income outside of the Order. [51]

The Convention debated at length the necessity of political action of Braithwaite’s retention as President despite his obvious reluctance to continue in that position. There is no indication by what margin the delegates agreed to the former proposal or when, but by the second day they were outlining a platform. The committee on legislation reported that the cost of justice was too high and that limits should be set on interest received from mortgages, while the committee on railways recommended a general reduction of rates, the abolition of preferential rates and rebates and the construction of a Seaway to make Port Arthur a seaport. [52]

And on the last day, Braithwaite was prevailed upon to remain as President after a committee which he had personally requested had exonerated him of any wrong-doing. [53] Provision was made that the organization pay him a salary. [54]

The summer of 1894 was the high point of the movement. Braithwaite travelled from rural community to rural community preaching the gospel of the Patrons. The meeting held in Carman in March was similar to those held across the Province. Braithwaite lashed out at the excessive freight rates charged by the CPR and the high tariff. It was absolutely essential that the cost of carrying the crop to the Eastern markets should be reduced either that or the whole country would become bankrupt. This reduction in rates could be accomplished by the completion of the Hudson’s Bay Railway which the Dominion government refused to build not because the route was unsatisfactory, but because it would be injurious to the Eastern Provinces. As the Northwest sent only seven members to Ottawa, it was not in a position to bring any pressure upon the government. Another project was the deepening of the Canadian waterways, which would entail the expenditure of $50,000,000, but which would reduce the cost of shipping wheat form the West to England from 35¢ to 20¢ a bushel. The tariff came under equally close scrutiny. “All classes in the Province” were interested in its reduction. Why should 95% of the people, he asked, be taxed for the 5% who make up the manufacturing class. And then he went on to show how the government had a higher tariff on necessities than on luxuries.

To remedy these evils, he proposed that the farmers of Dufferin County join with the Patrons in placing candidates in the field or supporting those pledged to a similar program in the forthcoming elections. [55]

The speaking tour across the province and the hard work of the local organizations had the desired effect. By July, Grand Secretary Graham was claiming that the movement had from 6,000 to 7,000 members and 300 lodges. [56]

By mid-summer the Patrons were nominating candidates for the federal elections expected at any time. James Morrow of Pilot Mound was nominated for Lisgar, Charles Braithwaite for Macdonald, James Fisher of Springfield for Selkirk, W. Postlethwaite for Brandon and T. Young for Marquette. Provencher and Winnipeg were the only two Manitoba constituencies to which the Patrons did not nominate.

And then John Forsyth was nominated for the provincial constituency of Beautiful Plains in a by-election. To everyone’s surprise he won handily thereby encouraging the Order in its efforts. Furthermore, the victory served to convince many of those who doubted the ability of the Patrons to win, of the widespread popular support it enjoyed among non-members.

The period of success and harmony was brief. No sooner was the election won and the movement for political action launched than a quarrel broke out between the Executive Board and H. C. Clay of the Patrons’ Advocate. The Executive Board had finally come to the conclusion that the editorial policy of the paper and the fiery nature of its manager had to be curbed. Clay had attacked practically every government organization that dealt with the farmer, and every leading local, provincial or national politician. It can be said in his favour that he showed no discrimination, but he did not show any political sense either.

If he had confined his attacks to the established political parties, it is likely that no difficulties would have arisen, but when he began to criticize Patron policies and the actions of the Executive, he passed beyond the pale of what was acceptable and what was not. In the issue of 21 November he severely criticized the financial condition of the Farmers’ Mill and Elevator Company at Portage which was owned and operated by the Patrons. [57] Then, in a series of articles on freight rates beginning in the same issue, he condemned local governments and the freight rate commission for not taking stands on the issue of rates. [58]

Finally in the 4 December issue in an article headed “Provincial Patrons Candidate” he, in the words of the Executive, “advocated the claims of one old party over the other and laid the whole order open to the construction, ... of being in sympathy with and working for the Liberal party, thus having lost our independence and substituting instead a partizan bias.” [59] Clay disagreed with the Patrons’ policy of placing candidates in the forthcoming provincial elections. The Greenway government was essentially a farmers’ government. Nationally, he took a different view entirely.

Each of these articles had been picked up by the provincial press and unfavourable publicity had followed. Braithwaite wrote to Clay and his editor, William King, in December. He stated that the public considered the Executive Board responsible for utterances about which they had not been consulted. [60] When this did not have the desired effect, a public repudiation of Clay’s stand was prepared by the Executive and published under the authority of the Grand Secretary. In part it read:

Patrons do not and cannot consistently recognize either of the old parties and such an utterance being contrary to our principles of independence we do hereby repudiate it. Had an official outline of the Patron action been given it would have been to speedily place candidates in all the local constituencies where a fair chance of success be possible. [61]

In reply, Clay published the above-mentioned letter of the Grand President with all its grammar mistakes and an appropriate paragraph by paragraph commentary, as well as a front-page editorial attacking the Executive Board’s stand as interfering with the freedom of expression of the Lodge’s members. [62] Thereupon the Executive Board severed its connection with the Patrons’ Advocate. The quarrel between the official organ of the Order and the Executive centred on the fact that the former Liberal-Conservatives in the Patrons organization while they were willing if not anxious to break with their own party were not willing to support a Liberal government even if that government had accepted as its program basically the same solutions to the overriding economic problems as they themselves advocated.

At the annual meeting in January 1895, the differences among the members were not apparent. This time in his state of the union message, Braithwaite spoke confidently of the future. The movement had strengthened, and its accomplishments had increased. The Grand President claimed the following successes: a reduction in freight rates, a larger percentage of grain graded No. 1 hard, a reduction in the tariff and in the cost of such necessities as binder twine and fence wire, and increased government efficiency. [63]

Admittedly although some improvement had taken place by the Patrons’ standards, it was not so much because of their action but the result of a combination of economic and political factors over which the Patrons had no control. Braithwaite’s speech seems to have been for public consumption, as the committee reports prove that progress during the year had been disappointing. The main plank in the platform remained free trade, while the legislative committee recommended the discontinuance of pauper immigration, abolition of elevator privileges, abolition of the Senate, women’s suffrage and a series of legal reforms. [64]

Furthermore, the Convention was significant in that Senator Boulton of Russell, appointed to the Red Chamber by Macdonald, attended and openly supported the Patrons, becoming Grand Auditor. It must be noted that he did not entirely agree with the resolution passed by the Order dealing with the Senate, [65] but in general he was sympathetic. And his presence lent an aura of official approval. Long a member of the radical wing of the Liberal-Conservative coalition, he had become a spokesman for the Tories in Western Canada. The transfer of his allegiance to the Patrons was an indication of the extent to which the Conservative was compelled to seek a new political home on the Prairies.

The Convention also invited all mechanics and industrial workers to join the Association, but refused to join with any organization other than one whose interests were agricultural. [66] In effect, the invitation was worthless, and the Patrons in Manitoba remained an occupational interest group.

During the first six months of the new year, the movement continued to grow. In February H. C. Clay was forced to resign from the Patrons’ Advocate and the Order. Under William King that publication was reinstated as the official organ by the Executive Board. [67]

At the same time, Braithwaite travelled to Toronto where in meetings with the Dominion Executive, a national platform was drawn up. [68] This platform was more national in name than in fact. Enclosed with a letter of W. C. Graham dated 17 February 1894, is a copy of the Patrons’ Platform adopted in January of that year at the annual Convention of the Grand Association of Manitoba and the Northwest held in Brandon. It is identical with the national platform with the sectional variations for the West adopted in the first months of 1895 in Toronto. [69]

The first plank stressed the permanence of the British connection, those following enumerated the various proposals of the movement. Public lands were to be reserved for actual settlers. This applied primarily to Manitoba and the Northwest. Representatives of agricultural communities were to be farmers chosen for ability, integrity and independence. This plank was to apply to Manitoba and the Northwest only. Rigid economy was to be practised in every department of the public service, while simplification of the laws and a general reduction in the administrative machinery were demanded. This meant the abolition of government house, superannuation grants, the military college, subsidies to railways and other corporations, and reductions in civil servants’ salaries, the number of Cabinet ministers and in the expenditures of the Militia Department. There was to be a revenue tariff only with a number of goods essential to agriculture to be admitted duty free as agriculture was the principal industry of the Dominion. Anti-combines legislation was sought as was the principle of one man one vote and the disfranchisement of all civil servants. The Senate was to be abolished, women admitted to the franchise and an end put to the liquor traffic. Unofficially support was to be given to the Western Patrons in their demand for the Hudson’s Bay Railway and in a general reduction in freight rates. [70]

Comparison of the Bill of Rights adopted by the Manitoba Farmers’ Protective Union and the platforms of the Patrons of Industry and the United Farmers of Manitoba shows a striking similarity in provisions. The response to conditions that in essence did not change from 1885 to 1920 and the continuity in leadership provide the basis for this similarity. This does not mean that the platforms were completely in agreement. There is a growing sophistication and an expansion of views that can be traced and in a number of instances the solution to specific problems varies. But underlying all three platforms there are a number of basic principles. Agriculture, as Canada’s basic industry deserved special consideration. This entailed the abolition of the protective tariff and government regulation if not ownership of the transportation industry. And both the Patrons and the UFM stood for sweeping changes in parliamentary institutions and the administration.

In 1895, the Patrons in Manitoba came to represent three important reform movements: agricultural reformers, prohibitionists, and those in favour of woman suffrage. In July, the Patrons and Prohibitionists agreed to a joint platform upon which they would contest the forthcoming national and provincial elections. [71]

And then disaster struck. On 25 September, Herbert D. Cartin of Neepawa wrote to the Patrons’ Advocate accusing the Patron member of the legislature, John Forsyth, of using a railway pass. [72] The Grand President ordered an immediate investigation which substantiated the charges. [73] On 23 October, the Executive Board ordered Forsyth to resign all his offices in the Order, and expelled him from the movement. [74] The enemies of the organization, meanwhile, were watching the proceedings with great interest and pounced upon the incident as proof of what they had long claimed—the Patrons were in politics for what they could get out of it personally. Further credence was given to their charges in December when Philip Thomson, Sessional Clerk to the Patron members in the Ontario Legislature, confiscated the passes of the Patron members in that House. [75] Although the Order had purified itself, the damage was done. The public never entirely believed the Patrons’ promises again. As the party of general moral perfection, they had been found out as hypocrites, no better than the members of the older parties which they had so bitterly opposed.

One further problem came to a head in 1895. The Manitoba Schools issue divided the members of the Order in Protestant and Catholic factions and alienated the latter after the Patrons accepted the government’s stand on denominational schools.

It was in this state that the Patrons were forced to meet the Manitoba electorate in January of 1896. The major issue was the Schools Question. It was so important that there is considerable doubt as to whether it would have made much difference to the Patrons if the scandals had not taken place. It is known, however, that a number of strong Tories reverted to form after the railway pass affair; this did much to weaken the movement locally. Neither provincially nor federally could the Patrons count on the support of ex-Liberals. Thus it was essential that the Patrons garner the Tory vote. The failure to do so proved disastrous, and undoubtedly the scandals played their part in this failure.

The Patrons nominated twelve candidates of which number two were elected—W. F. Sirett in Beautiful Plains and W. M. Crosby in Dennis.

The decline of the Order was more apparent at the Provincial Convention. Just sixty-four delegates attended. [76] The Dominion Parliament was nearing the end of its life and a decision had to be made whether or not to contest that election in view of the defeat in Manitoba. It was decided to support the candidates already in the field.

The election campaign which began in May proved to be the end of the movement as a major force in the Province. Five candidates were nominated as has been indicated. Of these, three withdrew by the end of the first month—James Morrow in Lisgar, James Fisher in Selkirk, and Thomas Young in Marquette. Only in the latter constituency was the Order strong enough to bring forward a replacement in G. A. J. A. Marshall.

As has been noted, the Patrons in Manitoba relied on the dissatisfaction of the Tories with their federal and provincial parties. Sir Charles Tupper in the opening speech of his campaign at Brydon Rink in Winnipeg, revealed a platform that went a long way to meeting the Patrons’ demands. Instead of free trade, preferential trade with England was advocated for commercial reasons and for strengthening the bonds of Empire. Agricultural reforms were promised and a promise to intensify efforts to increase immigration was made. And finally, Tupper made a firm commitment to complete the Hudson’s Bay Railway to the Saskatchewan within two years. [77]

This linked to the scandals and better economic conditions led to large numbers of Tories returning to the fold. The result was a rout.

With the defeat the Patrons rapidly declined into political obscurity. The Territorial Patrons severed their connection with their Manitoba brethren in the summer of 1896 and the 1897 Convention saw the movement trying to stave off the inevitable. Membership was thrown open to lawyers, doctors and merchants. The ritual of the Lodge was abolished and the terminology changed—Provincial Convention instead of Grand Convention, etc. and the Patrons’ Sentinel which had succeeded the Patrons’ Advocate as the official organ was discontinued. [78]

Braithwaite retired as President and took a job with the provincial government as inspector of noxious weeds. [79] C. J. Green succeeded as President and W. C. Graham continued as Secretary-Treasurer. [80]

In 1898, the Patrons of Manitoba formed themselves into an Independent Industrial Association. This body died overnight. The Commercial Union changed its name to the Farmers’ Trading Company and continued in business until 1912. [81] The movement itself was reborn in 1903 as the Manitoba Grain Growers’ Association out of which grew the Manitoba Non-Partisan League and the United Farmers of Manitoba. But the actual influence on western Canadian and national policies was greater than can be seen in the succession of farmers’ movements. Diefenbaker agrarian Toryism has its roots much deeper than the 1930s. Western Conservatives have tended to be radical. The response to the conditions of the western American agricultural frontier has been of greater importance than the development of an abstract Conservative philosophy on the Prairies.


1. W. L. Morton, Manitoba: A History, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1957), p. 210.

2. Aubrey Wood, A History of Farmers’ Movements in Canada, (Toronto: The Ryerson Press, 1924), p. 65. Wood states that the first lodge was established at High Bluff in 1876.

3. Morton, op. cit., p. 181.

4. Ibid., p. 200.

5. Margaret Morton Fahrni and W. L. Morton, Third Crossing, (Winnipeg, 1946), p. 90.

6. Manitoba Free Press, Thursday, 6 December 1883, p. 4.

7. Ibid., Thursday, 20 December 1883, p. 4. Alexander Begg, History of the North-West, Volume III, (Toronto: Hunter Rose & Company, 1895), pp. 85-86.

8. W. L. Morton, Manitoba, pp. 212-213.

9. Aubrey Wood, op. cit., p. 124.

10. Ibid., pp. 110-111.

11. Ibid., p. 124. “Grain Growers of the ’90s.” The Grain Growers Guide, 1 March 1916 (Vol. IX, No. 9), p. 21. In an interview H. C. Clay noted that the first organizers came from the U.S. and that they organized all over the province, not just at Portage.

12. Weekly Review, Wednesday, 6 May 1891. Number of associations was revised to five in the Wednesday, 20 May 1891 issue.

13. Ibid., Wednesday, 11 November 1891.

14. Aubrey Wood, op. cit., p. 126.

15. Ellen Gillies Cook, The Federal Election of 1896 in Manitoba, An unpublished M.A. thesis in History for the University of Manitoba, 1943, p. 118.

16. Aubrey Wood, op. cit., p. 126.

17. Grain Growers’ Guide, 1 March 1916 (Vol. IX, No. 9), p. 21.

18. This is very well illustrated by a quarrel with L. A. Burbank of the Carman Weekly Standard. Since the Marquette Reporter has been lost for this period, Clay’s side of the story is not available. However, it seems that Clay did not always reciprocate in the exchanges of news articles that were so essential to the successful operation of rural newspapers during this period. Burbank expressed his annoyance in print. Clay replied in a manner that outraged the former who in turn printed a diatribe on the character of the editor of the Reporter.

19. Weekly Review, Wednesday, 11 November 1891.

20. Ibid.

21. Archives of Manitoba, Greenway Papers, W. C. Graham to Bro. McNaught, 17 February 1894, no. 6381.

22. Weekly Review, Wednesday, 11 November 1891.

23. Ibid.

24. Ibid.

25. Ibid.

26. Ibid.

27. Aubrey Wood. op. cit., p. 112.

28. Weekly Review, Wednesday, 11 November 1891.

29. The Brandon Sun, 25 February 1892.

30. Weekly Review, Wednesday, 11 November 1891. Clay wrote the newspaper report. Morden Monitor, Thursday, 19 November 1891.

31. The Brandon Sun, 25 February 1892.

32. Aubrey Wood, op. cit., p. 113.

33. Weekly Review, Wednesday, 13 May 1891.

34. Ibid., Wednesday, 26 August 1891.

35. Ibid.

36. Carman Weekly Standard, Thursday, 18 June 1891, p. 2. cf. footnote on page 7.

37. He was Grand Vice-President of the Order in 1893. An itinerant preacher and farmer, he was elected MLA for Beautiful Plains in 1894. He was chiefly noted for his skill as an orator.

38. Patrons’ Advocate, Russell Chronicle, Marquette Reporter. Of the three, the first and last were edited by H. C. Clay and later by Wm. King; the Chronicle was owned and operated by Senator C. A. Boulton who was a strong Patron supporter.

39. William Creighton Graham, who had received a B.A. from the University of Manitoba in 1889 and who was descended of an early Portage la Prairie family, succeeded Clay as Grand Secretary in the spring of 1892.

40. Aubrey Wood, op. cit., p. 125.

41. Weekly Review, Wednesday, 2 November 1892.

42. Aubrey Wood, loc. cit.

43. Manitoba Free Press, Thursday, 18 January 1894, p. 7.

44. Weekly Review, Wednesday, 14 December 1892.

45. Carman Weekly Standard, Thursday, 11 December 1890, p. 2.

46. Manitoba Free Press, Thursday, 18 January 1894, p. 7.

47. Weekly Review, Wednesday, 7 December 1899.

48. Patrons’ Advocate, 17 October 1894.

49. Senator Boulton was appointed to the Senate in 1887. He had long been connected with the West, having been involved in the Red River Resistance on the side of the Canadian party.

50. Manitoba Free Press, Friday, 19 January 1891, p. 1.

51. Ibid., Thursday, 18 January 1894, p. 7.

52. Ibid., Friday, 19 January 1894, p. 1.

53. Ibid., Saturday, 20 January 1894, p. 2.

54. Grain Growers’ Guide, 1 March 1916, (IX, 9), p. 21.

55. Carman Weekly Standard, Thursday, 15 March 1894.

56. Ibid., Thursday, 12 July 1894.

57. Patrons’ Advocate, 21 November 1894.

58. Ibid., 21 November 1894. This was particularly annoying to the Patrons because several of the leading members of the Order at the local level were leading figures in the local governments.

59. “Patrons of Industry”, The Manitoba Liberal, 11 December 1895.

60. Patrons’ Advocate, 12 December 1894.

61. “Patrons of Industry”, The Manitoba Liberal, 11 December 1895.

62. Patrons’ Advocate, 12 December 1894.

63. Ibid., 16 January 1895.

64. Ibid.

65. Ibid.

66. Ibid., 6 February 1895.

67. Ibid., 20 February 1895. Grain Growers’ Guide, loc. cit.

68. Patrons’ Advocate, 13 March 1895.

69. Archives of Manitoba, Greenway Papers, W. C. Graham to Bro. McNaught, 17 February 1894, no. 6381.

70. Patrons’ Advocate, 13 March 1895. The platform is set beside a paragraph by paragraph commentary by Braithwaite.

71. Ibid., 24 July 1895.

72. Ibid., 25 September 1895. Cartin was a Patron.

73. Ibid., 2 October 1895.

74. Ibid., 23 October and 30 October 1895.

75. Ibid., 4 December 1895.

76. Patrons’ Advocate, 29 January 1896.

77. E. G. Cook, op. cit., pp. 33-34.

78 The Brandon Sun, Thursday, 28 January 1897.

79. Aubrey Wood, op., cit., p. 129.

80. The Brandon Sun, loc. cit.

81. Aubrey Wood, op. cit., pp. 129-130.

Page revised: 29 December 2019

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