Manitoba History: Commemorating Thomas Alexander Crerar (1876-1975)

by Parks Canada
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Number 62, Winter 2009

This article was published originally in Manitoba History 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 As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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Thomas Alexander Crerar is a Canadian of national historic significance for several reasons. He served as an influential architect of the Canadian grain trade before 1930. He also led the Progressive Party and transformed Canadian politics by bringing an end to the federal two-party system and demonstrating the potential of third parties. Finally, he became a valued member of the federal cabinet and a vocal leader of the Senate.

Thomas Alexander Crerar (1876-1975) was born in Ontario but, at the age of 5, he moved with his parents to a homestead near Russell, Manitoba. In addition to his interests in the grain industry and his political activities, Crerar served as President of the Canadian Club of Winnipeg from 1928 to 1929, and a Director of the Great-West Life Assurance Company from 1928 to 1964. He was the first politician made a Companion of the Order of Canada, and was inducted into the Manitoba Agricultural Hall of Fame. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Manitoba (1954) and the Centennial Medal of Honour (1970) by the Manitoba Historical Society.
Source: University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections, Winnipeg Tribune Collection.

Crerar grew up in Manitoba at a time when Prairie farmers were forming marketing organizations to counter the power of grain dealers, millers and railways. From 1907 to 1929 he was head of the farmer-owned Grain Growers’ Grain Company (after 1917 the United Grain Growers) which he developed into an influential prairie grain company. In the 1920s he helped to organize co-operative grain marketing organizations or pools. Although he supported co-operative marketing, he was unsympathetic to compulsory, or government operated, marketing systems.

The Crerar plaque unveiling ceremony was held in Russell, Manitoba on 9 October 2009 during the community’s Beef and Barley Festival. Attending were (L-R): Dr. Robert O’Kell, Manitoba member of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada; Inky Mark, MP for Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette; Kelly Crerar, great great nephew; Robert Muir, RM of Russell Reeve; Frieda Klippenstein, Parks Canada historian; Merril Kilwinik, Town of Russell Mayor; and Jack Crerar, grand nephew.
Source: Parks Canada

During the First World War, Crerar joined Robert Borden’s Union Government as Minister of Agriculture. After the war he and other western Members of Parliament formed the Progressive Party as a voice for rural and western concerns. The Party won 65 seats in the federal election of 1921 and for several years it held the balance of power in parliament. However, it could not reconcile the goals of its moderate wing, led by Crerar, who hoped to realign parties on the basis of the tariff, with its radical wing which wished to replace the party system with representation based on occupational categories. By 1929 the Party had collapsed and Crerar joined the Liberal government. Although the Progressive Party was short-lived it undermined the two party concept in Canada and demonstrated the potential of regionally based third parties.

Crerar’s administrative abilities made him a valued member of Mackenzie King’s cabinet from 1935 to 1945 although he was uncomfortable with deficit financing introduced in 1938. In 1944, he joined other senior ministers in forcing Mackenzie King to introduce conscription. He resigned from the cabinet in 1945 and was appointed to the Senate, where until his retirement in 1966, he opposed the growth of public debt and social programs.

Plaque Text

Thomas Alexander Crerar (1876-1975)

Following his early career as an agrarian reformist in Russell, T. A. Crerar achieved prominence through his contributions to national economic development and politics. As head of the Grain Growers’ Grain Company, he helped shape the structure of Canadian grain marketing. Championing a better deal for Western farmers, he led the Progressive movement to a position of great political influence in the 1921 election, thus ending the federal two-party system. He later proved a valued member of Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s cabinets (1929–1930 and 1935–1945) and an active leader of the Senate before retiring in 1966.

Approved by the Board, 7 December 2008

Thomas Alexander Crerar (1876-1975)

Après une carrière de réformateur agraire à Russell, T. A. Crerar s’illustra par son apport à l’économie et à la politique canadiennes. À la tête de la Grain Growers’ Grain Company, il contribua à établir une structure nationale de commercialisation des céréales. Lors de l’élection de 1921, ce champion d’un meilleur traitement pour les agriculteurs de l’Ouest mena le Mouvement progressiste à une position de grande influence, mettant fin au système fédéral bipartite. Éminent ministre au sein des cabinets de Mackenzie King (1929–1930 et 1935–1945), puis leader actif au Sénat, Crerar se retira de la politique en 1966.

Approuvé par la Commission le 7 décembre 2008

See also:

Memorable Manitobans: Thomas Alexander Crerar (1876-1975)

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Crerar Plaque (Main Street, Russell, Municipality of Russell-Binscarth)

Page revised: 21 May 2016