Map of the Grain Growing Regions in Western Canada.
University of Saskatchewan Archives, Saskatoon. Saskatchewan Wheat Pool Fonds.
Grain farming in Western Canada has changed radically over the last 100 years. Western Canadian farmers at the turn of the twentieth century sold their grain under the highly competitive conditions of the international market. Yet in order to get their grain to market, they depended on railway and elevator companies that were in many cases monopolies.
In the early decades of the twentieth century, farmers “became organized”. They created associations to represent their interests. They managed to get governments to listen to them – they got legislation that required the railways to deliver railcars where they wanted them. They got governments to assume responsibility for grading and inspection. They bought into the businesses that they needed to get their grain to market.
First by creating farmer owned elevator companies, they “eliminated the middle man” in grain dealings and thus remedied longstanding grievances against grain brokers who, they were convinced, had been taking too much margin, at the expense of the producers. Second, by creating “Pools” they improved marketing. In acting as a cohesive whole, they achieved market power in the international wheat market.
With the Progressive Movement, farmers got into politics. For a short period, in the twenties, they had significant influence over the rulers in Ottawa. Farmers created institutions – cooperative elevator companies, legislation and government agencies – that, in the case of the Wheat Board, and the Canadian Grain Commission, continue to exist, or, in the case of the Pools, existed until a few short years ago. Freight rate and railway legislation still evoke heated debate even though, in the last 50 years, some of the regulations have been repealed.