Grain Growers' Grain Company

The Grain Growers' Grain Company (GGGC), established in 1906, was the first large-scale co-operative of prairie farmers; it expressed their ambition to control grain trading. E.A. Partridge, a farmer from Sintaluta, played a leading role in its organization. The GGGC was the ancestor of United Grain Growers (UGG) and of today's Agricore United. It emerged from the early grain growers' movement. The Territorial Grain Growers' Association (TGGA) had been organized at Indian Head in what is now Saskatchewan in 1901, with the purpose of lobbying the government to ensure enforcement of the 1900 Manitoba Grain Act. Partridge was a leader among those who did not believe that government regulation alone would solve the abuses and injustices they perceived in the grain trade.

Early in 1905 Partridge made a trip to observe the activities of the Winnipeg Grain Exchange. He wrote about what he had seen, and argued that farmers needed to unite if they were to achieve fair returns in the face of other interests in the economy. He proposed a farmer-owned joint-stock company for this purpose and promoted the idea at farmers' meetings in 1905 and 1906. A meeting at Sintaluta in January 1906 is taken as the first organizing meeting of the new company. GGGC took shape in the summer, and was officially launched on September 5, 1906, with Partridge as president. It purchased a seat on the Exchange in order to participate in trading, but in November 1906 it was ejected in response to protests from other grain companies. The rules of the Exchange were interpreted as forbidding the co-operative practice of paying patronage refunds to farmers. The company had to be reorganized along less explicitly co-operative lines in 1907, and Partridge stepped down as president. His successor, T.A. Crerar of Manitoba (later a well-known Progressive politician), remained president from 1907 to 1917 and then became the first president of UGG.

Meanwhile, the company was growing rapidly: from 1907 to 1912 the number of shareholders went from 1,800 to over 27,000, while grain volume grew from 2.3 million to nearly 28 million bushels. One of the other activities of the new company was to publish, in conjunction with the grain growers' associations, the Grain Growers' Guide (1908), the most important publication of the early farm movement; Partridge was editor of the first issue. As a grain-trading enterprise, the GGGC bought farmers' grain and sold it on a commission basis on the Exchange, returning profits to its farmer-investors. It did not, at first, have its own grain elevators to handle the grain, working instead through arrangements with elevator companies; nor did it make much effort to bypass the grain-exchange system and sell directly to overseas purchasers. Its cautious business practices eventually drew criticism from activist farmers like Partridge.

The GGGC began to diversify in 1912, acquiring its first terminal elevator at Fort William, starting a farm-supply business, leasing the country elevators owned by the Manitoba government since 1910, and beginning to build elevators in Saskatchewan and Alberta. It developed close relations with the Alberta Farmers' Co-operative Elevator Company created in 1913, eventually leading to the merger of the two organizations in 1917 under the name United Grain Growers (UGG). The GGGC brought into the merger 60 elevators in Manitoba and Saskatchewan (additionally it operated 137 Manitoba government elevators), 133 coalsheds and flour warehouses, farm-supply warehouses (including one in Regina), terminal elevators, and of course the Guide.

The Saskatchewan Co-operative Elevator Company participated in the merger discussions, but declined to join with the other farmer organizations, preferring independence. By that time, Partridge and other radical farmers had broken with the GGGC, criticizing it as too conservative, too tied to existing interests, and insufficiently co-operative. While they moved on to other co-operative projects, the GGGC's successor organizations continued to develop as farmer-owned businesses.

Brett Fairbairn

Further Reading

Rea, J.E. 1997. T.A. Crerar: A Political Life. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press; Knuttila, M. 1994.“That Man Partridge”: E.A. Partridge, His Thoughts and Times. Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center.