McPhail, Alexander James (1883- 1931)

Alexander James McPhail.
Saskatchewan Archives Board R-A3586

Alexander McPhail, born in Ontario on December 23, 1883, found himself at the head of a family of eight when his parents passed away. Undaunted, he and his family homesteaded in the Bankend district of Saskatchewan in 1906. McPhail became involved in several early farm and political movements, including the Saskatchewan Department of Agriculture, the Progressive Party, and the Saskatchewan Grain Growers Association (SGGA), where he served as secretary. McPhail was a proponent of the wheat pool concept, where farmers could co-operatively market their wheat, negotiating better prices through volume selling. In 1923, he encouraged the SGGA to meet with the United Farmers associations of Alberta and Manitoba to discuss developing wheat pools in the three provinces, with a Central Selling Agency designed to market wheat internationally. McPhail was elected first president of the Saskatchewan Co-operative Wheat Producers Limited in 1924. Similar organizations were established in Alberta and Manitoba. The three Pools formed the Central Selling Agency in 1926 to market jointly the grain that farmers assigned to them under five-year contracts. The Saskatchewan Co-operative Wheat Producers, which would later become the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, struggled with controversial issues in its formative years. McPhail was reluctant to purchase elevators, and campaigned against the idea of compulsory marketing, preferring the wheat pool to be voluntary. The stock market crash of 1929 hit the wheat pools hard, and the Central Selling Agency was taken over by the federal government. The elevator part of the operation, which formed in 1926 with the purchase of the Saskatchewan Co-operative Elevator Company, survived. Alexander McPhail died unexpectedly on October 21, 1931.

Merle Massie

Further Reading

Fowke, V. 1957. The National Policy and the Wheat Economy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.