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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The economic and social structure of political agrarianism in Manitoba: 1870-1900 McCutcheon, Brian Robert


During the last thirty years of the nineteenth century agrarian movements swept the whole of North America, in the United States, the farmers* protest found expression in Populism; in Ontario, the Grange and the Patrons of Industry were the vehicles chosen "by the rural population to express their grievances; in the Canadian West, seven agrarian organizations, the most important of which were the Manitoba and North West Farmers 1 Union, the Manitoba and North West Farmers' Co-operative and Protective Union, and the Patrons of Industry, attempted to improve the lot of Manitoba farmers. Nineteenth century agrarian protest in Manitoba paralleled but was divorced from the birth of agrarian protest throughout the North American continent. Because the province was relatively isolated during the first twenty years following Confederation with Canada, Manitoba political agrarianism was insulated from outside influences during its formative years in the l870's and l880's. By the early 1890's an indigenous agrarianism, arising from the difficult agricultural conditions that the settlers at first encountered in Manitoba, and from the failure of federal policies put forward for the development of the Canadian West to meet the needs and the expectations of immigrants, had developed. Manitoba agrarian movements sought solutions to farmers' problems through local organizations which advocated programmes tailored to the needs of their members. The failure of nineteenth century agrarian protest organizations to achieve redress of grievances resulted from weaknesses in organization and in economic and social structure, aggravated by inadequate rural leadership and by the interference of provincial politicians. The most prominent feature of nineteenth century political agrarianism in Manitoba was its conservatism which stemmed from the farmers' failure to develop a sense of class consciousness. At no time did the farmers of the province see themselves as constituting a distinct economic or social class. Rather they saw themselves as individuals who co-operated to secure redress of grievances. The lack of class consciousness on the part of Manitoba agrarian protest was rooted in the economic and social structure of nineteenth century agrarian movements in the province. While the members of the various farmers' organizations were united by their common British-Canadian cultural heritage and by their Protestantism, they were divided by occupation—non-farmers and farmers with non-agricultural business interests played a divisive role in the movements--and by their economic position as evidenced by the level of mortgage indebtedness which varied widely among delegates elected to annual conventions of all Manitoba agrarian organizations. Given the occupational and economic divisions, farmers' movements in Manitoba between 1870 and 1900 were unstable coalitions of individuals and of political and economic interest groups which were incapable of furthering an agrarian class consciousness. The inability of Manitoba farmers' organizations to become class movements precluded the formulation of an agrarian vision of society. Instead the only common denominator among the discontented individuals and interest groups who belonged to Manitoba agrarian organizations was a desire for political, social or economic change that the members believed would serve their own disparate interests.

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