by Bruce Cherney (part 3)
In March 1913, it was announced that the Million for Manitoba League would be opening a public farmers’ market in Winnipeg in April.
“There is no reason why the gardeners of Winnipeg cannot produce everything used on the tables of the people of Winnipeg,” remarked J.W. Ryckman, the chairman of the market committee, at a league meeting in the lecture room of the Winnipeg Industrial Bureau (Manitoba Free Press, March 5, 1913).
However, a warning was issued by William Sanford Evans, the president of the Million for Manitoba League: “We will not have the money to build a market this summer, and all we can do is to make a few alterations in a large building somewhat suitable for our needs. You can see that our choice of site is quite limited, therefore. I would not like to see any other site selected until a conference is held with the city council in an endeavour to persuade them to turn over the old central market building to us.”
“Location is not so much what is most convenient for the producer as convenience for the consumer,” added Ryckman.
The committee was considering the old central market along Main Street and Water Avenue (now William Stephenson Way), the Thistle Curling Rink on McDonald Avenue or the Winnipeg Auditorium Rink on Main Street as the location for the public market.
Kildonan market gardener James H. Tribe said it was absolutely essential for the market’s success to have all the gardeners in the outlying municipalities working in harmony.
“If we’re going to supply an up-to-date market for Winnipeg and Winnipeg people,” he said, “we will have to have a throughly up-to-date collection of farm produce.
“During the past year 16 or 18 of our very best gardeners in these parts have gone out of business. They sold their land for a handsome profit and retired. We are all working under the worst possible conditions that could exist. We have been told to move from place to place every year, and the practical man has no chance to become established permanently in one place. Unless a man can be in a fixed position he cannot steadily supply a public market like the Winnipeg venture is going to be. Therefore, the gardeners will have to be absolutely united. I’m not one of those who wish to see through a brick wall, but I at least like to see a little farther than my nose.”
Whellams prepared a report in 1912 which gave the “spread” in costs for produce on August 15 and August 28 of that year. It provides a good comparison to the mark-up retailers charged consumers after purchasing produce from Manitoba market gardeners. For example, on August 15, producers were offered 45-cents a bushel for potatoes which then sold for $1.36, farmers received one-cent a pound for cabbage that was later sold for 10-cents to 15-cents each to consumers, growers were offered one-cent a pound for carrots that sold for eight pounds for 25 cents, while the price offered to growers for peas on August 28 (not available on August 15) was three-cents a pound which were later sold at 10-cents a pound.
On August 28, the prices offered to producers dropped, as a result of the harvest being virtually over and the supply being more plentiful. For example, they received 35-cents to 37-cents for a bushel of potatoes that later was sold to consumers for 70-cents to 75-cents per bushel, farmers sold their cabbage for $8 a ton (one-cent to four-cents a pound) that cost consumers six-cents to 10-cents apiece, growers received half a cent per pound for beets that were sold at eight pounds for 35-cents, while carrots netted producers 40-cents a bushel (60 pounds) that cost the consumer 25-cents for eight pounds.
Whellams claimed consumers were paying 200 per cent more for vegetables than they did eight or 10 years earlier. In that period, labour costs had risen from 75-cents a day to $1.25 to $1.40 a day. In addition, taxes had risen five or six times from eight or 10 years ago. Despite these increases, the producer was still receiving the same price for their vegetables from the produce middlemen.
The result of the increases in cost was that the market gardeners were growing cucumbers, cauliflowers and other garden stuff that could be sold in bulk for a profit to pickle factories, rather than fresh vegetables for consumers.
Whellams said one-third of the production of Kildonan, Headingley and other outlying market gardeners was going into pickles.
On August 9, Whellams sent rigs into the city with new potatoes, “which were all bought up by hucksters.”
“Edward Burdett and Sons telephoned him to send more to town, which he did, receiving $1.05 a bushel (Free Press, August 28, 1912) ... On August 15, Mr. Whellams asked Burdett’s for offers on potatoes and was only bid 45-cents ... He refused to sell at this price, and ultimately secured 70-cents a bushel from W.H. Stone and Company.The explanation of the low offer made to him on August 15 was that Burdett’s had received on August 9 a carload, containing 600 bushels of potatoes, which were offered to consumers at $1.25 a bushel. These potatoes, imported from Minneapolis, cost the Burdett firm 95-cents a bushel ... Yet they were only offering the local producer 40-cents a bushel for his new roots.”
W.W. Burdett and Edward Burdett told the Free Press that there were no local potatoes available when they placed their order with Minneapolis. Deliveries from local producers was so unreliable that it made better business sense to order from the U.S., they claimed.
“They further state that at certain times in the year the local market is glutted from all parts of the province, and that it is this fact, and not the shipping of vegetables from the States, that forces down the market.”
When Evans, F.J.C. Cox and Ryckman appeared before the relief and licence committee of city council (Free Press, January 16, 1913), they proposed that the cost of establishing the market be guaranteed by the city. The aldermen were unmoved by this suggestion, but the city would later provide some funding.
Instead, Alderman Herbert Gray suggested a motion to request that the province pass a law to prohibit the hawking or peddling of produce in the city. It was said at the meeting that hawking was the most serious drawback to the success of a public market.
At the time, farmers and market gardeners did not require a licence to sell their produce in the city. Many gardeners preferred to hawk their produce door-to-door or receive orders by telephone from their regular customers.
Since Manitoba’s rural population had by a wide margin the greatest number of representatives in the legislature (in 1910, Winnipeg only had four seats in the 41-member legislature), the suggestion to prohibit rural-based market gardeners from hawking their goods in the city was pointless and it was never pursued with any enthusiasm.
Eventually, it was decided to establish the market behind the south end of the Winnipeg Industrial Bureau Building, Main Street and Water Avenue (now William Stephenson Way) where the Federal Building now stands. Architect P.C. Samwell was commissioned to devise a plan for an up-to-date facility at the old central market.
At a May 30 meeting between gardeners and the league market committee, it was announced that J.W. Willis had been given the contract “to make deliveries of all purchases from the Winnipeg public market,” which was to be called the Central Farmers’ Market. It was further announced that the market would open on June 14.
“If we get a little rain and some more nice weather between now and June 14 there is no reason why the Winnipeg market should not be well stocked with spinach, rhubarb, lettuce, radishes and onions, besides plenty of potatoes” one market gardener commented, according to a May 30 Free Press report.
The market gardeners also sided with a league regulation to only sell vegetables and fruit grown in Manitoba. As it turned out, this regulation was soon abandoned in the name of expediency.
The market nearly didn’t open as originally promised due to a disagreement between Willis and the market committee, which involved a contract prepared by a subcommittee outlining the amount to be paid to Willis for delivering goods to consumers. According to a June 14, Free Press article, the market committee refused to sanction the subcommittee contract, throwing the matter of deliveries into a state of uncertainty.
Willis threatened court action if the committee did not live up to the terms agreed upon and sign the contract.
“We have been more than willing to live up to the contract,” countered Creasey J. Whellams, the business secretary of the league, “but the trouble is that Mr. Willis is not financially strong enough to take up his part of the contract. He brought around a motor truck, letting us understand that it was an auto which he had bought for the delivery service, while we discovered later that the truck was not his, but belonged to the Detroit Garage company.”
Whellams said that whenever the league attempted to contact Willis to discuss deliveries, he was “not at home.”
Others blamed the whole “mix-up” on produce middlemen, who had the most to lose if the market opened.
“The middleman knows what a successful public market means to his business, and he is going to die as hard as he can,” said an unnamed individual. “In my opinion this delivery affair was engineered by the middlemen to put the public market in disrepute from the start by means of a bad delivery service. It is a good thing we got wise to it in time.”
Until the dispute was resolved, special arrangements were made with several dray companies and garages to provide delivery services on June 14.
The market opened for the first time on Saturday, June 14. To mark the occasion, Premier Roblin was on-hand to declare the market officially opened. Roblin said he had long supported the concept of such a market to lower the cost of living.
According to a June 16 Free Press account of the ceremony, Roblin was constantly heckled by one man in the crowd during his speech.
“We owe the Manitoba for Million League much,” said the premier, “but we may not appreciate the benefits until the market is thoroughly established.”
The premier ended by saying, “Public markets are public benefits.”
The newspaper commented that the lateness of the season was prehaps the reason for the opening day not being “the great success its promoters expected.”
By 10 ‘oclock, only 14 market gardeners had unpacked their wares into stalls at the market.
“No morning delivery was attempted. one reason being that the number of packages which was asked (to be) sent (out) could have been carried by a seven-year-old boy.”
But a delivery was made in the morning.
Despite the poor beginning, Whellams was undeterred by what was a small-sized crowd.
“We could not expect a better showing as things are now,” he commented. “The market gardener has hardly any of his crop ready for marketing, and then, of course, it takes some time before the people get used to this order of things. It is always a little uphill work from the first.”
The newspaper published a list of price comparisons between stores and the market, which indicated that the market was in a few instances selling produce below the current retail cost to consumers.
Advertisements announced that “vegetables fresh from the gardens,” and “dairy produce fresh from the farms” was available at the Million for Manitoba League’s Central Farmers’ Market, which was open daily from Monday to Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. The Lord’s Day Act then in force prevented the market from being open on Sundays.
According to a chart compiled by the league, there were a few savings for consumers at the market when prices were compared to retail outlets, although many prices were the same or even above those found at stores. For example, eggs were 23-cents a dozen at the market versus 25-cents at stores, potatoes were 55-cents per bushel at the market versus 60-cents a bushel at retail outlets, and radishes were three bunches for five-cents at the market versus one bunch for five-cents at stores.
Besides an assortment of vegetables, the market sold cut flowers, potted plants, home-made pastry, creamery butter (29-cents and 30-cents per pound), dairy butter (24-cents to 26-cents), eggs (23-cents to 27-cents a dozen), and all kinds of poultry for $1 to $1.50 per pair (these prices are from the market advertisement).
A letter sent to city council signed by C.L. Charrest, the chairman of a committee of the Merchants’ Association of Canada, Winnipeg Branch, contained a resolution asking the council to not put any more public money into the Central Farmers’ Market.
The December 1913 letter alleged the Central Farmers’ Market was “defrauding the public and libelling the retail merchants of Winnipeg.”
The alleged fraudulent activity cited by the association was that the market was importing consignments of butter, eggs, poultry and vegetables from Saskatchewan, Ontario and British Columbia “and selling this produce in competition with the retail merchants of the city.”
It was also alleged that the market was “buying packed eggs from the commission houses at Brandon and Winnipeg and selling them to the consumer as fresh country eggs, thereby defrauding the consumer and patronizing the middlemen whom they propose to eliminate.”
The merchants’ group claimed tomatoes, plums and peaches had been imported for the market and sold at higher prices than asked for by local retailers. Actually, the fact that fruit was being imported and then sold at the market was no great revelation, as advertisements in local newspapers emphasized “Ontario fruit specials” at the Central Farmers’ Market. Apples, plums, pears and tomatoes, according to the ads, were at “50 per cent below store prices.”
In other instances, B.C. cherries were advertised, although it proved to be rather difficult to obtain imported fruit from the West Coast province.
Whellams alleged that a “combine” existed made up of the city’s fruit wholesalers, “who are trying to crowd the B.C. products from the market” (Free Press, October 28, 1913).
Whellams was told by one vendor that he had all the business he could handle and it wasn’t worth his time or money to transfer his fruit to a market stall.
“I find,” said Whellams, “that the British Columbia fruit is a short-lived product and must be disposed of to the consumer as soon as possible. If we do not get the trade of both the consumer and the vendor, we cannot dispose of our fruit in any quantity. Thus the rise in prices.”
(Next week: part 4)