by Bruce Cherney (part 4 of 4)
A December 1913 letter, signed by J.F. Kennedy, the secretary of the Merchants’ Association of Canada, Winnipeg branch, demanded that city council no longer provide funding for the Million for Manitoba League’s Central Farmers’ Market.
According to a report by a merchants’ association committee, chaired by C.L. Charrest, which was included in the letter sent to the council, the market had not fulfilled its original purpose of selling only Made-in-Manitoba produce and had not lowered the cost of living in Winnipeg by a single cent.
The merchants alleged that the “process of bringing producer and consumer together has not and will not be accomplished by the Central Farmers’ Market under present conditions,” and that the middlemen, who bought vegetables from local market gardeners and then sold the produce to retailers, a process which the Million for Manitoba League claimed contributed to higher prices to consumers, could not be put out of business as long as their produce was being used to fill the stalls at the market.
As city ratepayers, the merchants also objected to their taxes being used to fund the operation of the market (December 16, 1913, Free Press).
“The Million for Manitoba League has no quarrel with the retailers,” asserted William Sanford Evans, the president of the league, at a meeting on December 18, “and we are not trying to injure them, but we do think that the two fundamental factors, the producer and the consumer, should be benefited, and we have been working toward that goal.”
Local market gardeners said the market had benefited their production, according to a December 13, 1913, Free Press article.
“The St. Vital gardeners are making bigger plans for the growing of vegetables and produce next year than ever before, with the intention of supplying the farmers’ market,” said an unnamed gardener, attending the December 18 meeting at the Winnipeg Industrial Bureau at the corner of Main and Water (now William Stephenson Way). “Bad crops cut a big figure out of our inadequate supply of produce this year, but every gardener in St. Vital who has occupied a stall at the market has voted it a huge success. I didn’t lose a $5 bill all summer on my stuff, and if I had lots more I could have sold it.”
The gardeners said that they may have previously realized a higher price for their produce by hawking it door-to-door, but the greater volume sold at the stalls more than made up for any price discrepancy.
“The Million for Manitoba League has put all its money into this market,” said Evans, “also its time has been given. We wished to give the market a good start with the expectation that if found a success it would then be taken hold of by the proper authorities. We have but a baby market yet, and it requires being more systematized and being conducted on a larger scale. The market gardeners and the farmers who supply this market have to make up their minds that they will support and stand back of this institution.”
The market gardeners and farmers supporting the market with produce and other goods came from across Winnipeg, including the Knowles School for Boys, which ran a large market garden, as well as Elmwood, St. Vital, Teulon, Stonewall and Whitemouth.
In a letter to the Free Press, published October 4, 1913, J.W. Ryckman, the chairman of the league’s market committee, wrote that he was disappointed that George Lawrence, the provincial minister of agriculture, considered the farmers’ market as “purely a Winnipeg affair and does not affect the agricultural interests of the province to a sufficient extent to warrant his giving it any recognition whatever.”
He called the minister’s viewpoint “narrow and erroneous” and that it didn’t reflect “the character and importance of this market, and it undoubtedly hampers the committee’s efforts very greatly. Inasmuch, as the shipments are from many parts of the province, and the Dominion agricultural department has given to the provincial department a large sum of money to assist agriculture in Manitoba, this market seems to afford the most definite and practical means of aiding our producers that could be devised.”
According to Ryckman, during the first two weeks of the market’s opening, seven farmers were contributing butter and eggs, and afterward, 80 farmers’ wives and 10 creameries were making shipments to the market. He said 10,000 pounds of creamery butter was sold at the market every month.
“The committee feels that both the city and the provincial government should give such support to this enterprise as would make it the kind of helpful institution it should be, and can be, if $100,000 were devoted to putting the Central Farmers’ Market in the shape the consumption of the city justifies. It would only be a tithe of what we have saved the people during the past summer out of the ordinary and unusual cost of their table necessities.”
Despite Ryckman’s arguments, the minister refused to help fund the market.
The Million for Manitoba League continually sought more money from any source to help operate the market, which was draining its own treasury. In fact, its finances were in such a perilous state that products, such as poultry taken on consignment from rural farmers, could not be paid for until sold at the market. Without more funds, the league warned that the market’s future would remain in doubt.
On February 4, 1914, representatives of the Grain Growers’ Association, the Trades and Labour Council, the Industrial Bureau, gardeners and the market committee of the Million For Manitoba League met to discuss the future of the Central Farmers’ Market.
The gardeners at the meeting claimed that the market had saved consumers $2 on their weekly grocery and meat bills. And if the market didn’t continue, the gardeners claimed, they would be seriously inconvenienced.
Evans admitted that inexperience in running a farmers’ market had contributed to some mistakes and advocated that the producers themselves become directly involved in its operation.
“Rather than see the market fail,” said R. McKenzie, the Grain Growers’ Association (GGA) representative at the meeting, “we are prepared to manage it ourselves under certain conditions.”
He thought that the present liabilities had to be cleared up and the provincial government had to be asked to support the market financially.
A resolution to continue the market in 1914 was unanimously passed. In addition, the GGA, market gardeners and labour representatives were to later meet to discuss the management of the market.
In the end, the GGA and Market Gardeners’ Association decided to jointly take over the operation of the market in late 1914. The Central Farmers’ Market Association was formed as a co-operative with shares sold at $5 apiece. Under the terms of the charter, no individual was allowed to purchase more than 20 shares. The president of the newly-formed association was R. McKenzie, while the secretary was P.H. Ashton.
During a presentation the GGA convention, published in the January 14, 1915, Brandon Daily Sun, McKenzie said the Million for Manitoba League was unable to make a success of the market, so the association was forced to take over from where the league left off.
Reporting on the same convention, the Free Press said McKenzie told those attending that the market had helped lower food costs to consumers and provided producers with more earnings, so there was no reason to be discouraged about the future prospects for the market.
McKenzie informed the convention that the market association had 40 shareholders who held $365 in stock. In order for the market to flourish, more capitalization was needed, McKenzie added.
Meanwhile, a plea was made to Premier Rodmond Roblin to provide more funding for the Million for Manitoba League, which was brought to financial ruin through its participation in the farmers’ market. According to an unnamed member of the league, who was with the delegation that visited the Manitoba premier on May 2, 1914, the league was $3,500 in the hole “because of unlooked for expenses in connection with the farmers’ market.”
Roblin was moved, but not swayed, by the plea for help, and joined the provincial minister of agriculture in saying that the market was a city, not a provincial, matter.
The most embarrassing moment for the Million for Manitoba League was when it had to admit that it was unable to meet its financial obligations to the Industrial Bureau. During a special meeting of the bureau, Evans explained that the league had made a bigger investment in the market than it had originally anticipated and was at the time unable to pay its rent for use of the market grounds and an office in the Industrial Bureau Building.
“As the Million for Manitoba League is not a standing committee of the bureau, and as it has its own organization,” reported the Free Press on January 30, 1914, “the whole matter resolved itself into the question of the payment of $938 in rent and it was referred to the finance committee and the solicitor of the bureau for further investigation to report back to the executive at the next meeting.”
Soon afterward, the office of the business secretary, Creasey J. Whellams, in the Industrial Bureau Building had to be abandoned as a result of the league failing to pay the rent due. The vacant space was taken over by the Winnipeg Camera Club.
The Free Press on April 29, 1914, wrote that the league was “‘on its last legs’ and ready to give up the ghost.”
“At present the Million for Manitoba League is undecided as to where its future quarters will be, or whether there will be any future headquarters at all.”
The newspaper speculated that the league would re-emerge under another name after being reorganized.
The league had been hindered in its business operations by its structure. “The organization was not incorporated, it is understood, and worked under no charter,” remarked the Free Press.
Although the league had thousands of members across the province, its composition of virtually independent municipalities, business organizations and agricultural and labour groups with their own agendas was partially responsible for its undoing. Without a more formal governing body with the power to enforce the few regulations that did exist, the league head office in Winnipeg was unable to collect $1 membership fees from many individuals — the only incentive for anyone to pay their dollar was receiving an “attractive” button — nor the majority of the minimum $100 expected from each municipality.
But the financial difficulties that the league faced were also a reflection of a changing economic situation; that is, the world and Manitoba had been plunged into a depression in 1913. Particularly affected by the depression were farm incomes (wheat prices were severely depressed), meaning that farmers and rural municipalities had little money to spare for league membership fees.
Alan Artibise in his MHS Transaction (1970-71 season) article, Advertising Winnipeg: The Campaign for Immigrants and Industry, 1874-1914, wrote that by 1913, “credit stringency was manifest throughout the region and no amount of ‘booming’ could bring a return of good times.”
“The escalator of rising prices and heavy demand halted abruptly,” wrote David Jay Bercuson in his book, Confrontation in Winnipeg: Labour, Industrial Relations and the General Strike (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1974), “as rural and land values tumbled, construction sagged, wheat prices dropped, wages fell, and unemployment began to climb rapidly ... Winnipeg was so hard hit by this depression that the nation-wide stimulus to the economy provided by the outbreak of the war in August 1914 did not materially affect the bleak picture in the city until the fall of 1915.”
The end of the boom left many social and political issues unresolved that after First World War resulted in the eruption of the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike.
It was the league’s involvement in the Central Farmers’ Market that proved to be the final blow to the Million for Manitoba League. The market provided a financially-crippling distraction from the league’s overall goal to increase the province’s population to one-million people by 1921. In effect, the expense of the market meant there was no money available to advertise Manitoba’s advantages to potential immigrants from the U.S. and Europe.
The Winnipeg members of the league argued that the market would be the basis for more immigrants coming to Manitoba to settle on vacant land around the city and subsequently establish market gardens. But initially, the league was formed at the urging of rural Manitoba, where tens of thousands of acres of farmland lay idle and available to settlers. Rural Manitoba wanted more settlers, but saw immigrants, especially wealthy farmers from the U.S., bypassing the province to homestead in Saskatchewan and Alberta.
John Bruce Walker, the federal commissioner for immigration in Manitoba, told the Brandon Daily Sun on January 26, 1912, that the Million for Manitoba League was “an excellent idea and likely to prove of immense value to the whole province. It is being taken up most enthusiastically in all rural districts,” as the province “has been overlooked in the past to the benefit of other provinces.”
At a July 19, 1912, meeting of the league in Winnipeg, Bruce advised the delegates to “conduct your campaigns in the centres of rural population” in Europe and the U.S. in order to attract farmers to rural Manitoba.
H.J. Horan, a Winnipeg REALTOR®, told the Free Press on April 10, 1915, that farmland outside Winnipeg had been “ignored, pressed aside in favor of city property and subdivisions, notwithstanding the fact that the city cannot go ahead on a firm basis without farm development. A business man and his business cannot exist without the farmer, although the farmer can get along without the business man ...”
Of course, as a partner in the firm H.J. Horan-A.E. Robertson, which specialized in the sale of farmland, Horan had a vested interest in promoting such properties, but, at the same time, he was also echoing the concerns expressed in communities outside Winnipeg, including the absence of publicity from the league about the advantages of settling in rural Manitoba. There had been an emphasis on such publicity in the first year of the league, but that abruptly ended when the market became the sole priority and took up all the resources of the league.
“Many predict that the rush of immigration to Canada (after the First World War) will involve a million men. What will be done with them? Factory hands will not be needed, nor railway men, carpenters, bricklayers, blacksmiths, plumbers, and so forth. There is only one place for them — upon the land ...
“Splendid lasting work has been done from a ‘publicity’ standpoint by the (Winnipeg) Industrial Bureau, the (Winnipeg) board of trade, the (Winnipeg) Real Estate Exchange, the Million for Manitoba League, the Made-in-Winnipeg campaign, and so forth, but the missionary work done in regard to farm lands has been infinitesimal.”
For all intents and purposes, the league devolved into a Winnipeg-based organization run by Winnipeggers, who were only interested in benefits for the city, such as the market.
As Premier Roblin and Lawrence, the provincial minister of agriculture, asserted, the market was “purely a Winnipeg affair.” The provincial government had given $2,500 of a promised $5,000 grant to the league in 1912, but a year later, when it became clear that the direction of the league had changed from immigration to rural Manitoba to a public market in Winnipeg, the province was unwilling to provide more capital to the league.
The Million for Manitoba League was said to have begun with great enthusiasm expressed across the province, but disappeared in 1914 with scarcely a whimper of protest from a membership that by then had become apathetic to its continued existence.
According to the 1921 Canadian Census, the population of the province was just 610,118 people, which was well short of the one-million goal sought within 10 years by the league in 1911. It wasn’t until decades later in 1976 that Manitoba could claim over one-million people (Statistics Canada data).