This Week in History


Violet McNaughton: Rural Reformer

For the week of Monday November 10, 2003

Violet McNaughton was born on November 11, 1879, in Kent, England. She became an important figure in the development of modern Canada due to her persuasive campaigns to establish the Saskatchewan Wheat Pools and her tireless devotion to promote the idea of publicly funded health care.

Violet McNaughton ca. 1920 [LH 2149]
© Photographer unknown, courtesy of the Saskatoon Public Library - Local History Room

Violet Jackson emigrated from England to Saskatchewan in 1909 and married farmer John McNaughton. They settled into farm life in the Hillview district near Harris, Saskatchewan. Drawing on her English agricultural background, Violet McNaughton eventually became a director of the Saskatchewan Grain Grower’s Association (SGGA) in 1922. She was the first female to hold such a position. Well aware that women’s extensive contributions to agricultural life were in need of recognition, McNaughton helped start the Women Grain Growers (WGG) out of this association. Her activism helped to establish the Saskatchewan Wheat Pools. Due to the instability of farm markets and the uncertainty of a regular income, farm life was very difficult. The Pools allowed members to market all of their wheat with a particular Pool for a certain amount of time and to receive regular payments. At this time, McNaughton also helped to establish an agrarian newspaper called The Western Producer, which gave her an outlet to publicize her reform causes. The Saskatchewan Wheat Pool eventually became the largest producer and grain handler in Canada.

Violet McNaughton hauling water on a stoneboat ca. 1917 [PH 88-48]
© Photographer unknown, courtesy of the Saskatoon Public Library - Local History Room
McNaughton was concerned that health care was not easily accessible nor affordable to the rural population of Saskatchewan. As a farm woman, she was conscious that the isolated farm lifestyle prevented many women from receiving adequate medical attention, even in childbirth. McNaughton campaigned for “medical aid within the reach of all,” because she wanted to make health care available to the masses who could not have previously afforded it. She forged an alliance with the municipalities, which were already responsible for financing the medical care of the desperately poor. Pressure from all the organizations encouraged the provincial government to be more aware of the advantages of publicly funded health care when formulating policies. Eventually, McNaughton’s campaign set the wheels in motion toward Canada’s modern medicare system.

In honour of her efforts in the agricultural movement, McNaughton was given the Order of the British Empire in 1934. At her 1968 funeral, she was celebrated as a “small but mighty” force for change in many sectors.  Violet McNaughton was designated a person of national historic significance in 1997.

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