Edward Alexander Partridge (1861-1931)
In the context of a booming wheat economy in early 20th century Canada, E.A. Partridge played a major role in the agrarian protest movement of Western Canada. He helped to establish the first agricultural protest organization, the Territorial Grain Growers’ Association (TGGA); the first cooperative grain marketing company, the Grain Growers’ Grain Company (GGGC); and a movement newspaper, the Grain Growers’ Guide. All of these had a major impact on Western Canada’s economic and social life. Through his writings and organizational work, this political visionary conceived of, articulated, and popularized a producers’ cooperative to regulate grain sales and production in the interests of farmers. He also advocated the creation of wheat pools, promoted an alliance between workers and farmers, and articulated a vision of political and social reform based on cooperation.
Born in 1861 in Upper Canada (now Ontario), Partridge became a teacher before moving west with his brother and settling in Sintaluta, Saskatchewan. There, Partridge became a vocal leader in the growing farm movement and helped organize the TGGA in 1902. He then went to Winnipeg to investigate the operations of the Winnipeg Grain Exchange and was shocked by the speculation he witnessed. He returned home to help found the GGGC in 1906, the first farmer-owned cooperative grain marketing company, and served as its first president. He also served as the first editor of what soon became the influential prairie journal, the Grain Growers’ Guide, trying to use it to reach out to urban labourers as well as farmers to effect more comprehensive social change. Partridge also promoted the ‘Partridge Plan’, or the creation of wheat pools, and in 1909 helped found the first national farmers’ organization in Canada, the Dominion Council of Agriculture.
Although Partridge achieved the status of respected elder statesman in the farm movement, his influence declined during the war years when he also suffered a number of personal losses. However, he re-emerged after the war to promote the ideal of a Canadian Wheat Pool, which became a reality in 1935. Partridge also took an interest in the formation of the Farmer’s Union of Canada, joined the Progressive Party, and helped organize the Saskatchewan Co-operative Wheat Producers Limited, the latter becoming the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool. Lacking the patience to run organizations once they had been launched, Partridge turned to articulating his ideas through the Grain Growers’ Guide, and in 1925, he published A War on Poverty, a book that advocated a utopian society based on cooperation, or, a cooperative commonwealth. By the 1930s, western radicalism found expression in a new party which embraced many of Partridge’s ideas and adopted his phrase, “Co-operative Commonwealth” for its name, the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation. Sadly, Partridge died in 1931, two years before it was formed.