The organization that formed Alberta’s government from 1921 to 1935 was also a popular farmers’ association. The United Farmers of Alberta (UFA) was both an amalgam of local clubs and a political lobby group. It also became involved in marketing farmers’ grain. At its height, the UFA had over 30 000 members and 1200 local clubs.
The idea for a province-wide farmers’ association came from the United States, where many Alberta immigrants originated. They helped organize the Society of Equity in Edmonton in 1905. A rival organization, the Alberta Farm Association, was established in 1906. Both groups merged in 1909 as the UFA.
Henry Wise Wood, a
prosperous stockman from Missouri who came to Alberta in 1905, rose
to prominence in the UFA. He
joined the Society of Equity and the UFA when it formed in 1909. In 1915, he became the UFA’s vice-president, and the
following year, he was elected president, holding the position until
his retirement in 1931.
Wood was influenced by the
alliance and populist movements that attempted to organize farmers
in his home state. He
contributed their reform ideas and his Christian beliefs to the UFA. Later, he developed a theory of group government, involving
political representation on the basis of occupation. He was weary of the UFA entering politics because farmers’
interests, he believed, were better represented by lobbying the
Lobbying and Coexistence
The UFA introduced a number
of resolutions in the Legislature that the provincial Liberal
government subsequently made law. The legislation of prohibition in Alberta in 1915 and
women’s suffrage in 1916 were the result of much lobbying, mainly
by the UFA. The
Liberals also introduced a farm credit program in 1917, upon the
UFA’s approval. After
World War I, the Stewart government guaranteed loans to expand
irrigation in southern Alberta. Stewart even demanded that the federal Liberals incorporate
the UFA’s platform.
The Liberals were willing to
cooperate with the UFA partly because they recognized that the
farmers could win several seats if they entered provincial politics. In 1919, Alexander Moore won a provincial byelection for
the UFA. In the 1921
provincial election, the farmers won a majority of seats.
The UFA government and
farmers’ association coexisted for a number of years. The two bodies diverged at times. The farmers’ association continued to press for more
radical reforms, as did the federal UFA party. Neither of these organizations were corrupted by power or
faced with government debt and costly projects. The farmers did become less radical in the prosperous late
twenties, which helped to resolve differences between the government
and the farmers’ association. But the onset of the Great Depression revived differences
between the two bodies, as crop prices plummeted and drought struck again.
Through the years of UFA
government, the farmers’ association continued its role as a focal
point in several rural communities. Sunday picnics followed by speeches at local UFA halls
provided entertainment and educated members about the latest
developments in agriculture. These meetings also instilled solidarity among farmers in each community. UFA locals also distributed supplies to farmers and,
after 1923, helped run the Alberta Wheat Pool.
The UFA government lost all
its seats in the 1935 provincial election. Soon after, the
provincial party followed the federal UFA in joining the Cooperative
Commonwealth Federation. This populist left-wing movement
reminiscent of the UFA's early years was the first successful merger
between farm and labour organizations.
The UFA farmers’
association survived, though with fewer members and local clubs. In 1948, they established the United Farmers of Alberta
Cooperative, which remains one of the strongest farmer-owned
cooperatives in the country. The following year, they united
with the Alberta Farmers' Union, formed by more militant UFA
activists in 1939. The new
Farmers' Union of Alberta (FUA) pressed government for farm
assistance and women's rights, as well as better education and
health services. The FUA became part of Unifarm in 1970,
joined by the UFA Cooperative in 1981. Unifarm acts on behalf
of these and other farmers' associations as a political lobby group
and a forum for discussion of many issues farmers face today.