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Date of Award

10-1976

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

Supervisor

R.E. Blumstock

Abstract

Just as the period after 1871 has been described as the era of the sturdy yeoman, as that period in Canadian history interspersed between the days of early settlement and the industrial revolution, the thirty-five year span from 1900 can he delineated as an age of cyclical fluctuation between hardship and prosperity as a trend toward urbanization and industrialization accelerated. One segment of the population affected to a significant degree by these changes was the prairie grain producer, whose existence was influenced most dramatically by needs to adapt to changing circumstances while at the same time safeguard the status of agriculture and rural life from the encroachments of urban and industrial values. What evolved from this situation was the development of a spirit of protest which reflected disaffection with a national tariff protection policy of domestic industry and the monopolistic practices of the railroads, grain companies, financial institutions, and middlemen. In short, grain producers and their organizations pointed to the uncontrolled power of eastern manufacturing, industrial, and political interests in fostering an unstable prairie economy and maintaining the West's political subordination to the East.

Essential to determining the nature and implications of farmers' actions during this period of heightened grievance are the processes by which a distinctive and identifiable agrarian belief system arose and was coalesced through organizational participation. Within one-crop producing areas, low prices, the relatively high cost of manufactured goods, and high capital costs combined to magnify the vulnerability of middle-income grain farmers and to lead them toward demands for fundamental reforms. The study, therefore, focuses to a considerable extent on the historical roots of the farmers' economic and political efforts to control a dependency on the vicissitudes of a domestic and world market while rendering accountable an institutional structure centred in the industrial East.

Two distinctive patterns emerged from these efforts. A shrewd awareness of the techniques of agricultural improvement, business methods, and pressure politics attests to the successes the agrarian movement achieved; conversely, the failures it encountered in reaching a consensus on the means of attaining its goals can be attributed in part to what Richard Hofstadter has labelled the "soft side" of the farmer's existence - agrarian "radicalism" and agrarian ideology - for the rhetoric and resentments which developed were as much a function of regional parochialisms, divergent political histories and immigration patterns as the relativity of belief systems. Beyond this, the single economic interest of the prairie grain grower, the subordinate status of the West, and a parliamentary system of government which prevented the emergence of an agrarian bloc as a significant force in national politics, all conspired to precipitate the farmers' eventual political demise. Yet within the prairie provinces themselves, farmer-controlled governments exerted considerable influence which the farm lobby continued with the appearance of broadly-based coalition parties in Saskatchewan and Alberta after 1935. In order to assess and measure this influence effectively, however, the analysis of the formative years of the agrarian response to industrialization from 1900 remains indispensable.

As a means of differentiating among various types of social movements, the frame of reference employed by Neil Smelser with its unique set of determinants proved useful for the task. These determinants - strain, conduciveness, precipitating events, generalized belief, mobilization for action, and social control - may be utilized as heuristic devices to sensitize the observer to the subtleties of agrarian behaviour. Through the emergence of agrarian economic, educational, and cooperative organizations to the demands for direct legislation and political action, farmers' efforts were concentrated on rendering the values and goals of rural agricultural society achievable by creating new rules, procedures, and norms. As such, the farmers' impact on the economic and political history of the West may be viewed, not as an effort to radically transform Canadian society, but to ensure that agriculture would remain viable in a highly heterogeneous economy.

In utilizing historical data and certain insights drawn from the discipline of sociology, it is possible to provide the practitioner and the student of Canadian agrarian history with a more complete understanding and appreciation of the contours of agrarian disaffection. This exercise in turn provides important insights into the foundation of urban-rural and farmer-government relationships, as well as of the association between agriculture and such socio-economic groups as organized labour. The evolution of agrarian protest and the formation of group action and ideology, furthermore, are significant examples of how the forces of change may operate to accelerate the dual processes of adaptation and disaffection, and, ultimately, influence the institutional and social development of society as a whole.

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