Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


PARTRIDGE, EDWARD A. (1861-1931)

Edward Alexander Partridge was born on November 5, 1861, in Dalston, Ontario. After completing school, Partridge earned a teacher's certificate. He taught in Ontario, but he was a restless man, content only when building something. The opening of the Canadian Prairies beckoned, and in 1883 Partridge and his brother headed west to homestead near Sintaluta (now in Saskatchewan), where he resided until 1927. On arrival at Sintaluta, Partridge worked as a schoolteacher. He also fulfilled some of his required homestead residency by serving in the Yorkton Company Militia of Canada for three months during the 1885 Riel Rebellion. He fell in love with Mary Stephens, a young woman from a nearby town. They married in 1886 and devoted their lives to building their farm and raising a family of five.

Partridge quickly developed an analysis of the Canadian social and economic system that was premised on the understanding that capitalism is a class-based system, with inherent patterns of exploitation, domination, and inequities. As a result of his and others' difficulties in marketing grain at competitive prices, he entered into a lifelong mission to change the world through collective struggle. Partridge was present in 1901 when a group of disgruntled farmers organized one of the first western Canadian agrarian political action organizations, the Territorial Grain Growers Association. Partridge quickly concluded that political lobbying was limited in its potential to effect real social change, so in 1908 he campaigned to form a farmers' grain company, the Grain Growers Grain Company (GGGC). Although the GGGC eventually evolved into a successful cooperative, for Partridge it did not represent a real solution. As Partridge and others undertook various campaigns to establish cooperatives, secure political concessions, and generally improve the lot of farmers, they encountered what they considered unfair coverage in the press. In order to present their side of the story, they created an agrarian news journal in 1908. Partridge was the first editor of the Grain Growers Guide, but as was typical of his restless spirit, he only lasted one issue before moving on. His next undertaking was a campaign to secure public ownership of the elevator system through the involvement of provincial governments. Although it never came to fruition, the "Partridge Plan" did result in government support for a cooperative elevator company.

In addition to organizing cooperatives and grain companies, Prairie farmers attempted to shape government policies, especially those relating to tariffs. In 1910 hundreds of farmers converged on Ottawa in what became known as the "Siege of Ottawa." Partridge was there. World War I brought a temporary lull to the agrarian agitation; however, it also brought personal tragedy to Partridge and his wife. In 1914 one of their daughters drowned while swimming near the farm. Then, although Partridge was a pacifist, their two sons served and were killed during World War I. Partridge's health remained a problem, in part because he had lost a leg in a farm accident in 1908.

Partridge, undoubtedly supported by Mary, joined the fight for a western political party after the war. He also became involved in organizing a new group, the Farmers Union of Canada, in 1921, and in organizing the Wheat Pool in Saskatchewan. In 1926 he explicated his vision of a better world in a book, A War on Poverty. The vision and spiritual message of the book reflect the remarkable resilience of the human spirit; however, he was not able to recover from one last loss, Mary's death while she was gardening on the farm. Partridge left Saskatchewan and ended his own life in Victoria on August 3, 1931.

Muray Knuttila University of Regina

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