Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


The United Farmers of Alberta (UFA) was established in 1909 as an amalgamation of the Alberta Farmers Association and the Alberta Society of Equity, the latter an offshoot of the American Society of Equity. The UFA's primary aim was to ameliorate the vulnerable economic position of Alberta farmers. It protested the protective Canadian tariff on farm equipment, lobbied for the regulation of marketing practices at grain elevators, and called for an end to government-endorsed railway monopolies.

In 1912 the ufa endorsed women's suffrage and encouraged farm women to become involved in the organization. In 1915 the United Farm Women of Alberta (UFWA) was formed, campaigning for women's suffrage (gained in 1916), temperance, and rural health and education standards. Unlike women's auxiliaries in traditional Canadian political organizations, the UFWA did not mainly bake cookies and stuff envelopes. These women stood with their UFA men as economically disadvantaged farm workers, but they also used annual conventions and agrarian newsletters to raise their gender-specific concerns.

Physically removed from the national center of power in Ottawa and disillusioned by the corrupt and seemingly undifferentiated national political parties, many in the ufa began to advocate direct political action. Henry Wise Wood, president of the organization from 1916 to 1931, was a native Missourian who had witnessed the failures of the Farmers Alliance and the Populist Party. He was therefore skeptical of direct political action by farmers. Nevertheless, he became convinced that direct involvement was needed, and he advocated a theory of group government or political representation based on occupation.

In 1916 the Nonpartisan League, fresh from its political victories in North Dakota, entered Alberta to mobilize farmers into political action. Also in 1916 the UFA endorsed the Canadian Council of Agriculture's "Farmers' Platform," which provided a clear statement of agrarian political goals. Resolved to political action, the ufa merged with the Nonpartisan League in 1919 and contested the 1921 Alberta election. The UFA ran only rural candidates, cooperating in some instances with urban labor candidates. It won the election and remained in office until 1935. Wood refused the premiership, which went instead to Herbert Greenfield (1921-25), then to John Brownlee (1925-34), and R. G. Reid (1934-35). Of particular interest, in 1921 Irene Parlby, former president of the UFWA, became the first woman cabinet minister in Alberta.

Despite Wood's radical theories of group government, the UFA governed in a conventional, efficient manner, establishing wheat, dairy, poultry, and livestock pools and improving provincial health and education services. With the onset of the Great Depression, the UFA attempted to provide debt relief for farmers, but its solutions were ineffective and too orthodox for the Alberta electorate. In 1935 Social Credit swept the UFA out of office, and the ufa then retreated from political activity. Today the UFA operates farm supply stores and petroleum outlets throughout Alberta, sponsors rural youth groups, and remains one of Canada's largest farmer-owned agricultural organizations.


Amy Nugent University of Calgary

Betke, Carl. "The United Farmers of Alberta, 1921–1935." In Riel to Reform: A History of Protest in Western Canada, edited by George Melnyk. Saskatoon: Fifth House Publishers, 1992.

Morton, W. L. The Progressive Party in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1950.

Previous: Trial of Standing Bear | Contents | Next: United Farmers of Canada, Saskatchewan Section

XML: egp.pd.055.xml