Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

WOOD, HENRY WISE (1860-1941)

Henry Wise Wood was a farmer, first in Missouri and then in Alberta. In Canada he became a leader in agrarian organizations, had a weighty influence on agrarian involvement in politics, and was a prominent figure in establishing the Alberta Wheat Pool. Born in Ralls County, Missouri, on May 31, 1860, Wood was educated in a rural school, at a private school in Monroe City, and at Christian University (later Culver-Stockton College) in Canton, Missouri. In 1883 he married Etta Leora Cook, and they had four sons. Following three years in Texas (1878–81) he returned to Ralls County, where he farmed, bred cattle, and joined the Farmers and Laborers Union.

By the time he moved to a farm near Carstairs, Alberta, in 1905, he was widely read in political philosophers such as Karl Marx and John Stuart Mill. The failure of American farmers to enter politics directly, and the corruption of their farm organizations through political engagement, convinced him that Canadian agrarian movements would share the same fate if they embarked on a similar path. Wood was elected president of the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA) in 1916 and became president of the Canadian Council of Agriculture in 1917. His rapid rise in these bodies reflected his energy and skill at organization, as well as his conviction that the future for farmers lay in their willingness to view themselves as an economic class, committed to principles of cooperation more than of competition, and acting effectively to push the goals of farmers upon both government and business while avoiding the siren call of entering politics directly.

By the end of World War I, however, grassroots determination to enter politics left Wood no choice but to try to shape the political activity in accordance with his ideas: the farmers should enter politics as an economic group, which would maintain its integrity as a purely agrarian entity, but be prepared at the same time to cooperate with other economic groups such as labor. At all costs they should avoid participating in the existing corrupt political system. While the UFA officially supported the Progressive Party, formed after World War I to represent the interests of farmers at Ottawa, Wood's ideas were fundamentally opposed to those of the other major farm representative in politics, T. A. Crerar of Manitoba. Crerar accepted the basic principles of political organization as they existed, but he believed that the Progressive Party's duty was to pressure the traditional major parties, Liberal and Conservative, to adopt policies that were in the interest of farmers. Thus, despite electing sixty-four members to Parliament in 1921 and becoming the second-largest group after the governing Liberals, the Progressives were divided at their core, and the national movement largely disintegrated by the mid-1920s. A major factor was Wood's ideological intransigence. Nevertheless, within Alberta the political wing of the ufa became the government in 1921, holding power as essentially a farmer government until 1935.

Wood also believed in the ideas of the American apostle of cooperation, Aaron Sapiro, who spoke often in western Canada in the 1920s. Indeed, Wood was able to generate the cooperation of businessmen, farmers, and the Alberta government, all under his leadership and that of the UFA, to form the Alberta Wheat Pool, of which Wood became president in 1923. From there he was instrumental in the creation of pools in Saskatchewan and Manitoba and became vice president (1924) of the Central Selling Agency, which marketed the wheat of the three pools.

Wood retired as president of the ufa in 1931, and as president of the Wheat Pool in 1937. In 1935 he received the Grand Cross of Saint Michael and Saint George from King George V, recognizing "his services to the cause of agrarian unity and cooperation." He died in Calgary on June 10, 1941.

David J. Hall University of Alberta

Morton, W. L. "The Social Philosophy of Henry Wise Wood, the Canadian Agrarian Leader." Agricultural History 22 (1948): 114–22.

Rolph, William Kirby. Henry Wise Wood of Alberta. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1950.

Wood, Henry Wise. Papers. Glenbow Archives. Calgary, Alberta.

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