Remembering Sask Pool in its heyday

Ted Turner is relaxing with a cup of coffee at Regina’s Wascana Country Club, where he used to spend hours golfing and, more importantly, networking.

On May 21, the former president of Saskatchewan Wheat Pool will launch his recently published memoir here.

It is a peaceful, serene place on a Friday morning in spring. Groundskeepers are at work and the birds are busy nesting. Wascana Creek meanders by, and the Regina skyline is visible beyond it.

“It was a great relief from stress,” Turner, now 87, says of his membership in this private club.

However, it was also the scene of meetings necessary to cement Sask Pool’s place in business.

“You still needed to know what was going on in the business world,” Turner said.

“It was important to establish respect for the wheat pool and good communication.”

Turner spent nearly 18 years at the helm of the mighty Pool.

His book, Beyond the Farm Gate: The Story of a Farm Boy Who Helped Make the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool a World-Class Business, chronicles the establishment of the family farm at Maymont, Sask., by his immigrant parents, the family’s involvement with the Pool and his observations of policy and politics through his years as a delegate, then director and then president.

It took him about four years to write it. The sixth draft was published by University of Regina Press and released at the beginning of this month.

Turner credits his editor, Brian Lazar, as well as a neighbour for typing and structuring his longhand manuscript, but he said the story is his.

“I had experience that no one else had had, particularly in international trade,” he said. “I thought some of that was worth recording.”

There is an old joke about missing a meeting and being elected president, but in Turner’s case that’s exactly how his own Pool involvement began.

“In 1950, shortly after our marriage, Mel and I had gone to Saskatoon for the day and missed the local annual meeting of the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool,” Turner wrote.

“In my absence, I was elected to the wheat pool committee.”

In the fall of 1957, he was asked to run for the delegate position in his sub-district of District 16.

Turner said he told the Pool’s field man that he would do it for no more than three years.

“He said, ‘if you make it three years we’ll have to shoot you to get rid of you,’ ” Turner recalled.

It wasn’t long before Turner was intrigued with how the Pool worked and the policy issues affecting agriculture worldwide.

“I was starting to realize that it didn’t matter what I did on my farm because there were so many other things impacting it,” he said.

He became a director in 1960 and was vice-president by 1966. He assumed the presidency in 1969.

The job required that he own a farm, but it soon became impossible to farm it himself. Meetings upon meetings took up half his time.

His wife, Mel, kept track of his absences: in 1964 he was away from the farm 200 nights.

“You better have an understanding partner,” he said.

He had cattle at that time and credits neighbours and family for helping until he rented the land out.

He sold the farm after his retirement. Regina had become home after spending so many years there.

Still, he wouldn’t trade his time with the Pool for anything.

“Ted Turner was nothing,” he said. “It was the wheat pool that I represented that had the impact. Farmers were my life.”

His book tackles the tough decisions, such as the one to negotiate the Crow Rate.

“That haunted me as long as I was there.”

And he asks questions about the demise of the Pool through the 2000s, notably: “At what point, and how, did the control of the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool shift from the board of directors to the CEO?”

Copies of the book are now in bookstores. A Saskatoon launch will be held in June on the University of Sask-atchewan campus, where Turner served as chancellor from 1989 to 1995.

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