Handling ranchers’ concerns | A century later the association continues to lobby for the livestock industry
Bonneau, Cruickshank, Grayson, Ogle, Olafson and Simpson.
These six names might not resonate so much with cattlemen today, but they belong to six men who 100 years ago were pivotal in forming the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association.
Treffle Bonneau of Willow Bunch, Robert Cruickshank, William H. Grayson, Olaf Olafson and John D. Simpson of Moose Jaw and William H. Ogle of Wood Mountain met in Moose Jaw in the fall of 1912 to talk about how to maintain their ranches and livelihoods in the face of increasing numbers of homesteaders. They organized the first SSGA meeting, again in Moose Jaw, in 1913.
Next week, cattlemen gather in that city to celebrate the 100th anniversary of their association.
The Ogle and Olafson families are still actively ranching and representatives are expected to attend the convention.
The theme of this year’s celebration, Riding for the Brand, honours the six founders. Their brands appear on the label for a special blend of Original Six whisky.
Boyd Anderson, president from 1969 to 1971, detailed the history of the SSGA and its founders in his book Beyond the Range, written for the 75th anniversary.
He chronicled the efforts of the first executives to establish the SSGA as a credible organization. They began with a letter to all the livestock men they knew from the Big Muddy to the Alberta border, Anderson wrote.
Local meetings followed, and in the afternoon of July 23, 1913, more than 200 ranchers met in Moose Jaw to establish the SSGA.
“When one considers the communication and transportation systems of the times, it must be looked upon as quite an achievement for so many to attend,” noted Anderson in his book. “For most it meant an absence from home for several days.”
Within a year they had successfully lobbied for 10-year terms on leases and assurances that their lease land would not be available to homesteaders.
Murray McGillivray of Radville, president from 1980 to 1982, noted that lease rates were low but lease security was tenuous.
“You could get parcels of land from the Macdonald government in the Northwest Territories for a cent an acre,” he said.
Formal grazing leases had been established in 1885, before the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan were formed. But both before and after that date they were subject to legislative changes that created uncertainty.
Ranchers needed terms that allowed them to build their businesses.
Anderson wrote: “In the formative years the main problems concerning the ranchers were related to lease lands, security of tenure, the threat of excessive taxation and local regulations. There was a recognition that a system of co-existence must be worked out with grain famers.”
Over the years these and other issues came and went and, in some cases, came back again.
In an interview, Anderson said the association really came through for producers when they needed it, particularly when dealing with trade issues and animal health concerns.
In turn, producers came through for an organization that struggled at times.
“They’ve lasted 100 years because there’s always some dedicated stockmen along the way that when things started to go bad they’d give it a boost and before it would die out somebody else would pick up interest,” he said.
Both he and Jack MacDougald, who was president from 1961-63, said one of the most contentious issues they recall was the idea of a marketing board for beef.
Proposals came up in the 1930s, again in the 1950s, and again in the 1970s.
Each time the stock growers successfully organized the opposition.
MacDougald came on the scene during the marketing board discussion of 1954, and then during his presidency was part of the stock growers’ effort to help the hog producers defeat a marketing board proposal aimed at them.
Assuming the presidency felt natural for him. His father James had been president in 1932-33.
“We went to some of the meetings as kids,” he said. “I always had an attitude if I was a baker I would join the bakers’ association. But I don’t know whether everybody had that attitude. Our membership really did climb up when we had the debate over the marketing board.”
Anderson said the debate in the early 1970s, when beef was included in a bill put forward by federal agriculture minister Eugene Whelan to be part of what is now the supply-managed system, resulted in a highly organized effort to defeat it.
“We put up quite a fight,” he said. “That was a very crucial time. It would have been a controlled production and marketing system.”
Don Perrin, who managed the stock growers from 1964 to 1981, remembered having a “few knock-down-drag-em-outs with government.”
Cattle producers prefer their freedom, Anderson said, and the right to make individual decisions has characterized many of their policies even as they worked together to obtain them.
“I think the control of it is going to remain (with producers),” Anderson said.
From the tough times of the 1930s to disease issues mid-century, including the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease near Regina, BSE, and continuing trade issues such as mandatory country-of-origin labelling, the SSGA has relied on its members to show the industry the way.
McGillivray said people today don’t always understand how much political knowledge they need to be ranchers. Trade issues always arise.
Anderson agreed that the ability to raise beef is only one aspect of ranching.
“I can remember when right here in western Canada everybody thought we’d only produce meat for ourselves,” he said. “People would say, ‘I don’t care what you’re doing over there, I’ll just sell my meat in Saskatchewan’.
“This is a big world out there. It’s such a challenging, interesting industry that it will never die.”
- Formed in 1913
- Successfully lobbied for 10, then 21, then 33-year leases
- Established provincial check-off
- Organized the Beef Information Centre and efforts to educate consumers
- Formed the Moose Jaw Union Stock Yards
- Ran annual Moose Jaw Feeder Show that ran from the 1920s through the mid-1960s
- Opposed government efforts to establish a marketing board for beef
- Established horse slaughter plant in Swift Current in the late 1940s to deal with horse surplus as tractors took over
- Established Prairie Conservation Action Plan
- Lobbied to reduce education tax on farmland
- Helped guide province, producers through BSE and numerous efforts dealing with animal health, tariffs, trade barriers
- Supported feed grain policy
- Lobbied for province-wide brand inspection