Manitoba Historical Society
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George Chipman and the Institutionalization of a Reform Movement *

by Ian MacPherson
University of Victoria

MHS Transactions, Series 3, Number 32, 1975-76 Season

This article was published originally in MHS Transactions by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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Canadian historians have explored quite extensively the impact of Ontario upon the Prairies. Recently, they have begun to examine in depth the impact of Quebec. [1] Until now they have not explored at all the relationships with the Maritimes. From the late nineteenth century onward, tens of thousands of Maritimers annually came west, many on the “Harvest Specials” that brought, in addition to young farmers, unemployed miners, frustrated bank clerks and restless school teachers. Most Maritimers who came for the harvests returned home; many, however, remained settling on homesteads or competing for work in the industrial areas of the cities. [2] Once settled in the Prairies, they tended to fade into the general mass of Anglo-Canadians, perhaps identifiable by the remnants of their accents and the vehemence with which they endorsed the Prairie bias against Central Canada. They were also distinguishable by their national perspectives: for them Canada did not end in the East at the dens of iniquity located on Bay and St. James Streets. From that wider perspective, in fact, would emerge attempts at national agrarian unity and, especially in the thirties, the start of a national co-operative movement.

One of the Maritimers who found his home in the west was George Chipman, for twenty-six years the editor of The Grain Growers Guide. [3] Chipman was born on 18 January 1882, on the family farm at Nictaux West, near Bridgetown in the Annapolis Valley. [4] He belonged to a prosperous family with deep roots in the local community. The family had arrived in the valley in 1803 after having spent more than a decade as Loyalists in the Shelbourne area. [5] The land they chose was good; the Chipmans were versatile and well educated; and the family made steady progress from generation to generation during the nineteenth century. In political attitudes, the Chipmans were reformist, opposed to centralized economic and political institutions, emphatically in favour of individual responsibility, but given to group action among farmers. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, F. Miles Chipman, George’s father, was involved in upgrading local agriculture practice and in forming local bulk buying and centralized selling programmes. Because of these efforts he became both an agricultural representative in Annapolis county and an early local leader for the co-operative marketing of fruits. [6]

George maintained these interests but, as a younger son and a very good student, he also recognized the limitations of his future in the valley. Thus, he decided, like so many of his generation of Nova Scotians, to become a teacher. In 1896 he enrolled in Truro Normal School, a teacher-training institution that had already gained an enviable reputation throughout English-Canada. He graduated - at age seventeen - in 1900 and soon found a post as principal of a graded high school in River Hebert. He seems to have been a successful principal for the period, stressing practical subjects in his school, attempting to meet some of the challenges of “the rural problem,” and concerned about improving the standard of instruction among his teachers.

In August, 1903, he moved west, like many other future Prairie leaders, relying upon teaching as a means of making a living while he surveyed his prospects. Chipman later recalled his first 4,000 mile journey to the Prairies in the following way:

The writer left the east, in company with several other graduates of Truro, on a harvest excursion train ... There were ladies in the party and the trip was a pleasant one but so many have taken it that nothing more need be said, as to what a trip on a harvest excursion means. No [sic] schools had been secured by any of the party and none were in view but it was mutually decided that a month or two in the harvest field would have a very beneficial effect after being confined in a school for several years. When Winnipeg was reached and the farmers came in from the country to engage their hands for the field the prospect became less inviting and to we pedagogues there was nothing attractive in stoking wheat or laboring at the end of a fork handle. [7]

Successfully avoiding the hard work at harvest time, Chipman went on to Wolseley in present-day Saskatchewn where, through a teacher’s agency, he found employment in the Mormon community near Cardston. The school he found there - a log building with a cheesecloth ceiling and most of its log chinks fallen out - was hardly impressive. He paid a quarter of his salary to the bishop for his lodgings which amounted to sharing a room in the bishop’s house with three of his landlord’s sons. These conditions, along with the fact that he felt himself an outsider in the community, did not sufficiently offset his admiration for Mormon children; he left the community in December, 1903. He went north where he joined a friend and through him found a school in an essentially German neighbourhood near present day Leduc, Alberta. He stayed at that school and another nearby for a total of a year and a half. The student bodies at these schools, numbering up to sixty at any one time, consisted of in addition to Germans, some eight different nationalities. Tiring of the immense difficulties such a teaching situation represented, and unhappy with the lonely, low-paying job of a Prairie school teacher, Chipman returned to Winnipeg in 1905 to seek other employment. [8]

The bustling city at the forks of the Red and the Assiniboine was becoming a metropolis in many ways; one of these, sometimes underestimated, was as a communications centre. Chipman, who had not excelled in, but had enjoyed, composition and literature as a student, [9] became a freelance writer, selling most of his work to The Manitoba Free Press. Within a few months he had demonstrated his capabilities, and he became fully employed by that paper as an editorial writer. His writing for the Free Press, clearly if sometimes ponderously written, was devoted mostly to city politics, “crime in the city’s core, the public telephone issue and descriptions of explorations of the north. [10] Young and aggressive, idealistic and informed, he soon attracted attention from the more “reformist and progressive” elements in Winnipeg and its immediate hinterland. In 1909, when the organized farmers of the West were searching for an editor for their new journal, The Grain Growers Guide, they turned to Chipman, by that time an experienced newspaperman, but one with a reputation for independence and reform sympathies. Thus began the major work of his life as a spokesman for a large number of reformist farmers, most of them resident in the Prairies.

By the time George Chipman succeeded E. A. Partridge and D. G. Mackenzie as editor of The Guide, [11] he was already deeply enmeshed in reformist Prairie circles. Exuberant and ambitious, he had entered enthusiastically into the great Canadian experiment of opening the Prairies. He caught something of the enthusiasm and optimism this project engendered in a moralistic story he wrote in 1908 about the nation-building process in the West. Laboured and earnest in theme, clumsy in characterization, the story dealt with the career of Jack Canuck, “a sturdy, clear-headed and altogether prepossessing young man. Garbed in a red shirt and the habilements of honest toil, he armed himself with the implements of husbandry and wrought valiantly for all that stood for home in its fullest significance.” [12] Jack’s main task was to forge a new nation dedicated to securing “the Perfection of Life.” “Jack looked to himself, his equipment, his qualifications and his material on hand and reasoned unto himself that he was better prepared than any who had yet pursued [this] popularly exedited phantom.” [13] This manly image of a robust young man, the idealized Canadian creating a new society, was a favourite one for Chipman as it was for many of his countrymen at the turn of the century; in Chipman’s case, though, this romantic conception had special meaning for the group enterprise that opening the Canadian West had come to be. Caught up in the euphoria of nation-building on the Prairies before World War One, Chipman naturally developed an enthusiasm for many of the novel ideas then in circulation as to how the new society should be shaped. In the optimism of his twenties and even his thirties, he believed that an eclectic gathering of good intentions and democratic principles would forge “the Perfection of Life.”

His experiences as a teacher on the settlement frontier also thereafter influenced Chipman’s outlook. He had been disillusioned by his work in the three rural schools of Alberta where he had met seriously for the first time the problems involved in Anglicizing Continental European immigrants. He had also become concerned about the ethnic diversity he had encountered in Central and North End Winnipeg. [14] Thus, when he wrote about Jack Canuck, Chipman saw his hero as essentially an “alchemist” mixing the best elements of many groups to an Anglo-Saxon base to form a new, more perfect “compound.” Non-British elements who stubbornly defended their way of life were “lumps in the mixture” who resisted the eroding but beneficial action of the principal ingredients; they were thus obstacles to be overcome, divergences from the norm to be altered. This concern over immigrant assimilation, in fact, would remain a preoccupation with him for most of the years he was editor of The Guide.

The main way that Jack Canuck or George Chipman believed the immigrant groups could be changed was through education. Chipman was a strong advocate of the nondenominational unilingual national school system. Only a uniform school system using the most effective modern methods could hope to homogenize the diversity of people gathering on the Prairies. Chipman was appalled by the creation of what he saw as a dozen school systems in Manitoba because of the minority schools rights granted in the Laurier-Greenway compromise. [15] He wanted a highly centralized school system with English as the only language of instruction; one with a strong inspectorate, well-trained teachers, and a carefully-prepared curriculum. He believed that existing schools operated by minority groups provided a poor education for their students and certainly inadequate preparation for entry into a basically Anglo-Saxon world. He believed, in short, that the school was the necessary first stage in the melting pot process required for the development of a distinct Canadian identity.

This emphasis on constructing an essentially Anglo-Saxon society was in retrospect Chipman’s first main negative reaction to Prairie circumstances. [16] Like most of the early leadership of the agrarian and co-operative movements on the Prairies, he treasured British systems of government and law. He believed, in fact, that the reforms he advocated were natural extensions of those systems, necessary given the successes of the immigrant groups. In that regard, Chipman was deeply impressed by the capacity of most European immigrants to survive, even to thrive, amid the adversities of the homesteading experience. [17] In short, like Clifford Sifton, Chipman believed that industrious, thrifty, stable, rural immigrants from continental Europe were welcome additions to Prairie society, additions that in a generation or two would make their own contributions to the “Perfection of Life.”

In forming the new Canadian “compound” out of its diverse ingredients, Chipman endorsed the use of moderate reform principles. These principles were clearest and most cogently advanced by him in his first fourteen years as editor of The Guide. The journal’s most obvious reform commitment in those years was to elevating the farmer’s place in Canadian society. He concentrated upon the technical side of agriculture, concentrating on new developments with both field crops and livestock. These reports emanated from a remarkably wide-spread set of sources, including not only other Canadian regions and the United States, but also Britain, continental Europe, and Australasia. The rapid alteration of the family farm was truly an international phenomenon at the turn of the century, and Guide reporters seem to have followed it by reading extensively in the international agrarian press. The Guide was especially interested in promoting “business agriculture,” stressing to farmers and their wives the necessity of maintaining careful records, of having their soils systematically tested, of planning crop rotations, and of diversifying production throughout the farm. In the process, The Guide undoubtedly encouraged the spread of essentially urban business attitudes out to the country.

The Guide, of course, was also closely associated with the wave of reformist agrarian organizations that erupted in the Prairie region before 1914. It was supported financially by the grain growers’ associations in the three Prairie provinces; T. A. Crerar, the president of the UGG, had general responsibility for the Public Press which published The Guide; most of the major early agrarian leaders contributed to its pages; and its enthusiasms were largely identical with those of the pre-1914 agrarian leadership. Such associations meant that The Guide’s early reform sentiments were eclectic, drawn from a range of sources from western regional grievances, to Ontario Clear Grittism, to British Fabianism, to American Populism, to European agrarian radicalism. There was no sharply defined ideological viewpoint in these enthusiasms; rather, they might best be seen as an outgrowth of the optimistic euphoria involved in developing a new society many believed would be vastly superior to anything that had gone before.

Associated with agrarianism was a host of reform movements which Chipman and his superiors at first enthusiastically endorsed. The women’s movement, for example, was strongly supported, not only in its limited goal of women’s suffrage, [18] but also in its broader aims of encouraging women to participate in economic and social organizations. The Guide stressed that women were vital in the operation of the farm, looking upon them as the probable bookkeepers for farm operations, as vital workers in poultry and market gardening, and as the basis of rural community life. Believing that rural women were not receiving adequate advice on child-rearing, The Guide devoted considerable space to dietary information, modern theories of education, and suggestions for the general improvement of rural life. At first glance, the emphasis on homemaking might appear patronizing and motivated by a desire to secure subscriptions; but it was far more than that for Chipman always regarded the awakening of women as essential for the revitalization of rural life.

The cause of educational reform - broadly speaking the desire to implement Progressive educational ideas was also strongly endorsed by The Guide. Given his background, Chipman naturally believed that a strongly centralized system was essential before true educational reform could take place. The Guide frequently featured articles by Prairie school inspectors who pointed out the virtues of rigorous testing, consolidated schools, diversified curricula, practical studies, and the “project” method. Editorials reinforced these views and called for a concerted effort in the West to develop rural schools responsive to the needs of the local communities, yet equivalent in standards to the best of urban schools. Chipman did not forget his early training or his belief that educational institutions would largely determine the future of the West.

In the years before 1922 the reform cause that attracted the most consistent attention after purely agrarian reform was the co-operative movement. The sources of this movement on the Prairies were diffuse, emanating from pioneering traditions of mutual aid, American and central Canadian precedents, the British co-operative movement, Continental - especially Danish co-operative experiments, and local or regional consciousness. Like many of the early co-operative leaders on the Prairies, Chipman and The Guide took an approach to co-operation that was more pragmatic than utopian, more exploratory than committed. Nevertheless, until the 1920s, The Guide printed articles on all kinds of co-operatives, encouraged co-operative buying clubs, stores, stocks marketing groups, silo contruction co-ops and cooperative social organizations. In his early years, Chipman saw in co-operation one of the distinctive ways in which Prairie society would build a civilization superior to that anywhere in the world.

Many of the other reform sympathies of The Guide in its first dozen years have been well documented in other studies. W. L. Morton and F. J. K. Griezic, for example, have described the journal’s role in the Progressive political movement. [19] In that context, the journal embraced or at least reported carefully on all of the political panaceas of the farmers’ movement including the single tax, initiative, referendum and recall. It repeatedly - to the point of tedium - attacked the tariffs, the banking interests, the farm implements manufacturers, and the food trusts long vilified by agrarian protest leaders. [20] The traditions associated with E. A. Partridge died slowly on the pages of The Guide, in part because Chipman long maintained a deep respect for his predecessor. Similarly, The Guide’s role in the Social Gospel and Prohibition movement, discussed by A. R. Allen, [21] J. H. Thompson [22] and R. Cook [23] needs no further elaboration. Thus, with the exception of socialist programmes for extensive state ownership, The Guide faithfully supported all of the main reform causes that developed on the Prairies before the early twenties.

In promoting these causes, The Guide featured several of the more prominent Canadian reform leaders who emerged between 1900 and 1919. In support of the women’s causes its contributors and employed writers included Francis Marion Beynon, Irene Parlby, Nellie McClung, Violet MacNaughton, and Mary McCallum. In educational reform it featured articles by Dr. Mary Crawford, J. T. M. Anderson, numerous teachers, and Chipman himself. In supporting the social gospel and prohibition, it relied on the writings of Salem Bland, H. D. Ranns, J. S. Woodsworth, William Ivens, and numerous evangelical agrarian leaders. In the co-operative and agrarian movements its pages featured articles by all the important leaders before 1922, W. C. Good, George Keen, J. J. Morrison, Hopkins Moorhouse, William Irvine, E. M. Tousley and William Maxwell. And to grace the writings of these idealists, The Guide for many years offered the drawings of Arch Dale, one of the most talented cartoonists in Canadian history. All told, The Guide from 1909 to 1922, reflected the views of the mainstream of Canadian rural reformers better than any other journal; indeed, it was the principal spokesman of the perturbed countryside.

The reform sympathies embraced by Chipman and his journal in those years possessed a strong national perspective. Through correspondence and frequent visits, Chipman retained, until the twenties at least, close ties with the Maritimes. Along with others prominent in the Prairie movements, he also maintained an extensive correspondence with leaders of the Ontario agrarian and co-operative movements. And, during the war years, he helped organize unsuccessful negotiations with the fiercely independent BC farm leaders over possible trading programmes between farmers in the two western regions. The Guide, developing a national perspective as a result of all these connections, thus saw itself increasingly as a spokesman for all Canadian farmers and not just those on the Prairies. Chipman himself, until the disruptions of the 1920s, believed deeply that the agrarian movement could become a national crusade which, along with the labour movement, would banish privilege and democratize Canadian economic organizations.

Chipman’s own involvement in reformist politics started almost as soon as he became associated with The Guide. In 1910 he was a key leader in the farmers’ march on Ottawa, helping to organize the train that carried most of the farmers to the city and to prepare the speeches read to the parliamentarians by the farm leaders. Afterwards, he edited those speeches in a pamphlet, The Siege of Ottawa, which became a basic reference for the subsequent, more militant, farm protests. [24] Through the war years Chipman played an important role in the awakening farmers’ movement. He was a frequent speaker at farmers’ gatherings not only in the Prairies but in Ontario and the Maritimes as well. Gradually, as World War One progressed he became dissatisfied with the Liberal party partly because he ultimately supported a strong war effort, mostly because he objected to its economic and social conservatism. Consequently, he became a willing participant in the formation of the Progressive party, helping to draw up its platform and preparing some of its tracts. In a curious but not unusual way, he had managed to blend Anglo-Saxon pride, reform sentiments and western grievances into a rationale for supporting the Progressive outburst of the early twenties.

An important feature of Chipman’s political activities prior to 1923 was his advocacy of a farmer-labour coalition. To some extent, his views were a continuation of E. A. Partridge’s original hope that The Guide would serve as a bridge between reformers in the city and those in the countryside. Even more, they were the result of mingling with Winnipeg reformers such as Woodsworth, the Beynons, Nellie McClung, and Salem Bland. He admired their efforts among the city’s poor, agreed with many of their proposed reforms, and saw merit in their critique of the existing economic order. When the Winnipeg General Strike first broke out, The Guide called on farmers to look sympathetically at the strikers’ cause and to react critically to the interpretations offered by governments and The Winnipeg Free Press. As the strike worsened, his views and those argued by The Guide changed. Chipman became convinced that many strike leaders were mistaken and that several had revolutionary intent. When “Bloody Saturday” occurred, he thought that it had been precipitated by the strike leaders, and he was gratified at the victory for “law and order” that eventuated. [25]

Notwithstanding the strike’s outcome, and despite the attitude he and many farm leaders had taken to it, Chipman still worked for farmer-labourer unity after 1919. In 1922, when a Manitoba election became imminent, he tried to organize an urban progressive coalition to aid the organized farmers entering into political activities in the countryside. The coalition, institutionalized in the Winnipeg Progressive Association, contained urban supporters of the grain growers and some of the English-speaking leadership of the labour movement. It held a number of meetings in the spring and early summer of 1922 and nominated a slate for the proportionately-elected, multiply-represented riding of Winnipeg; George Chipman was one of its candidates. In June and July, as the election campaign gained momentum, the association was subjected to numerous attacks by Conservative and Liberal groups in Winnipeg, both of which felt their positions weakening. In the election, which was held on 18 July 1922, only one of the Association’s representatives, R. W. Craig, was elected. Chipman, who proved to be the second most popular of the Progressive candidates, was narrowly eliminated in the city’s proportional representation system: his only significant participation in politics had been hastily organized, controversial, and unrewarding.

Chipman’s personal defeat in 1922 marked the beginning of the full-fledged retreat from reform for both himself and The Guide. The retreat in a sense had started with his acceptance of E. A. Partridge’s decline in the grain growers’ movement in 1912, and it could be seen in his growing support for the war as well as his ultimate rejection of the Winnipeg General strike. And yet, until 1922, Chipman and The Guide retained their enthusiasm for the agrarian cause, the co-operative movement, feminism, educational reform, prohibition, and the social gospel. In short, though the United Grain Growers (UGG) had become obviously conservative, its journal still upheld the old commitments. Chipman’s defeat, however, seems to have been a turning point perhaps because it denied him the opportunity to become premier, a possibility widely rumoured before the election took place. As it turned out, the farmers selected John Bracken, well known in the countryside, not directly identified with the increasingly-controversial UGG and untainted by personal defeat in the election. Bracken’s selection also meant the decline of significant co-operation with the labour movement; a particularly cautious and conservative man, Bracken would thereafter rely for support upon a solid agrarian base and a blend of pragmatic urban conservative; quite understandably, he would see little to be gained from the volatile, poorly-organized labour movement of urban Winnipeg.

The retreat from broad reformism that characterized Chipman’s work after 1922 was also caused by the difficulties encountered by his work-place superior and close friend, T. A. Crerar. The two men were very similar in outlook, background, and ambition. The Guide faithfully and continually gave Crerar excellent publicity and played a major role in making him leader of the Progressives. Thus, as Crerar’s disillusionment with the Progressive cause grew, as the split with Henry Wise Wood and J. J. Morrison became evident, The Guide became the voice of a faction not the total agrarian movement. By 1922, the deep divisions within the political movement were evident and the pressures on Crerar were mounting. Chipman naturally felt some of the same pressures and they help to explain why he ultimately abdicated from his political activities. In 1922, amid the anxieties of the mounting Manitoba campaign, he confessed to Crerar:

In a much smaller circle I have had as you are aware many of the same difficulties that you are facing and I must confess that it pretty nearly worried the life out of me at times. However, I sort of got myself into a corner and had a heart to heart talk with myself on the matter and decided that the world would job along the same fifty or a hundred years from now as it is now, and so far as I was concerned I was not going to worry my life over it. Since coming to that conclusion I have had a mighty sight more pleasure in my company and the world has looked a lot brighter. [26]

This remarkable change from Jack Canuck’s quest for “The Perfection of Life” was caused by more than the political misfortune or limitations of the Progressives; it also stemmed from the suddenly vulnerable position in which he, The Guide, and the UGG found themselves as leaders of the agrarian and co-operative causes. The first generation of Prairie agrarian leadership, the generation which dominated the UGG and the Saskatchewan Co-operative Elevators, had created remarkably effective enterprises and had drawn to themselves substantial power. In the process they had aroused considerable opposition not only from their traditional critics in private profit enterprise but also from a maturing second generation of agrarian / co-operative leaders. The basis of the mounting criticism against the old “generation” had been evident in Prairie reform circles since the formation of the Grain Growers Grain Company. The principal sustained criticism was that the Winnipeg-based company was not sufficiently co-operative: it had failed to utilize a full dividend system, it had become a contented participant on the Winnipeg Grain Exchange, and it had gained the reputation of paying its officers high salaries.

Ironically, the cause that drew together most of the critics of the UGG and its contemporary, the Saskatchewan Co-operative Elevator Company, was the pooling movement. The irony emanated from The Guide’s role in encouraging since at least 1919 the study of the developing American commodity pools. Guide reporters, especially R. D. Colquette, were regularly sent south to report on the grain pools of the mid-west, the Sun Maid Raisin co-operative, and the other fruit-marketing pools of the west coast. The leaders of the older co-operatives even assisted, albeit belatedly, in bringing Aaron Sapiro, the prophet of the pooling idea, to Canada in 1922. And, when the drive to organize the pools began, the UGG loaned the necessary start-up capital to the organizing committees. It did not prove to be a wise investment; almost immediately, and much to the old generation’s dismay, the UGG and the Saskatchewan Co-op were confronted by a movement they could not control. Just as farmer militancy had created powerful institutions in a very short term little more than a decade earlier, so the militancy of the twenties created, with even more dramatic suddenness, yet another range of impressive marketing organizations.

The development of pools in several farm commodities was accompanied by considerable bitterness. Both the UGG and Saskatchewan Co-operative Elevators had had difficult internal histories since their formation, but both institutions had achieved equilibrium by the early twenties; they had also come under the control of powerful groups of individuals who supported each other and who managed to undermine any protesting elements that had emerged. In doing so, the dominant groups had often dealt harshly with their critics thereby creating growing numbers of dissatisfied farmers. Thus, when the pooling principle emerged, several ostracized, aspiring leaders saw in it a way of gaining revenge on the tightly-controlled organizations that had repelled them. Conveniently ignoring the initial conciliatory approach to pooling offered by the UGG and to a lesser extent by some officials of Saskatchewan Co-op, the new generation of farm leaders lost few opportunities to attack the old order. [27]

Chipman was particularly vulnerable in the controlled warfare that soon emerged. Intellectually and emotionally he had been committed for over a decade to the idea of a united agrarian movement; but, constitutionally he was poorly suited for the highly personalized atmosphere that soon pervaded the hinterland politics of the farm movements. Thus, the tensions that intensified in the twenties, associated with such pool organizers as Colin Burnell in Manitoba, A. J. MacPhail in Saskatchewan, and Henry Wise Wood in Alberta, particularly affected Chipman. So too did the collapse of the organized farmers movement in B.C., Ontario, and the Maritimes. The disintegration in the Maritimes was particularly grievous because it involved the collapse of The United Farmers Guide, a Moncton-based journal promoted in 1918 and 1919 by Chipman. Finally, Chipman, like Crerar, was deeply disappointed by the disintegration of the national Progressive movement. Incredibly, so soon after having appeared immediately realizable, the dreams of national agrarian unity and of farmer-labour coalition had disintegrated. Their failure did much to daunt the enthusiasms that had once been so evident in Chipman’s activities.

In the midst of these agonies of the years 1921-1923, the forty-year old editor was confronted by yet another deadening concern: The Guide and its proprietor, the UGG-owned Public Press, encountered economic difficulties. There were several reasons for the decline: the recession in the farm areas of the west reduced advertising by farm supply companies; internally, Chipman could not reduce expenses rapidly enough; revenue from contracted printing slumped for the Public Press; and the circulation of The Guide remained stagnant at 80,000 between 1919 and 1923. The downturn began in the spring of 1921 when the Public Press, after several years of continuous prosperity, suddenly started to lose money at the rate of $2,000 per month. [28] Chipman quickly reduced costs by changing The Guide temporarily from a weekly to a semi-monthly; by replacing voluntary workers with commissioned agents in hopes of gaining more subscriptions and advertising; and by releasing forty employees, ten in the office and thirty in the printing plant. [29] While these measures helped, they did not resolve the company’s problems. In 1922 and 1923 further reductions in staff were required, and in the former year all employees earning more than $1,000 per year, including Chipman, had their salaries reduced. [30] It would not be until 1926 that the press would return to its previously healthy economic position. By the early twenties, apparently, trying to serve the broad interests of all Canadian farmers was not only arduous; it was also bad business.

Between 1923 and 1929 Chipman, the Public Press, and the UGG gradually escaped from the economic difficulties they had encountered earlier in the decade. Their other problems, however, did not abate. Crerar’s return to the Liberal party signified the failure of the Progressive political revolt and aroused the ire of co-operative utopians and group government advocates. The wheat pools, too, had emerged in part on an anti-UGG bias and had a vested interest in keeping alive some of the old animosities. Similarly, other Prairie co-operatives, notably the consumer stores, resented the competition they received from the UGG’s order department and became strong critics of the Winnipeg-based company. The most virulent source of anti-UGG sentiment, however, lay in the United Farmers of Canada (Saskatchewan Section). Influenced by agrarian socialists and committed to pure co-operative approaches, the U.F.C. scathingly attacked the UGG for its non-co-operative features, its alleged aloofness, and its high-paid officials (of whom George Chipman was one). All of these active critics of the UGG and, by implication, its journal, ultimately had their effects: as much as any other factors they undermined the Canadian Council of Agriculture, long supported by Chipman and the UGG as the best hope for national agrarian unity; and, in 1929, the UGG was finally forced out of the Co-operative Union of Canada, the voice of unity for English-Canadian co-operatives since 1909.

The retreat from reform sympathies caused by these disruptions was further hastened by the decline of several reform causes Chipman and The Guide had once supported. [31] As the twenties progressed the causes of the social gospel, the labour movement, prohibition, the women’s movement, and progressive education declined, achieved limited objectives, or found progress difficult to achieve. Continuing poverty for some people, consumerism for a few, the fading of post-war idealism, and the rebirth of widespread cynicism reduced enthusiasm for these causes, and nowhere was the reduction better reflected than on the pages of The Guide. Increasingly staid and non-controversial, the journal continued to press for business agriculture and to complain against the domination of rural societies by Central Canadian businessmen and politicians. It did not, however, press for broad reforms as it had done before 1922; its stable of writers were more professional, less committed to causes; and its coverage of even agrarian issues skirted many of the essential problems of rural life.

The Guide became, in short, the journal of an institution in the twenties. Technically, the association had always been there, but the increasing isolation of the UGG after 1922 forced the journal into a narrow position. Essentially, The Guide became a company spokesman catering to liberal, generally more prosperous farmers in the West. Inheritors of an agrarian individualist tradition, Chipman and his journal retreated to this bastion preferring experienced farm leadership to either massive government involvement or emotional crusades. Above all, they stressed the value of voluntary participation in group enterprise by independent farmers. Collective activities could improve regional well-being but they had to be based on enlightened self-interest, calm judgement, and strong leadership.

By 1926, it was clear that Chipman and The Guide no longer spoke for the main bodies of organized farmers in the West let alone the nation. As each of the new major marketing groups began to appear on the Prairies, each developed its own periodicals; in Saskatchewan the farming groups, especially the wheat pool, supported The Western Producer, a rapidly-growing and strongly reformist journal; in Alberta the U.F.A. became the main agrarian spokesman; and in Manitoba The Scoop Shovel, supported by the wheat pool and several other co-operatives, became a dynamic force. Each of these new periodicals quickly developed large numbers of subscribers, partly through individual subscriptions, mostly through block subscriptions purchased by provincial agricultural or co-operative institutions. From a position of unchallenged supremacy only a few years earlier, The Guide by the mid-twenties found itself in a suddenly intense competitive situation.

Recognizing the changing circumstances, Chipman started in 1926 to alter the focus of the journal. [32] Significantly, he realized that The Guide could not compete effectively against the new house organs established in the three Prairie provinces. Thus, he changed The Guide to allow it to compete with its more conservative journal The Nor’West Farmer, a glossy, farm family magazine with cautious editorials, few controversial articles, a considerable amount of entertainment value, and a remarkably successful advertising department. Also, partly in imitation of this successful farm magazine, Chipman emphasized in his reforms a commitment to all kinds of farming not just grain growing. In 1927, the new format started to appear, to be completed under the name The Country Guide in 1928; the metamorphosis from a reform journal to rural family magazine was complete. [33]

Chipman, however, was reacting to more than the changed circumstances of the UGG when he undertook to alter The Guide during the twenties. He himself had changed. As the edges of his reformism became blunted, as the institutional and political tensions of the decade deepened, he retreated to the refuge of farming. Like Voltaire and Cincinnatus, albeit on a somewhat lower plane, he found sanctuary in his garden. Early in the twenties he had purchased a comfortable home on Montrose Street in River Heights. In 1926 he had purchased four acres in nearby Charleswood. Within the next four years he had added two more lots of land, bringing his Charleswood gardens to seventeen acres. To this farm he would thereafter devote much of his time not needed for operating the Public Press and The Country Guide.

Chipman’s particular interests in the farm are of some significance. Rather curiously, in view of how agricultural technology and mass marketing practices were encouraging specialization in Prairie farms, Chipman became preoccupied in the late twenties with the diversified, nearly self-sufficient, old-fashioned family farm. Thus, in his Charleswood garden, he concentrated upon perfecting hardy species of fruit trees and ground fruits. A frequent visitor to experimental farms across the Prairies, he brought to his gardens some of the more exotic experiments of government and university botanists in Canada and the United States. [34] He also read widely in the writings of Gregor Johann Mendel and others so as to grasp principles of crossing plants; the result was a series of unsuccessful experiments and one successful one - the Canadian Red Rhubarb plant which became quite well known for its colour and full taste. His great ambition, though, was to produce an apple appropriate to the Prairie climate, “the million dollar” apple as he called it. [35] He never succeeded, much to his regret.

The search for different kinds of suitable orchard and garden crops was a hobby, an avocation, but it was also more; the quest was tied to Chipman’s ever deepening reverence for the institution of the family farm. Perhaps because that institution was acceptable to all and controversial to few, perhaps because the fifty year-old Chipman was wistfully recalling his youth, his later writings were nearly all tied to gardening and practical, diversified, agriculture. He was encouraged, too, in this interest by the Depression; a multi-faceted farm operation was one of the few securities in those troubled times, a form of protection as effective as any other for most Prairie farmers.

The increasing emphasis on the family farm placed Chipman solidly within the liberal stream of Prairie agrarians. This powerful group, the backbone of the UGG and ultimately of the pools themselves, was characterized more by sentiments and self-interest than by precise ideologies or revolutionary zeal. In the first days of their protest they were captivated by truly charismatic leaders, the Partridges, the Sapiros, the McKenzies, the Woods. The institutions they founded were characterized by initially phenomenal growth; those same institutions, though, as Max Weber might have predicted, [36] soon became dominated by cautious management and reduced objectives. Size, growth, and organization can resolve some complex problems; in time they create their own.

As for George Chipman, he continued to edit The Country Guide until 1935. In December of that year, while hunting for rabbits that were eating the bark of his apple trees, he was killed, apparently accidentally, while climbing a fence. His death was widely regretted as he had developed numerous friendships across the Prairies, and he was a particularly popular figure within the UGG.

In retrospect, there are many ways of placing George Chipman in perspective. He can be seen as a successful leader of a moderate reform movement in the early twentieth century; he can be called an astute journalist who articulated well the ideas and attitudes of a prominent stream of Prairie agrarianism; he can be called a decent business man who competently operated a large printing business in keeping with the “enlightened” business approaches of this time; he can be interpreted as a shallow idealist who sanctified the cautious reformism of the better-established farmers; he could be seen as a bourgeois and racist apologist who lived well off the farmers’ movement; he might even be dismissed, for much of his career, as merely a spokesman for T. A. Crerar. All of these interpretations have some validity, the amount depending upon the observer’s ideological framework. There is, however, another one: in retrospect, Chipman was representative of a large contingent of eastern Canadians who moved westward at the turn of the century. Tantalized by the dream of building a new and hopefully fairer society in which they and all Canadians would prosper, they embraced a plethora of uplifting causes. The weight of these efforts, however, expressed frequently in cumbersome institutions and demanding movements, from co-operation to the social gospel, soon proved to be too exhausting. Holding the causes together, keeping the institutions expansive and responsive, proved to be too great a challenge in a Prairie society that had become bewilderingly complex. Ultimately, these large numbers of cautiously reformist Canadians were reduced to defending the more prosperous and successful enterprises they had started; and, as for their grand reform projects, they retreated to the romanticized but troubled arcadia of the family farm. “The Perfection of Life” sought by George Chipman’s Jack Canuck has proved to be too difficult.


*The author is indebted to Professor G. A. Friesen of the University of Manitoba for his comments on this paper.

1. For Ontario, see W. L. Morton, Manitoba, A History (Toronto, 1967) pp. 199-233, J. E. Rea, “The Roots of Prairie Society,” in D. P. Gagan, ed., Prairie Perspectives (Toronto, 1970) pp. 48-51. For Quebec, see A. I. Silver, “French-Canada and the Prairie Frontier, 18701890,” The Canadian Historical Review, 1969, pp. 11-36, and especially R. Painchaud, “The Catholic Church and French-Speaking Colonization in Western Canada, 1885-1915,” unpublished PhD thesis, University of Ottawa, 1976.

2. In 1911, there were 22,047 Maritimers on the Prairies; in 1921, there were 38,910. Sixth Census of Canada, 1921, p. xii.

3. After April 1928, The Country Guide.

4. Winnipeg Free Press, 28 December 1935.

5. See obituary, F. Miles Chipman, Grain Growers Guide, 15 March 1916, p. 44.

6. Ibid.

7. “Teaching in Western Canada,” memorandum, in The George F. Chipman Papers, the Douglas Library, Queen’s University, Volume III: file “Chipman Papers, undated (before 1909),” pp. 1-2. Further footnote reference to these papers will be abbreviated to G.F.C.

8. Chipman’s recollections of his teaching career are included in ibid. and in another untitled article in the same file.

9. In his graduating year in High School, Chipman’s lowest grade was in English Literature; it was 34%. His highest grades were in mathematics. See report card, G.F.C., vol. V: file “Chipman Personal Papers.”

10. It would appear that copies of all Chipman’s signed articles can be found in G.F.C., vols. III and IV.

11. R. McKenzie succeeded Partridge as Editor-in-Chief and retained that position until September 1910. Chipman served as managing editor under McKenzie an then for a year fulfilled both tasks without the more prestigious title. He became Editor-in-Chief in September 1911.

12. The Crucibles, G.F.C., Vol. III: file “Chipman writings, undated, before 1909 (1),” p. 1.

13. Ibid.

14. See G. F. Chipman, “Winnipeg: The Melting Pot,” The Canadian Magazine, September, 1909, pp. 409-416, and “Winnipeg: The Refining Process,” ibid., October, 1909, pp. 548-554.

15. See his article, “Education a La Carte,” G.F.C., vol. 3: file “Chipman Writings Mss. 1909-1911.”

16. Chipman, of course, was far from unique in combining nativist attitudes with reformist sympathies. In particular, he was much like Ralph Connor. See L. Thompson and J. H. Thompson, “Ralph Connor and the Canadian Identity,” Queen’s Quarterly, 1972, pp. 159-170, and R. Cook, “Francis Marion Beynon and the Crisis of Christian Reformism” in C. Berger and R. Cook, The West and the Nation: Essays in Honour of W. L. Morton (Toronto, 1970), pp. 187-208. His attitudes, too, bear some similarity to the views of J. S. Woodsworth. See J. S. Woodsworth, Strangers Within Our Gates (Toronto, 1909).

17. Chipman’s good faith in this rather paternalist approach to helping non-Anglo-Saxons to adjust was demonstrated by his involvement, in the early twenties, in the Canada Colonization Association. His involvement was motivated almost entirely by a desire to find ways to help new immigrants make as easy an adjustment as possible to then Prairie homesteads. In that regard he was particularly concerned to reawaken the spirit of mutual aid among the new settler’s neighhours. See exchanges between G. F Chipman, W. J. Egan and J. A. Robb. “T. A. Crerar Papers,” The Douglas Library, Queen’s University file “Chipman G. F., Sept, 1922 - Sept. 1924.” Further reference to these papers will be abbreviated to T. A. C.

18. Chipman’s role in the suffragette movement was particularly important. See R. Cook, “Francis Marion Beynon ...” p. 193 and C. L. Cleverdon. The Woman Suffrage Movement in Canada (Toronto, 1950). pp. 47-48.

19. See W. L. Morton, The Progressive Party in Canada (Toronto, 1950) p. 15 and F. J. K. Griezic, “The Honourable Thomas Alexander Crerar: the Political Career of a Western Liberal Progressive in the 1920s,” in S. M Trofimenkoff, The Twenties in Western Canada (Ottawa, 1972), pp. 115-116

20. Chipman played a major role in establishing the list of grievances of villains associated with Prairie regionalism. In fact, considering The Guide’s persistent, powerful attack on tariffs, eastern financial interests, farm machinery manufacturers, railways, and land companies, he perhaps played the major role of all western leaders. For a statement of the views of this “’most western of westerners,” to use W. L. Morton’s phrase. see his article “The Western Question,” The Grain Growers Guide, December 4, 1912, pp. 28 29. See also his article “The Voice from the Soil,” The Canadian Magazine, November, 1910, pp. 3- 8.

21. See A. R. Allen, The Social Passion, Religion and Social Reform in Canada, 1914-28 (Toronto, 1971), p. 21.

22. See J. H. Thompson, “The Prohibition Question in Manitoba, 1892-1927,” unpublished MA thesis, University of Manitoba, 1969.

23. See R. Cook, “Francis Marion Beynon ...” passim.

24. Over fifty thousand of these pamphlets were printed and apparently distributed by the Public Press. It was printed in 1911. For a description of the march and a suggestion of Chipman’s role see The Grain Growers Guide, 28 December 1910, pp. 7- 8.

25. See The Grain Growers Guide, 2 July 1919, p. 5.

26. George Chipman to T. A. Crerar, 23 March 1922, G.F.C., vol. l: file “Jan. - Mar. 1922.”

27. The struggles within the co-operative circles on the Prairies were more complicated than this description suggests. Perhaps the best introduction to the complexities is H. A. Innis (ed.), The Diary of A. J. Masphai (Toronto. 1940). For an outline of the more important tensions, see I. MacPherson, “The Co-operative Union of Canada and the Prairies, 1919-1929,” in S. Trofimenkoff, The Twenties in Western Canada, pp. 50-74.

28. George Chipman to Fred Chipman, 8 April 1921. George Chipman Papers. vol. I: file “Family Correspondence, 1906 - 1921.”

29. Ibid.

30. George Chipman to T. A. Crerar, 19 April 1926. T.A.C. Vol. 112: file “Grain Growers Guide & Public Press, Sept. 1924 April 1926.”

31. One aspect of Chipman’s life that may have been important but is not readily apparent, was religion. Chipman was a devout Baptist, like so many from Annapolis Valley, and he was active in Winnipeg Baptist circles for many years. It may well be that ultimately he simply reverted to concerns over more personal spiritual concerns as his interest in Christian social activism encountered obstacles and waned.

32. It is a further measure of Chipman’s growing conservatism that he could calmly, dispassionately plan the transformation of The Guide. See “Weekly or Semi-Weekly.” T.A.C., vol. 101: file “Chipman, G. F., Nov. 1924 - July 1926.”

33. In 1936 The Guide and the conservative farm journal The Nor’West Farmer merged. This development, though occurring after Chipman’s death, was a natural product of the developments of the preceding fourteen years.

34. The American horticulturalist Chipman seems to have visited and corresponded with most consistently was Dr. N. E. Hansen, the director of the State Fruit Breeding Station in South Dakota. In his notes on an interview with Hansen in 1935 he wrote: “First time I ever met a man with greater enthusiasm on fruit growing or who could talk faster about it than myself.” G.F.C., vol IV, “Horticultural Notes on Trips Taken and Conversations 1935.” p. 19.

35. See “The Million Dollar Apple,” The Country Guide, 1934, p. 7ff. After the mid twenties the articles Chipman wrote for The Guide, usually two or three a year, were nearly always about horticulture.

36. See M. Weher, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization (New York, 1947) and S. N. Eisenstadt, Max Reber on Charisma and Institution Building (Chicago, 1968).

Page revised: 18 September 2016

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