Selecting the “Our history” selection featured on this page each issue involves a visit to the library of old issues bound into volumes by crop year — August 1 to July 31. No matter the year, each issue is a reminder of two things — how much things have changed, and how much they have stayed the same.
The Co-operator has gone through two stages in its life, or perhaps three. It started as The Scoop Shovel in 1925, and acting as an “organ” for Manitoba Pool, it was full of optimism and good news until 1929, when the Pools’ Central Selling Agency failed, followed by the general economic collapse of the Great Depression. In 1930, other provincial co-ops attempted to assist the cause, leading to the name change to Manitoba Co-operator, but economic conditions were too severe and the publication died in 1936. However, Manitoba Pool revived the Co-operator in 1943 in the tabloid newspaper format in which it’s been published ever since.
This week we pulled the first Christmas issues from each of those incarnations. The December 1926 issue of The Scoop Shovel contained much of the regular news — such as grain, poultry and livestock prices and reports on the campaign to sign up members. Most of the news was good, and the number of advertisements and their contents suggest that it was a time of some prosperity. Among the ads for wood-fired stock tank heaters, Carter Disc Separators and windmills were ads for pianos, radios (no squeals and howls) and ladies’ fur coats from Holt Renfrew.
However, there was a hint of turmoil to come in the “Pool Woman” column, a regular feature written by a woman who was apparently never identified.
“For nearly 2,000 years the beautiful message has rung through Christendom from a million churches — ‘Peace on Earth, goodwill towards men.’ And yet we have just passed through the worst war the world has known. Nations are spending millions of dollars on building airplanes and submarines… scientists are working in their laboratories to perfect deadly poisons for the spreading of disease… war and the spirit of war are everywhere.”
That was a sad premonition for the first Christmas issue of the revived Co-operator on December 15, 1943. There were only two ads in that issue — both were for Victory Bonds. The main issue covered that week was the controversy over the Bacon for Britain program, with Agriculture Minister James Gardiner accusing Progressive Conservative Leader John Bracken of favouring use of heavier hogs, thus compromising the “long, lean, streaked” quality that Britain preferred.
At this time of year when we count our blessings, it’s wonderful to reflect that while there were just 17 years between those two first Christmas issues, we’ve been able to deliver 71 unbroken years of issues since. That speaks to the stability that we’ve enjoyed here in Canada, and particularly to the stability in Canadian agriculture. There has been turmoil, though nothing like the turmoil of the 1930s and 1940s.
But for many others the words of “The Pool Woman” in 1926 are unfortunately still all too true — “War and the spirit of war are everywhere.”
The notion of a separate “woman’s column” may seem outdated today, but it’s worth reflecting that including it was a progressive move at the time. It may not be a coincidence that those 71 years of relative stability in the West have come during a time of growing involvement of women in society, politics and the economy. If we look around the world to the regions still consumed by conflict, it’s often where women have not been given the same roles and respect. Farmers are among the millions displaced by those conflicts, especially in Africa and the Middle East, ironically where the concept of “Peace on Earth, goodwill towards men” began.
Farming has in some ways changed dramatically since those issues in 1926 and 1943. Many of the farmers back then were growing crops, raising cattle and shipping milk and eggs. That may be different today, but on the other hand much of our stories are the same — growing better crops and livestock, and dealing with those never-ending issues such as prices and transportation. But perhaps remarkably, another thing that has not changed is that most of our readers are still part of a family farm operation. Christmas is a special time for all families, but it has special significance for families on the farm.
All of us at the Co-operator wish you and your families best wishes for your Christmas, and may the coming year be one in which the message of peace and prosperity be spread to farm families everywhere.