The Rise of Agrarian Democracy


282 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-8374-9
DDC 324.27123'02




Reviewed by W.J.C. Cherwinski

W.J.C. Cherwinski is a professor of history and co-ordinator of Canadian
Studies at Memorial University of Newfoundland. He is the co-author of
Lectures in Canadian Labour and Working-Class History.


The farmers’ movement in Canada has received considerable scrutiny
from scholars who sought to explain the phenomena of Social Credit and
the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation. However, The Rise of Agrarian
Democracy is the first academic treatment of an entirely provincial
movement. The Alberta farmers’ government was the most successful of
all these movements, with a decade and a half in power to its credit
(1921–35). Rennie attributes this success to the fact that the
UFA/UFWA encapsulated a movement culture not unlike working-class
culture, which stressed the class interests of the farming community it
represented. As a consequence, its members were able to forcefully
articulate the alleged motives of big business in keeping agrarian
interests subservient. Their prescription lay in traditional values of
community based on organization, democracy, gender equality, education
and religious conviction.

Rennie traces the roots of agrarian culture back to 1879, after which
several organizations emerged to fight for farmers’ interests. Among
these organizations were the Alberta Farmers’ Association and the
Society of Equity, which together became the UFA in 1909. He discusses
the conflict with eastern interests in the political realm, further
refined by the philosophy of Henry Wise Wood, the expatriate American

The author’s conclusion that the UFA/UFWA was a progressive movement
with a clear agenda for Canada’s future, and not simply a conservative
romantic response to industrialization and urbanization, is debatable.
The strength of this book lies in its application of the concept of an
agrarian class culture to some very significant 20th-century


Rennie, Bradford James., “The Rise of Agrarian Democracy,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed December 10, 2023,