Henry Wise Wood, farmer, farm leader (born 31 May 1860 on a farm near Monroe City, Missouri; died 10 June 1941 in Calgary, AB). Henry Wise Wood was one of the most powerful agrarian and political figures in Alberta from 1915 until his death in 1941. A member of a Christian sect that emphasized the need for Christian ethics in economic activities, he served as president of the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA) from 1916 to 1931. Wood declined to become premier of Alberta in 1921 but played a powerful role in determining the government's policies and programs. He was a leader in the wheat pool movement that swept rural Alberta in 1923–24. He also helped develop the federal Progressive Party platform.
Early Years and Education
A member of a prosperous family with farms in Missouri and Texas, Henry Wise Wood became an expert stockman in his teens. He belonged to the Campbellite Church, a Christian sect that emphasized the New Testament, the brotherhood of man, a democratic congregational system and the need for Christian ethics in economic activities.
Educated in local schools and at Christian College in Canton, Missouri, Wood was an earnest student of agrarian reform. He observed the Alliance and Populist movements in Missouri in the 1890s. He agreed with their programs for rural economic and social organization. However, he disagreed with their attempt to develop into a conventional political party.
In 1904, Wood visited Alberta — “the Last Best West.” A year later, he purchased a wheat farm near Carstairs. He joined the Society of Equity, an early farm association. He also joined its successor, the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA), in 1909. In 1914, Wood became a director of the UFA. He was elected vice-president in 1915 and was president from 1916 to 1931.
Wood was one of the most powerful agrarian and political figures in Alberta from 1915 until his death in 1941. He devoted nearly all his time to visiting UFA locals. He preached the need for a strong, broadly based farm organization so that rural people could offset the growing power of bankers, industrialists and professionals. He gradually developed a theory of group government, in which occupational groupings would be the framework for political organization.
Although originally a Liberal, Wood reluctantly became convinced that direct farmer involvement in politics was needed to protect rural interests. He helped develop the federal Progressive Party platform as it evolved from the programs of the Canadian Council of Agriculture at the end of the Second World War. He also played a key role in the UFA’s entry into politics in 1919 and 1920. When the UFA candidates were elected to a majority in 1921, Wood declined to become premier. He continued to play a powerful role in determining the government's policies and programs.
In the early 1920s, Wood became increasingly involved in the wheat-marketing question. (See Grain Handling and Marketing; Canadian Wheat Board.) In 1920, the federal government had ended its control over grain marketing begun in 1917. Western farm organizations, fearing high marketing costs and low prices, frantically sought orderly marketing under provincial or federal government control. Wood was a central figure in these attempts, although he personally preferred marketing through farmer-owned co-operatives. When attempts to involve government failed, Wood became a leader in the wheat pool movement that swept rural Alberta in 1923–24. (See also Alberta Wheat Pool; Economic History of Western Canada.)
Wood's influence among Prairie farmers was based on a widespread respect for his sincerity, religious conviction and devotion to the farmers' cause. A gifted orator with a powerful personality, he was a cautious leader who never embraced new issues prematurely. He was also effective as a conciliator.