Wood, Henry Wise

Henry Wise Wood, farmer, farm leader (b on a farm near Monroe City, Mo 31 May 1860; d at Calgary 10 June 1941). A member of a prosperous family with farms in Missouri and Texas, Wood became an expert stockman while a teenager. 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 Christian College (Canton, Mo), Wood was an earnest student of agrarian reform. He observed the Alliance and Populist movements in Missouri during the 1890s and agreed essentially with their programs for rural economic and social organization, but he disagreed with their attempt to develop into a conventional political party.

In 1904 he visited Alberta, "the Last Best West," and a year later purchased a wheat farm near Carstairs. He joined the Society of Equity, an early farm association, and in 1909, its successor, the UNITED FARMERS OF ALBERTA. In 1914 Wood became a director of the UFA; in 1915 he was elected vice-president and was president 1916-31.

Wood emerged as one of the most powerful agrarian and political figures in Alberta from 1915 until his death. Devoting 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 WWI. He also played a key role in the entry of the UFA into politics during 1919 and 1920. When the UFA candidates elected a majority in 1921, Wood declined to become premier but continued to play a powerful role in determining the government's policies and programs.

During the early 1920s Wood became increasingly involved in the wheat-marketing question. 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, therefore, Wood became a leader in the wheat pool movement which swept rural Alberta in 1923-24.

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, and he was effective as a conciliator.