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In 1833, Patrick Shirreff, a Scots farmer, set out on a tour of North America with the aim of evaluating its prospects for emigrants, and more particularly, for his younger brother. He traveled widely within Upper Canada, including taking a side trip to Lake Simcoe, and the village of Hope where he visited the just completed temple of the Children of Peace.[1]  Many early first hand accounts of the Children of Peace like his mention their cooperative marketing of wheat. In touring the temple with David Willson, leader of the group, Shirreff showed him a copy of ‘Canada as it is’ in which the village was described. The book’s author, George Henry, had written, “David keeps the store: the general produce of the community is deposited with him, and is conveyed to York, for sale, regularly twice a-week; and he accounts to the different members for the amount of produce sent to market.” What Hume and Shirreff took to be a distinctive aspect of the group which set it off from its neighbours – cooperative marketing – was instead, part of a much wider cooperative movement which the Children of Peace participated in and led. In York, Hume had himself approvingly noted that:

“A large body of the farmers in Yonge-street, and in the townships in the vicinity of York, have adopted the plan of storing their own wheat; they have formed themselves into an association, and have built a very large storage at York, on the margin of the lake, where they store it in the winter, while the roads are good, and transport it down in the Spring, – thus securing to themselves the best prices. They have their secretary in York to see to the storage, and keep the account of deposits, &c”[2]

The Children of Peace were shareholders and directors in this cooperative venture, the Farmers’ Storehouse Company. The Farmers’ Storehouse was one of those means by which the farmers of the Home District creatively sought to evade the problem of debt to merchants which deprived them of their economic and political freedoms. Although Willson made regular trips to York to deliver loads of wheat – and to preach – it was an elder in the group, Samuel Hughes, who was most active in the organization of the Farmer’s Storehouse.

The Farmers’ Storehouse was organized just outside Toronto as an unincorporated joint stock company on the 7th of February, 1824. In many ways it was similar to a large number of consumer-owned community flour and bread societies which flourished in England from 1759 to the 1820s. Like these English exemples, the Farmers’ Storehouse was organized on a joint stock basis to engage in trade on behalf of the poor; they were early co-operatives. The Farmer’s Storehouse was organized during one of the periodic downturns in the wheat trade, when colonial exports were barred from English markets. These cooperatives are an example of the developing “moral economies” which came to fruition in the Owenite socialist movement in the 1830s.[3]  Whereas most “social and economic historians have tended to emphasize the role of riot and protest in asserting the older values of the ‘moral economy’ against the capitalist market” these joint stock companies represent “non-conflict based approaches [that] would not necessarily, of course, have been reported.”[4] These consumer co-operatives offered the poor unadulterated bread at reduced prices. They were able do so through their large scale and technically advanced milling operations. Although the Farmers’ Storehouse was similar in many ways to these consumer co-operatives, it also differed by serving as a producers’ co-operative. It ensured that farmers obtained the best price for their wheat and offered them merchandise at a reduced rate in return.

The Farmers’ Storehouse also served as a political vehicle in a number of senses. As its constitution shows, it was a formal “mini-parliament,” with elected representatives who themselves took decisions by majority vote. But the Farmers’ Storehouse was also political in a larger sense, intimately connected with the first. To achieve it ends it also had to engage in the process of petitioning both administration and the elected assembly for the land on which to build their storehouse. Petitioning was the dominant form of popular political activity of the period.[5] This petitioning inevitably involved the organizers of the company in evolving political alliances. The company soon became one of the crucibles within which the political reform movement took shape. The company, in fact, became a critical means by which aspiring politicians achieved local prominance, and it reinforced the democratic skills of those politicians needed to operate such a concern. The reform movement’s local leadership, including men like Joseph Shepard, and Samuel Hughes were drawn from the company, and in turn, they introduced the economic concerns of the company and of farmers in general into reform politics in the House of Assembly – a formative influence not generally recognized.

The constitution of the Farmers’ Storehouse established the share price at £2 10s. and limited the number of shares of any one partner to a maximum of twenty, ensuring a broad and equitable ownership of the concern.[6] These shareholders were to elect annually a board of directors of five or more to manage the company. The board, in turn, was to hire a storekeeper who was to provide a bond equal to the value of the property entrusted to him. This storekeeper was to conduct the general business of the company, taking the farmers’ wheat, transporting it to Montreal, and purchasing goods for sale at the company store. It was in many ways a retail concern like so many others in York. Importantly, the members of the company were allowed to take goods and cash to the value of their stock from the store (much like the shareholders of the Bank of Upper Canada could borrow against the security of their stock). The company thus became a loan office of first resort for the farmers of the district who needed to borrow small sums. It is this telling innovation which in large part explains the draw of the company. Not only did members of the concern earn their own profits from the wheat trade, circumventing the York merchants to whom they would otherwise fall in debt, but they also, in fact, established a bank of their own without encountering the monopolistic risks of the Bank of Upper Canada. This aspect of the concern became much more pronounced as the company developed over the next decade.

Ely and George Playter were appointed to petition the Lieut. Governor for a “water lot” on the beach on which to build the storehouse. They received the lot where the St. Lawrence market building now stands (and immediately south of the original market buildings). This land had been declared public beachfront in 1818, but the Farmers’ Storehouse was specifically exempted “this being for a public purpose.”[7] There they built a warehouse 100 feet long by 20 ft. wide, and 20 ft. high. The town Market Square (and city hall) building to the north was a large rectangular structure 77 feet wide and 160 feet long, with a central, open courtyard, filling the block bounded by King, New (Jarvis), Palace (Front) and West Market Streets.[8]

The company petitioned for incorporation three times so that they could take up ownership of their warehouse, and each time were blocked by the members of the Family Compact in the Provincial Parliament. Their third attempt at incorporation stymied, the board of directors adopted a new tack, advertizing in July, 1831 (for a full year) that in the next session, they would petition for “a charter for a Farmer’s Store House Bank, &c.”[9] The company’s storekeeper, John Goessman, finally called a meeting at Hope in 1833 to “depose $500 at a proper treasurer” and then authorize the issuance of “promissory printed drafts” or bank notes on that account, putting the Farmers’ Storehouse Bank plan into action.[10] That the meeting was called for Hope (Sharon), and that it proposed to issue promissory notes at that particular time, was not coincidental. It marks a shift in the leadership of the Farmers’ Store from Joseph Shepard and John Goessman to Samuel Hughes, a member of the Children of Peace. Hughes, like Shepard, was a prominent reform politician, who chaired many reform meetings north of Oak Ridges just as Shepard did in York township. Hughes was to play a central role in both the Political Union movement, as well as the Canadian Alliance Society that grew out of it.

The plan Goessman proposed was similar to that implemented by the Children of Peace the year before, at the time they completed the temple. Their Charity Fund composed of alms collected in the temple had rapidly expanded beyond their charitable needs, making “money useless like the misers store, to the dissatisfaction of the brethren.” Just as the Farmers’ Store issued loans against share capital to its members, some of the elders proposed that the surplus in the charity fund be loaned at interest to members.[11] Since they controlled the loan process themselves, they could ensure that terms were manageable, that no one was denied credit, and that the repayment of the principal remained flexible in difficult times.

With three previous attempts to obtain a patent for their land failed, management of the concern became increasingly difficult. On 10 July 1834 the committee of management under Hughes’ leadership placed an advertisement in the Colonial Advocate announcing the issuance of a dividend, and that the storehouse would be let at auction for 5 years. The Farmers Store was now clearly moving towards becoming just the Farmers’ Bank. On the 25 of January 1835, the trustees for the storehouse, led by Hughes, again petitioned for incorporation – this time in a reform dominated assembly – one last time. Although their petition was referred to a select committee composed of William Lyon Mackenzie, Samuel Lount and David Gibson, who drafted a bill, it was not presented until the next session, 11 Feb. 1836. In its second reading, however, hostile amendments appeared to have been added which specifically banned the company from banking.[12] The bill never reappeared as reformers lost control of the House. With all legislative avenues stymied, the Farmers’ Storehouse largely disappears from public view. It continued to hold its annual meetings in 1836 and 1837 under Hughes chairmanship, to distribute its dividends, thereby indicating that it continued a limited operation as a joint stock bank.[13] In all likelihood, it ceased to function after the Rebellion of 1837 since most of its members were rebels. The current St Lawrence Market Building was constructed on the site of the Farmers Storehouse in 1845.

[1] Shirreff, Patrick, A tour through North America: together with a comprehensive view of the Canadas and United States, as adapted for agricultural emigration (Edinburgh, Oliver & Boyd, 1835), 106-16.

[2] Henry, George The emigrant’s guide; or, Canada as it is; comprising details relating to the domestic policy, commerce and agriculture, of the Upper and Lower Provinces, comprising matter of general information and interest, especially intended for the use of settlers and emigrants. (New York, Stodart, 1832), 103, 121-5.

[3] Garnett, R.G. Co-operation and the Owenite socialist communities in Britain, 1825-45, (Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1972), 41-64; Harrison, John Quest for the New Moral World: Robert Owen and the Owenites in Britain and America (New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1969), 197-216.

[4] Bamfield, Joshua “Consumer-Owned Community Flour and Bread Societies in the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries” Business History 1998 40(4): 22.

[5] Wilton, Carol Popular politics and political culture in Upper Canada, 1800-1850 (Kingston/Montreal, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2000), 3-20.

[6] Robertson, John Ross, Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto: a collection of historical sketches of the old town of York from 1792 until 1833, and of Toronto from 1834 to 1908 : also, three hundred and thirty engravings of places and scenes in Toronto or in connection with the city. Vol. 1, (Toronto, J.R. Robertson, 1908) 218-19.

[7] AO, Upper Canada Land Petitions, P14/39 20 Oct., 1824.

[8] Walton, George, York Commercial Directory, Street Guide, and Register, 1833-4… (York, Thomas Dalton, 1833), 47; Fidler, Isaac, Observations on Professions, Literature, Manner, and Emigration, in the United States and Canada, Made During a Residence There in 1832 (London, Whittaker, Treacher, & Co., 1833), 263-4.

[9] Canadian Freeman 18 July 1831.

[10] Canadian Freeman 7 March 1833.

[11] AO Ms 733, series A, vol. 2, 7ff.

[12] “Scroll draft of the Farmers Storehouse Bill”, Gibson House Museum, City of Toronto, Culture Division, 11-2. Journal of the Assembly, 11 Feb., 2 March. 1836. Correspondant and Advocate 30 Nov 1836.

[13] Correspondent & Advocate 18 May, 1836. PAC R6157-0-1-E (old MG24-I68). Although the Farmers’ Store continued to hold its annual meetings in 1836 and 1837, it never petitioned for incorporation again. In 1841, the company attempted to sell the water lot to the city, the deal being completed only in 1844. In 1845, the city built the current St Lawrence market building on the site.