BRAITHWAITE, CHARLES, farmer, agrarian leader, and office holder; b. in 1850 and baptized on 18 February in Foston on the Wolds, England, eldest son of the eight children of William Braithwaite and Mary —; m. first 23 Nov. 1872 Mary Ware; m. secondly 11 Feb. 1885 Louisa Emma Green in Portage la Prairie, Man.; m. thirdly 1886 Georgiana Green, and they had two daughters; d. 9 June 1910 in Chilliwack, B.C.
Charles Braithwaite, a farmer’s son with little formal education, left England in the early 1870s. He went first to Durham, Ont., before moving to western Canada during the boom of 1881 created by the arrival of the railway. Initially, he and his brother William settled in Portage la Prairie; they then homesteaded in the Qu’Appelle valley in 1882. Charles moved to Winnipeg in 1883, working briefly as a postal clerk there before returning to Portage la Prairie to farm.
In 1883 a depression began in western Canada, one which would increase in severity after 1890. Braithwaite soon became aware that western farmers faced economic problems beyond their control. In 1891 he joined the Farmers’ Institute, an educational organization, and he would encourage its members to use the institute to lobby for special freight rates and the erection of a farmer-owned flour-mill. Meanwhile, he had joined one of the five lodges of the Patrons of Industry that had been established in the area of Portage la Prairie in the spring of 1891. In November of that year, at the first provincial convention of Patrons’ organizations, he was elected grand president, a position he would hold until January 1897.
The Patrons of Industry was originally an American fraternal organization whose members held discussions on economic and scientific topics. It spread to Ontario in 1887 and the movement, in both the United States and Canada, rapidly became an instrument for organized protest [see George Weston Wrigley]. Farmers in the developing west received low prices for their wheat but faced high interest and freight rates and a high tariff on farm supplies as a result of the National Policy instituted by the Conservative government of Sir John A. Macdonald* in 1879. Their discontent first manifested itself in the Manitoba and North-West Farmers’ Co-operative and Protective Union, established in 1883 [see George Purvis*], and the Patrons were able to build on the foundation laid by that failed institution. The growing appeal of the Patrons in Manitoba was due in large measure to the efforts of Braithwaite. Although barely literate, he was a “spell-binding orator” with incredible energy, who travelled the province widely, pitching the slogan “Manitoba for Manitobans.” He preached that Manitobans needed to “mutually agree as farmers and employees to band ourselves together for self protection and for the purpose of obtaining a portion of the advantages that are now almost exclusively enjoyed by the financial, commercial and manufacturing classes, who by a system of combines and monopolies are exacting from us an undue proportion of the fruits of our toil.”
Initially, the organization emphasized cooperation, establishing in 1892 the Patrons Commercial Union, an incorporated company which sold agricultural supplies and implements to farmers by mail order at reduced cost and which acted as an agency for the sale of farm produce. The company enjoyed some success in supplying farmers with commodities such as binder twine before poor management destroyed its reputation; its attempts to market the grain of Patrons totally failed because farmers were unwilling to commit the large quantities needed to attract contracts from flour-mills.
At the annual provincial convention of the Patrons in Brandon in January 1894 Braithwaite offered his resignation, criticizing the membership for not supporting the organization’s cooperative activities. His leadership was reconfirmed and the membership endorsed a platform supporting his recommendation of political action. Unsuccessful in obtaining redress of farmers’ grievances by lobbying, Braithwaite, originally a Liberal himself, suggested that the Patrons field their own candidates in federal and provincial elections “to protest the prevailing corruption in politics.” His call for farmer candidates to represent farmer constituents alienated many local newspapers which had traditionally supported one of the two major political parties. Thereafter they ignored most of the Patrons’ activities, publishing only unfavourable references, such as accusations that the leaders were lining their pockets. The Patrons had established their own newspaper, the Patrons Reporter and Advocate (later the Patrons Advocate) in Rapid City shortly after their first provincial convention in 1891. The hotheadedness of its editor, the Patrons’ grand secretary, Henry Clay Clay, further strained relations between the Patrons and the provincial press and Clay’s disagreements with Braithwaite over editorial policy were disastrous for the Manitoba Patrons. Its membership had also been upset by the fact that the executive had awarded the publishing contract to Clay without tender and then had raised membership fees to cover the costs of publication, all without consulting them.
In 1894 Braithwaite again toured the province, lashing out at high freight rates, calling for the completion of a railway to Hudson Bay, and raging against the high tariff which benefited eastern manufacturers at the expense of the majority of western Canadians. Through his efforts membership was expanded in Manitoba to an estimated 5,000 in 330 lodges by the end of that year. In anticipation of a general election federal candidates were nominated in all but two Manitoba constituencies, and a provincial candidate, John Forsyth, was elected in a by-election in 1894. He would soon disgrace himself, however, by using a railway pass, a privilege of elected office disapproved of by the Patrons, and he would be expelled from the organization in October 1895. Other difficulties emerged. Clay’s editorial policy had destroyed all the goodwill Braithwaite had managed to create by wooing leading local citizens such as Senator Charles Arkoll Boulton*, whose newspaper was one of the few that still supported the Patrons. In early 1895 Clay was removed as editor of the organization’s newspaper. That spring Braithwaite travelled to Toronto to help create a national platform which would appeal to reformers, prohibitionists, and those advocating women’s suffrage.
It was the Manitoba school question [see Thomas Greenway] which destroyed the hopes of the Manitoba Patrons in both the provincial and the federal elections of 1896. Many Catholic Patrons were alienated by the organization’s acceptance of the stand taken by the provincial government against denominational schools. Only two of the Patrons’ candidates were elected to the Legislative Assembly in January 1896. Braithwaite had accepted the nomination for the federal riding of Macdonald where, in spite of “bullying to withdraw” and leave the field to a Liberal candidate, he ran on a platform of non-sectarian schools, reform of the electoral system and the civil service, recognition of agriculture as the west’s primary industry, free trade, public ownership of utilities, universal suffrage for men and women, and prohibition. Many of these same planks would reappear in the western platform of the Progressive party in 1919.
The Patrons were relying on support from Conservative farmers but the Conservative party under Sir Charles Tupper* revealed a program that met many of the Patrons’ demands. The election of June 1896 left little room for third party candidates as the Liberals under Wilfrid Laurier* swept to power. In Manitoba, however, the Conservatives won four of the seven seats; all the Patrons’ candidates went down to defeat.
Although the battered organization of the Patrons limped on for another year, a disappointed and defeated Charles Braithwaite resigned as grand president and accepted a position as a provincial weed inspector; he would serve from 1897 to 1901. He returned to farming in Portage la Prairie in 1901. Undoubtedly feeling restless in a Manitoba that remained little changed in spite of his efforts, Braithwaite moved his family to the area of Chilliwack, B.C., three years later. In the small community of Camp Slough, he became the first postmaster. He died in nearby Chilliwack at age 60.
ACC, Diocese of Rupert’s Land Arch. (Winnipeg), DRL-84-83. B.C., Ministry of Health (Victoria), Vital statistics, death certificate. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City, Utah), International geneal. index. NA, RG 31, C1, 1871, Durham, Ont.; 1881, 1891, Portage-la-Prairie, Man. UCC, Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario Conference Arch. (Winnipeg), Portage la Prairie Methodist Church, RBMB. Patrons Advocate (Rapid City, Man.), 1894–96. Portage la Prairie Weekly Review, 1891–1910. Directory, Man. and N.W.T., 1881–1905. In the shadow of Mt. Cheam: a history of Rosedale, Popkum and Camp River, British Columbia ([Rosedale, B.C.], 1988). B. R. McCutcheon, “The Patrons of Industry in Manitoba, 1890–1898,” Historical essays on the Prairie provinces, ed. Donald Swainson (Toronto and Montreal, 1970), 142–65. Man., Dept. of Agriculture and Immigration, Annual report (Winnipeg), 1897–1901.
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Cite This Article
Karen Nicholson, “BRAITHWAITE, CHARLES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 7, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/braithwaite_charles_13E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Karen Nicholson|
|Title of Article:||BRAITHWAITE, CHARLES|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1994|
|Year of revision:||1994|
|Access Date:||June 7, 2023|