What Was The Grange?

Recently, when asked the question: Are you familiar with the Grange movement? I responded yes, as the organization was once active in southwestern Ontario where we used to live. Unknown to me was the fact that the Grange had also reached the Maritimes. There were at least four branches in this area; in Sackville, Amherst, Fort Lawrence and Point de Bute.

This question from a Flashback reader was sparked by the discovery of a minute book of the Point de Bute Grange #772 covering the years 1881 to 1886. During the past century and more, this historic treasure was well travelled, as it moved from Point de Bute to Sackville, then to Kentville NS and Victoria BC; and finally back to Point de Bute, following the settlement of an estate.

It’s final home is now the regional collection in the Mount Allison University Archives, as the minute book provides a fascinating account of late nineteenth century rural life. I appeal to all readers to resist the temptation, when housecleaning, to toss out old record books, diaries, school and church registers, newspapers, documents and scrapbooks. They are the primary sources and raw material of history.

Had one family not recognized the value of this minute book, it would long since been lost. Containing about about one hundred pages; it’s very ordinary in appearance. Purchased for sixty cents at G. G. Bird’s Importers of Stationery and Books, in Amherst; this sum was later reimbursed on motion to Grange secretary J. Amos Trueman. Except for a few torn and missing pages, the minute book is in remarkably good condition.

What was the Grange? Briefly stated, it was a social and educational association designed to enhance and brighten farm life. First organized in the United States in 1867 under the title The National Grange of the Patrons of Industry; it came to Canada through Ontario in 1871. Simply called The Grange; it’s focus was the improvement of agricultural practices. This was an age of secret societies; and not surprisingly the Grange adopted the lodge format for meetings. A gatekeeper, passwords, secret signs, initiation ceremonies and four degrees were all presided over by a Worthy Master.

The minutes remain silent on matters concerning the rites and rituals of the Grange, and ceremonial details were never described. The value of this minute book lies in the detail and range of Grange programs, and the glimpse these provide of a thriving and busy rural community. Also worthy of note, and unlike many organizations of that day, the Grange was open to both men and women.

The Grange met weekly and the subject for the next meeting was always announced in advance. Occasionally, there was a speaker, but more often, the program was led by members. Roundtable discussions and debates were common. Although agricultural themes predominated, programs covered a wide range. Topics such as: marsh drainage, farm fire insurance, use of fertilizers, the preservation of fruits and vegetables, the proper feeding of cattle and the value of agricultural colleges, provide examples.

Articles from the Family Herald and Weekly Star were sometimes used for discussion purposes. Once each year, members had an opportunity to fill orders [for agricultural items] from the Grange Wholesale Company. Of particular interest today were programs of a more general or cultural nature.

Members of Grange #722 often travelled far and wide. Whenever someone returned from a trip, they were called upon for a few remarks. Accounts of provincial and local exhibitions were also popular. During the winter months, musical evenings made a pleasant diversion, and throughout the year Harvest Suppers were frequently held.

The Grange was also prepared to tackle controversial issues. A lecture on the Scott Temperance Act of 1878 was followed by a discussion on the question: Does the Grange pledge forbid intemperance? or more pointedly: Can Point de Bute support both a Grange and a Temperance Division? On this matter, members reached a conclusion. All agreed that Grangers should be temperate, but a pledge to total abstinence was not binding.

Another interesting discussion centered on the history of New Brunswick. The lecturer, Granger Samuel Sharp, commented on the lack of knowledge and absence of books on the subject. A slight touch of bias crept into the minutes in the next two sentences: He made a long speech, giving the Grange an account of early settlement, boundary disputes, Miramichi Fire etc., etc. It was suggested that he supplement this speech by another on the future capabilities of New Brunswick.

Secretarial duties were shared by several members during the five year period. J. Amos Trueman, Samuel Sharp, Leonard Carter, Douglas Fullerton, Albert C. Carter, and C. F. McCready all served. Shorter stints, as acting secretary, were undertaken by Robert McLeod, H. M. Copp and W. Johnston Trueman.

A read of the Grange minutes reveals a profile of a prosperous late 19th century rural community. All too often, we look back with sympathy on previous generations, obviously lacking the advantages of a technological age. How wrong we are to do so! Point de Bute in the 1880s was a self-assured and resourceful community.

Some idea of it’s self sufficiency can found, not only in Grange activities, but through late nineteenth century maps and directories. Within the bounds of Point de Bute and Upper Point de Bute there were: two schools, two churches (Baptist and Methodist), a community hall, general store, post office, grist mill, sawmill, tannery, cheese factory and blacksmith shop.

Local leadership in organizations such as the Grange was not lacking. Full slates of officers were installed annually, and at almost every meeting, new members were initiated. Many opportunities were presented for Grangers to speak in public, to debate and lead discussions; to make music and enjoy life. In winter, when travel by sleigh over the marshes was easy, other Granges were visited, or #772 would play host.

Nor were Grangers confined to their immediate area. Coastal sailing ships and later steamers provided travel by sea; while in the 1870s the Intercolonial Railway opened up still wider horizons. Life in Point de Bute during the 1880’s was anything but disadvantaged.