UFA has a rich history and has been a major contributor in helping to build the province of Alberta and in contributing to the farming culture of Canada. In telling the story of our past, we set the stage for UFA’s future as a strong and influential voice for the farmers of today and tomorrow.
In over 100 years of existence, the United Farmers of Alberta Co-operative has gone from its start as a small organization of farmers wanting to improve their way of life to becoming one of the largest agricultural supply and service cooperatives in Western Canada.
1909 – 1920
The beginning of the 20th century was a time of change in rural Alberta. Motor vehicles were rare and long distance communication was still handled by mail and telegraph. Rural families often felt isolated from their neighbours and the rest of the country.
In 1909, The Canadian Society of Equity and the Alberta Farmers Association joined forces to become the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA) with James Bower as its first president. UFA brought rural Albertans together to improve conditions for the agriculture business, bring modern conveniences to homes in rural areas and to provide Alberta farmers with a voice in shaping the province’s future.
UFA proved to be a progressive-thinking organization by permitting the UFA Women of Alberta to be formed under the same constitution as the UFA in 1912. Two years later, the constitution was amended to grant women full membership.
By 1918, membership was nearing 20,000. That year saw UFA institute co-operative buying of farm supplies for resale to members and the beginnings of a limited farm supply business which would grow to unexpected proportions over the decades to come.
1921 – 1935
World War I ended in 1919 and launched the roaring 20s. Telephone networks were in their infancy and the automobile was becoming a common sight in cities. In rural Alberta, those changes were yet to come.
In Alberta, the political mood was one of dissatisfaction with the existing political parties, prompting farmers to form their own. UFA entered the political arena and won 38 of 60 seats in the 1921 provincial election installing Herbert Greenfield, a Westlock farmer, as premier. That same year, UFA Women of Alberta leader Irene Parlby became the first woman MLA.
1935 – 1960
A new era in UFA history began in 1935 with the formation of a partnership with Maple Leaf Petroleum to distribute petroleum products exclusively to co-op members. This first entry into the petroleum business would prove to be a major turning point in the success of the company. In the first year of the agreement, 1.8 million gallons of fuel had been sold earning $12,000. UFA purchased Maple Leaf Petroleum for one million dollars in 1957.
Other developments during this time period included:
- A state-of-the art UFA Head office and service station in Calgary that reflects UFA’s commitment to growth and modernization (1946).
- Opening of the first farm supply store in Calgary (1954).
- Establishment of a farm supply store in Edmonton to serve northern Alberta (1957).
UFA’s Petroleum and Farm Supply divisions would continue to play important roles in the expansion and success of the company in the coming decade.
The 1970s introduced us to the computer age with the introduction of the first “consumer” computers. The first mobile phones, which were larger in size than the average paperback novel, were introduced and Montreal hosted the summer Olympics.
The decade saw a steady increase in the mechanization of agriculture and fuel consumption. This led to new agreements with the UFA Petroleum Division to handle all of its Petroleum business from refinery gate to UFA Agencies.
The decade saw increased expansion of the Farm Supply and Petroleum divisions throughout the province with the opening of eight new UFA farm supply stores. By 1974, Farm Supply sales reflected the growing agricultural economy in Western Canada.
Edmonton became the location for UFA’s Distribution Centre in 1976 and acted as the main depot for distribution to farm supply stores and petroleum agencies throughout Alberta. Meanwhile, a new two-story office building was built in Calgary to house the Corporate Support Office.
UFA ended the decade on a strong note and was preparing to face the challenges that the next 10 years would bring.
In Alberta, the 1980s began with the province’s 75th birthday celebration. Computers were common in offices everywhere, the first Point-of-Sale (POS) systems, but cell phones were still a thing of the future.
This decade began with UFA laying the foundations for continued growth through the 80s despite the recession and some of the highest interest rates ever seen in Canada.
UFA’s Petroleum Division entered the decade with new technology by opening its first Cardlock fuel outlet in 1984. UFA’s Cardlock network would grow over the coming years to become the largest of its kind in Alberta and a significant source of revenue for the company.
The decade ended with the opening of the northern most location in La Crete, Alberta, which included a petroleum agency and a farm supply store.
The 90s would be a decade of growth and innovation within and beyond Alberta’s borders.
The 1990s was a period global change. The cold war ended with the fall of the Berlin wall and cell phones were commonplace. It was a decade of expansion and diversification for UFA. This decade saw the introduction of a youth advisory council of 15 members, which led to such initiatives as AGVANTAGE 25 and other youth-driven programs.
The decade also saw the acquisition of Stirdon Systems (1998). The purchase of Betker Livestock Systems of Saskatoon soon followed in 2001, continuing the tradition of innovation that began with the Farmstead Departments.
The Farm Store network was expanded and many were upgraded, notably the Lethbridge location which features a 12,000 sq. ft. showroom and a drive-through warehouse. Other stores that were upgraded were the facilities in Grimshaw, Hanna and Claresholm. By 1999, there were 34 Farm Stores in Alberta.
The Petroleum Division was expanding in response to opportunities presented by the exit of major competitors in the rural market by expanding its Cardlock network. The network crossed provincial borders with the opening of facilities in Dawson Creek, BC, and in Kindersley and Swift Current, Sask.
The dawn of the new millennium left many wondering what was to come, but at UFA, plans were made and the future looked bright.
The United Farmers celebrated it’s 100th Birthday in 2009. Country music star Paul Brandt hosted a small town concerts and dedicated the song “Small town, big dreams” to UFA.
UFA named Carol Kitchen as its new Chief Executive Officer, making her the first female to lead a large agriculture cooperative in North America.
UFA celebrates 109 years of being in business. Her Honour Lois Mitchell, Lieutenant Governor of Alberta, joined 75 community members to commemorate the historic occasion.
For Farmer’s Day, it is tradition to recognize Farmer’s in the province with a light up event in UFA colours at different locations including the Calgary Tower, Reconciliation Bridge and the Alberta Legislature. This symbolizes UFA’s salute to the tireless work agriculture producers continue to do to feed the world.