Joe Phelps, fiery farm leader and gadfly in numerous provincial and national causes, was born in Belleville, Ontario, August 12, 1899. He was nine when his family moved to a homestead near Wilkie and it was there he attended school.
He got involved in embryonic farm organizations at an early age. In 1918, when he was 17, he was elected a district director of the Saskatchewan Grain Growers Association. He moved to the Farmers Union of Canada in 1921 and was among the first to advocate compulsory pooling of grain, an important initiative in formation of Saskatchewan Wheat Pool. He participated in the convention which merged SGGA with the Farmers Union into United Farmers of Canada (Saskatchewan Section) in 1928.
Joe Phelps was one of the founders of the Farmer-Labor Party which later became the CCF. He was elected in Saltcoats constituency in 1938 and served six years in the opposition. In 1944 when the CCF swept into power he was named Minister of Natural Resources and Industrial Development and Minister responsible for the Saskatchewan Power Commission. A supporter of board marketing, he established the Saskatchewan Fur Marketing Board, the Saskatchewan Fish Marketing Board and the Saskatchewan Timber Board. An ambitious rural electrification program was launched under his direction.
Defeated in 1948, he set out in 1949 to revive the moribund United Farmers of Canada. With a name change to Saskatchewan Farmers Union, Joe Phelps built the organization from a membership of a few hundred to 47, 000. He encouraged growth in neighboring provinces and led in formation of an Interprovincial Farm Union Council, forerunner of the National Farmers Union. He strengthened farmer-labor ties with formation of the Canadian Farmer-Labor Co-ordinating Council.
While still a cabinet minister in 1947 he initiated formation of a Western Development Museum and served as its chairman for a number of years after leaving the government. He helped found the Pion-Era Show in Saskatoon and the Pioneer Threshermenís Association. He was a member of the 1952 Saskatchewan Royal Commission on Agriculture and Rural Life. In later years he turned his energies to the senior citizensí organization, Action Now.