Alberta is a different province today than what it started out to become.
In the late 1800's today's provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan were the North-West Territories, boasting recent good weather supporting productive crops. Aggressive immigration invited farmers to the area, and free land in Canada was offered to central and eastern Europeans. The area was actively expanding.
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In 1903 a bill was introduced to establish a university, and although it was not enacted it did identify the importance of a centralized university. On September 1, 1905 the North-West Territories became two provinces: Alberta and Saskatchewan. Both Edmonton and Calgary campaigned to be Alberta's capital but on November 9th, 1905 Mr. Alexander Cameron Rutherford and his Liberal party won twenty three of twenty five seats to become Alberta's first Premier. Rutherford's political base was in Strathcona and Edmonton. Edmonton was chosen as the capital of Alberta in 1906.
For many years, in fact from Alberta's beginning, residents held out hope that oil reserves were nestled below wheat fields and would soon be discovered.
The province was growing, and changing.
In 1905, the same year Alberta became a province, construction was planned for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. As well, inventors were busy pushing new motivations in farm machinery, mechanical grain elevators, and early-maturing wheat.
Premier Rutherford supported the idea of an Alberta university, and was fortunate to meet Henry Marshall Tory, a McGill, professor of mathematics and physics, at a meeting of the McGill Graduates Society of Strathcona and Edmonton. They shared the same dream and vision about how a university could be built, with no religious affiliations, to allow a wider scope of educational growth. Building it meant it would be new ... not an old, disrupted institution in need of re-organization. Rutherford hired Dr. Tory as Alberta's first university president. The U of A began in 1908 and continues to thrive and grow.
Another large, powerful organization was establishing during Alberta's formative years, the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA) established in 1909. This powerful organization focused on education, business, politics, social and rural issues ... they built community halls, organized social events, practised co-operation and promoted self-help to farm business. For decades they helped shape and influence Alberta government policies.
The United Farm Women of Alberta formed in 1913 and since the majority of Alberta's population was rural with a main economy being agriculture they worked to establish equality for women and they worked for improved health care. The UFA formally supported equal political rights for women as well.
Shortly before WW1 William Steward Herron, an Okotoks farmer, made the first gas discovery in Alberta along Sheep Creek in the Turner Valley. Herron partnered with Archibald W. Dingham and formed the Calgary Petroleum Products Company and in 1914, the two men struck gas. This discovery sparked financial speculation in Calgary and more than five hundred companies were formed overnight. Local interest was there but Turner Valley's discovery did not attract necessary eastern Canadian investors. WW1 began and interest in Turner Valley diminished and by 1921 it was noted that the area had not become a proven field.
World War 1 dominated 1914 - 1918 and thousands of men and women volunteered at home and overseas. Alberta's volunteer rate was one of the highest in Canada. Alberta's growth was at a much slower pace and was further complicated by the Spanish Flu which hit the province in 1918/1919. 1925 delivered Alberta farmers a bumper crop and many of them found confidence to take advantage of new farm mechanization increasing bank and mortgage debt significantly. The "Roaring Twenties" were a good time for land developers, business owners and professionals but when The New York Stock Exchange crashed in 1929 many Alberta farmers who had increased their debt due to the promise of a successful crop were financially destroyed. This crash set off the "Dirty Thirties" (the Great Depression) 1930-1938 a time when railways and coal mines cut back, primary-product exports stalled, workers were laid off, families were breaking apart, people were in conflict, there were riots, suicides, bankruptcies and violent outbursts between strikers and supporters. The constant was low grain prices and an extreme drought across all Prairie Provinces. Alberta was technically bankrupt from 1932 for several years. Prosperity returned to the province with the end of the drought, the increase in grain prices and the arrival of World War ll in 1939.
Interest remained in Turner Valley despite its fledgling beginning, primitive drilling techniques, and inadequate transportation methods to prospective markets. For years approximately 90% of excess gas was burned off in a giant coulee until the Alberta Petroleum and Natural Gas Conservation Board was finally formed in 1938. Yet, Robert A. Brown still believed that crude oil was deep below the gas wells when he formed Turner Valley Royalties Company and began drilling in 1934. In 1936 he found his oil and by 1939 the field had 70 wells with annual revenue of $10 million. By 1945 the field began to decline and exploration companies moved on.
War was declared in 1939; with feelings of nationalism, a desire for adventure, and the recent economic depression Alberta jumped in, establishing enlistment rates that were among the highest in Canada. Women signed up as clerks, drivers, grounds workers, nurses, office personnel, and store room workers and a small percentage even served overseas. Alberta's high enlistment left gaps in the work force opening the door for women to fill many paying jobs. The military presence in Alberta required buildings, hangers and runways, and Air Training Schools brought people to Alberta providing strong support for all business. This was when the Alaska Highway construction began, an incredible undertaking linking the US to Alaska some 1,390 miles away (2,237 km). The Northwest Staging Route was a series of airstrips, airport and radio ranging stations in Alberta, BC, the Yukon, and Alaska, Edmonton played a key role.
As the war ended in 1945, life in Alberta began to change and we were fast approaching the arrival of two "Booms". The first we shared with the rest of North America - The Baby Boom – during the (approximate) span of 1946-1964. Then the second boom:
February 13, 1947 a petroleum boom dramatically changed Alberta's future.
Leduc No. 1 transformed a quiet, little community into a prosperous hub. Tapping into vast oil reserves catapulted Alberta into a fast time of prodigious growth and change.
From 1947 to 1956 many wells were drilled around Edmonton with a variety of "finds". Edmonton became known as a refining and petrochemical center, and the main operations base for oil industry suppliers and contractors. The population swelled, people came in search of high paying jobs and a life of prosperity. Oil was sent by pipeline to refineries in Sarnia, Toronto, and Montreal in the east, Vancouver in western Canada, and to the U.S. For many years production held, in 1991 Alberta produced more than 80% of Canada's crude. Oil exploration led to the discovery of large reserves of natural gas and the TransCanada pipeline, completed in 1958, carried some of the gas eastward to Ontario and Quebec and into California. This led to the "oil sands" or "tar sands" around Fort McMurray – one of the world's richest deposits, second only to Saudi Arabia. Expansion continued with many high paid workers coming from the Maritimes and Newfoundland. By 2006 bitumen production averaged 1.25 million barrels per day across more than 80 oil sands projects!
Alberta's oil and natural gas growth required strong, healthy support.
Always 100% Canadian owned and operated, J. W. Thompson has been Owner/Operator since 1990.
We are proud to be a part of it.