Many Albertans were still recovering from World War I and the Spanish Flu (1918–1919) when the province experienced a recession, a series of labour strikes, and an early 1920s drought in the southeast and east-central regions. During the drought, many Alberta farmers moved up to the Peace River district. Peace River communities were isolated from each other by forests, muskeg, and poor road conditions. The arable land, however, was fertile and a wonder to those who suffered through the dust bowl conditions to the south. Other frustrated, drought-ridden farmers moved into urban areas or left for the United States.
Charles Stewart assumed premiership of the Liberal party from Sifton in 1917. Stewart governed until 1921. In the 1921 election, the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA) took two-thirds of the seats, leaving Liberals with 15 seats and the Conservatives with no representation. UFA’s first premier was Herbert Greenfield.
Meanwhile, Henry Marshall Tory remained in England with the Khaki University and ran the University of Alberta by correspondence. The Acting-President was Dr William Kerr. Dr Kerr was appointed Dean of the Faculty of Arts in 1914 and was known to preside over the Faculty with distinct harmony and fair-mindedness. As Acting-President, he was seen by some as taking full charge of the University’s administration, but in truth, he made few decisions without Tory’s knowledge, approval, or direction.
Understandably, graduate programs and student numbers declined during the war. Post-war years saw an increase in enrollment, pressure to expand programs, and the need to increase staff. Adapting to change and the ongoing quest for funding were ever-present realities for the University. Two marked changes were that 1920 students no longer had to wear academic gowns to class and, in 1921, Latin for all programs was dropped and a wider, more flexible curriculum was established.
The financial state of farmers and Alberta’s agricultural industry was a primary focus during post-war years. Many returning soldiers wanted to go back to the land and to farming. The University presented itself as a friend of farmers and a post-secondary facility that educated farmers’ children and was active in agricultural research and development.
The Faculty of Agriculture began in 1915 with a staff of two: Dean EA Howes and Mr George Harcourt, Assistant to the Dean. At the end of the war, the Faculty reorganized with the help of Harold Thornton and Jack McAllister. The north wing of Pembina was used for classrooms, with the dining room turned into a common room for soldiers. From 1920 to 1922, thirteen faculty members were hired for Agriculture, and as a bonus, Agriculture students were not required to pay tuition.
After the war, Ottewell resumed his duties with the Extension Department and his earnest mission of bringing adult education to communities throughout Alberta. Tory recruited E.A. (Ned) Corbett from the Khaki University. As Ottewell’s assistant and eventual successor, Corbett also logged hundreds of miles travelling throughout Alberta. The Extension Department also pioneered radio broadcasting in Alberta.
While Tory supported and acknowledged Agriculture as a growth faculty, he launched a trail-blazing effort to promote the Faculty of Medicine. He wanted Medicine raised so it could offer a full medical program and have its own building. The Medicine Building was constructed in 1921.
Slowly, a sense of prosperity emerged with a decent harvest in 1923 and the lifting of Prohibition. The Alberta Wheat Pool began in October of 1923. With incremental expansion of various faculties and departments, the University of Alberta attracted staff from eastern Canada, the United States, and Great Britain.
The year 1925 was important for Alberta farmers. They enjoyed a major bumper crop and J.E. Brownlee took over as UFA leader. On a federal level, the Canadian government, the Canadian Pacific Railway, and the Canadian National Railway entered into a 1925 Railway Agreement that would attract central and eastern European immigrants. This task wasn’t difficult because post-war Europe was in political and cultural chaos.
Some Alberta farmers enlarged their holdings, took advantage of farm mechanization, and in some instances, increased their debts to banks and mortgage companies at an alarming rate. Urban land developers, business owners, and professionals—usually of Anglo origins—enjoyed comfortable and sometimes prosperous lifestyles during the Roaring Twenties.
In the 1920s, women represented around one-third of the University’s student population and with the return of soldiers and increasing male enrollments, women's dominance in student politics subsided. While many women students acquiesced to their male counterparts, a group of Alberta women made headlines in the late 1920s and changed women’s rights throughout Canada.
In 1928, Judge Emily Murphy, the first woman magistrate in the British Empire, joined forces with four other prominent Alberta women—Henrietta Edwards, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, and Irene Parlby—to take the "Persons Case" before the Supreme Court of Canada. The “Famous Five” then took their case to the Privy Council of England, which at that time was Canada's highest court of appeal. On October 18, 1929, the Lord Chancellor of the Privy Council declared that "Women are eligible to be summoned and may become Members of the Senate of Canada."
As the decade was nearing its end, Rutherford’s intense connection to the University came full circle. In 1927, he was elected as the University’s third Chancellor. Tory, however, would not see this decade out. In 1928, he tendered his resignation to become president of the National Research Council in Ottawa.
To Tory’s everlasting credit, he began a backwoods, isolated university and helped put it on an international platform. Dr Robert Wallace was selected as Tory’s replacement. No one knew that before the decade was out, a New York stock market collapse would touch the lives of almost every Albertan.