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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Depression and the War (1921-1945)

Downtown Edmonton 1929

Alberta's real estate market encountered various challenges during the 1920s foreshadowing the economic catastrophe of the Great Depression during the 1930s. In the 1920s, real estate stagnated in Alberta's underdeveloped cities; land was largely available yet developers struggled to deliver utilities, water and sewage to existing developments. Moreover, population growth was largely insignificant resulting in minimal property development. Local and individually owned real estate firms were thus closing at a rapid rate.

Aircrat Repair

Edmonton's economy stagnated in the 1920s. Its population increased at such a slow rate that the real estate industry was not able to progress at their desired rate, in spite of a few large real estate projects. The municipal zoo was opened in 1925 and a library opened downtown in 1923. Edmonton's first airport, known as the Edmonton Municipal Airport, was built at Blatchford field in 1927. However, residential development was markedly slow. By 1929, real estate sales were on the rise and Edmonton's economy began a notable turnaround. The 1920s also marked a growth in the development of organized real estate. In 1926, for instance, the Edmonton Real Estate Association held their first meeting. Their goal was to accelerate development in the city and to improve conditions for real estate workers and the quality of their industry by lobbying the city for legislation. One such example of legislation was the approval of licensing for real estate agents so that it would be recognized as an actual profession.

Calgary fared much worse during the twenties. Like Lethbridge and Medicine Hat, Calgary and its surrounding farms were devastated by persistent drought. Many of Calgary's industries were faltering. Consequentially, real estate workers were struggling to keep their businesses open as real estate prices plummeted. Although Calgary's population grew, its new arrivals were often unemployed and homeless. Thus, new housing developments were on the decline. However, Calgary's economy picked up slightly in 1928 and 1929, in large part from the growing oil industry.

Garneau District

Any progress made by Edmonton and Calgary's real estate sector in the late 1920s would be suffocated by the disastrous outcome of the Great Depression. Grain prices collapsed, devastating farmers already faced with drought, windstorms, grasshopper plagues, fires, and floods. Farmers fled their fields to find work in the cities, and as the farming population dwindled, whole towns went bankrupt. Lethbridge and Medicine Hat's economies were hurt by the devastation of the agricultural industry as well as the drought. Southern Alberta's vast mining industry was also in jeopardy due to decreasing demand for coal. Subsequently, many mines were forced to shut down.

The stock market crash of 1929 had a direct impact on Alberta's urban centres. Businesses folded and homes were repossessed leaving many unemployed and homeless. Edmonton and Calgary's streets were filled with jobless men from eastern Canada and rural Alberta desperately searching for work. Real estate and construction industries came to a stand still because, while homes were needed, few could afford to buy them. Homeless Edmontonians dug out caves along the river valley to live in, while the city of Calgary issued permits for families to live in tents west of the rail tracks. Many of its historical mansions were being torn down and replaced by large squalid apartment blocks.

Hanna Area

The impact of the Great Depression began to subside by the late 1930s. The provincial government desperately sought to stimulate the local economy in a variety of different ways including the introduction of credit as a new means of monetary exchange. New commercial projects began to emerge. Edmonton's airport and movie theatres were renovated while the Eaton and Hudson's Bay Company department stores were built downtown. By 1938, Calgary witnessed a slow growth in real estate - a municipal airport and a large oil refinery were soon built.

Substantial economic relief came to Alberta at the onset of the Second World War. The massive war industry created a wealth of employment opportunities for Albertans sending the province into a new era of prosperity. One of the great industries to benefit from the war was the real estate industry. Construction workers could not build fast enough while real estate prices skyrocketed. Builders struggled with labour and material shortages trying to complete a slew of new projects for various war industries, including the Great Western Garment Company and Aircraft Repair Ltd. in Edmonton. Calgary, known as "Alberta's garrison city," hosted the Currie and Harvie barracks, Mewata Armouries and Sarcee camps causing an influx of military personnel to settle in and around the city.

Bomb and Gunnery School

Small town Alberta also prospered during the war. The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, a massive flight school aimed at rapidly training pilots, opened a number of airports and training facilities across rural Alberta. The bases revitalized the cities of Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, and Red Deer and the towns of Vulcan, Fort Macleod, and Penhold by creating a number of jobs. They spurred commercial development, as bars, theatres, and dance halls opened to cater to the needs of pilots and mechanics. The building of the Alaska Highway spurred Grande Prairie's economy as the city was designated the transportation hub for the Alaska Highway corridor.

Alberta's real estate industry prospered during the war but was soon faced with an array of challenges. The Federal Government's Wartime Prices and Trade Board established rental boards to set rental rates, and allowed municipalities to freeze these rates. This was of concern to real estate professionals because many of them depended substantially on rental incomes. In addition, the Veterans' Land Act, passed in 1942, prevented Real Estate agents from charging commission on sales for veterans, which nearly threatened to put real estate agents out of business. Because of these threats to the industry, organized real estate in Canada blossomed during the war era marked by the creation of the Alberta Real Estate Association in 1940, the Canadian Real Estate Association in 1943, and the Calgary Real Estate Board that same year.

Alberta's real estate market encountered turbulent times during the Great Depression and the Second World War. Population growth during the war, for example, resulted in housing shortages and homelessness. Also, building materials were being rationed to conserve for the war effort causing construction to slow dramatically. Nowhere was this housing shortage more profound than in Edmonton. By June of 1943, Edmonton's Emergency Accommodation Bureau had 1,350 names on its waiting list forcing incoming soldiers to find accommodations in hotel lobbies and hallways. Calgarians did not escape the effects of such an unstable economy; families were evicted, and forced to live in basements, tents and even chicken coops. Many of the homeless moved out of the cities into smaller towns where housing was more affordable.

References

Byfield, Ted. "1930, the Year when Everything Went to Pieces Throughout Alberta." Alberta in the 20th Century, Vol. 6: Fury and Futility: The Onset of the Great Depression 1930-1935. Edmonton: United Western Communications Ltd., 1991.

Collins, Robert. "As the War became Real, Albertans Hurled themselves into the Cause." Alberta in the 20th Century, Vol. 8: The War that United the Province. Edmonton: United Western Communications Ltd., 1991.

Dempsey, Hugh. "Mobs of Jobless Young Men make Calgary a City of Painful Turmoil." Alberta in the 20th Century, Vol. 6: Fury and Futility: The Onset of the Great Depression 1930-1935. Edmonton: United Western Communications Ltd., 1991.

Collins, Robert. "The Rain, Where is the Rain, is the South's Desperate Cry." Alberta in the 20th Century, Vol. 5: Brownlee and the Triumph of Populism 1920-1930. Edmonton: United Western Communications Ltd., 1991.

Dolphin, Ric. "Edmonton Boom Seemed Back at Last when the Big Bust Hit." Alberta in the 20th Century, Vol. 6: Fury and Futility: The Onset of the Great Depression 1930-1935. Edmonton: United Western Communications Ltd., 1991.

Dolphin, Ric and Stephani Keer. "Calgary Stared Reality in the Eye in a Decade that Sapped its Youth." Alberta in the 20th Century, Vol. 5: Brownlee and the Triumph of Populism 1920-1930. Edmonton: United Western Communications Ltd., 1991.

Gilpin, John. Responsible Enterprise: A History of Real Estate & the Edmonton Real Estate Board. Edmonton: Edmonton Real Estate Board, 1997.

Heritage Community Foundation. "Agriculture" in World War II: The Homefront in Alberta, www.Albertasource.ca - The Alberta Online Encycloepdia, 2008.

Heritage Community Foundation. "Calgary" in World War II: The Homefront in Alberta. www.Albertasource.ca - The Alberta Online Encycloepdia, 2008, 2008.

Heritage Community Foundation. "Edmonton" in World War II: The Homefront in Alberta. www.Albertasource.ca - The Alberta Online Encyclopedia, 2008.

Heritage Community Foundation. "Grande Prairie" in World War II: The Homefront in Alberta. www.Albertasource.ca - The Alberta Online Encyclopedia, 2008.

Heritage Community Foundation. "Industry" in World War II: The Homefront in Alberta. www.Albertasource.ca - The Alberta Online Encyclopedia, 2008.

Heritage Community Foundation. "Lethbridge" in World War II: The Homefront in Alberta. www.Albertasource.ca - The Alberta Online Encyclopedia, 2008.

Heritage Community Foundation. "Medicine Hat" in World War II: The Homefront in Alberta. www.Albertasource.ca - The Alberta Online Encyclopedia, 2008.

Heritage Community Foundation. "Red Deer" in World War II: The Homefront in Alberta. www.Albertasource.ca - The Alberta Online Encyclopedia, 2008.

Heritage Community Foundation. "Rural" in World War II: The Homefront in Alberta. www.Albertasource.ca - The Alberta Online Encyclopedia, 2008.

Heritage Community Foundation. "The Alberta Sacrifice" in The Homefront in Alberta. www.Albertasource.ca - The Alberta Online Encyclopedia, 2008.

Heritage Community Foundation. "Urban" in World War II: The Homefront in Alberta. www.Albertasource.ca - The Alberta Online Encyclopedia, 2008.

Heritage Community Foundation. "Wartime Housing" in World War II: The Homefront in Alberta. www.Albertasource.ca - The Alberta Online Encyclopedia, 2008.

Keer, Stephani. "Edmonton, Keen to Fill Big Shoes, Enjoys a Cheerful Urban Adolescence." Alberta in the 20th Century, Vol. 5: Brownlee and the Triumph of Populism 1920-1930. Edmonton: United Western Communications Ltd., 1991.

Keshen, Jeffrey A. Saints, Sinners, and Soldiers: Canada's Second World War. Vancouver, BC, Canada: UBC Press, 2004.

Pashak, Barrett. "Medicine Hat - Bowed but Never Quite Broken." Alberta in the 20th Century, Vol. 7: Aberhart and the Alberta Insurrection 1935-1940. Edmonton: United Western Communications Ltd., 1991.

Sheremata, Davis. "Trouble in 'Sin City,' as Lethbridge Battles Bootleggers, Yeggs and 'Soiled Doves.'" Alberta in the 20th Century, Vol. 7: Aberhart and the Alberta Insurrection 1935-1940. Edmonton: United Western Communications Ltd., 1991.

Tyrwhitt, Janice. "Cold, Rain and Summer Snow often Ruined the Promise of the Peace." Alberta in the 20th Century, Vol. 6: Fury and Futility: The Onset of the Great Depression 1930-1935. Edmonton: United Western Communications Ltd., 1991.

Tyrwhitt, Janice. "In the Near-Desert of the South Rode Scientists with Good Ideas." Alberta in the 20th Century, Vol. 7: Aberhart and the Alberta Insurrection 1935-1940. Edmonton: United Western Communications Ltd., 1991.

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