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The Post-war Oil Boom and the Golden Age of Real Estate (1946-1960)

The Second World War ushered in an era of prosperity for Alberta. In the 1951 census, Alberta was the most populous prairie province with 940 000 people, and for the first time there were more people living in the cities than in rural areas. Between 1945 and 1951, personal income, on average, doubled for Albertans. Alberta owed much of its prosperity to the discovery of oil near Leduc in 1947.

The 1950s was truly the age of suburbia. Municipal governments, confronted with severe housing shortages after the war, began to build residential units based on self-contained "neighbourhoods" which included houses, schools, parks, stores, and community centres, all cut off from arterial roadways. Lot sizes increased to accommodate sprawling bungalows that housed new consumer products like washing machines and televisions.

Postwar Boom

The Post-Second World War baby boom and an influx of European immigrants caused Edmonton's population to nearly triple. Petrochemical companies like the Celanese Corp of America, Canadian Industries Ltd., Texaco, Imperial Oil and Grant Chemical built industries in the farmlands east and south of Edmonton, introducing a wealth of employment opportunities to Edmontonians. The city grew to accommodate newcomers - infrastructure, housing, and commercial buildings were all in high demand. The city began considerable expansion creating many new subdivisions. Neighborhoods like Parkallen, Hazeldean, Argyll, Idylwylde, Holyrood, Lauderdale, Athlone, Sherbrooke and Woodcroft, were all developed shortly after the war.

Jasper Avenue

With inclement weather such a common occurrence in Edmonton, suburban Edmontonians were inclined to shop indoors, so the city eventually became home to many large shopping malls. Indoor shopping malls were ideal for Edmonton's harsh and often long winters. The first of these was Westmount's Shoppers Park, built in 1955, complete with 40 stores, two department stores, and 3000 parking spaces. Bonnie Doon mall opened in 1958, and more malls were developed during the 1960s.

Real Estate agents were now able to make money specializing in real estate alone, no longer moonlighting as insurance brokers or other similar positions. Edmonton's organized real estate took a leap forward when the Edmonton Real Estate Board Co-operative Listing Bureau was formed to offer multiple listing services, a much needed service in a fast paced industry.

Calgary Skyline

Meanwhile, Calgary was experiencing its greatest construction boom in its history. Over the next decade, the city was transformed from a small prairie town with a few stores and houses, into the oil capital of Canada. Immediately after the war, Calgary's economy suffered with record unemployment, labour unrest, and a critical housing shortage. The city's fortunes change overnight when Leduc struck oil and Calgary soon became the administrative and financial centre of the petroleum industry as large oil firms began choosing the city as their headquarters. Many Americans moved in, buying up Calgary's real estate making it the fastest growing city in Canada.

Barron Building

The oil industry transformed Calgary's downtown; impressive high-rise structures belonging to Imperial Oil, Shell, Gulf, Texaco and Pacific Petroleum replaced the downtown's historical and majestic sandstone buildings. Real estate tycoons like Ralph Scurfield and J. B. Barron transformed the skyline building multi-storied towers like the Barron building, an 11-storey office tower containing offices, retail space, the Uptown movie theatre, a restaurant, and the Barron penthouse with a rooftop garden. The Barron building was completed in 1951. Meanwhile, Calgary's downtown residents began moving to the newly developed suburbs - a lifestyle that featured spacious six-room bungalows complete with fireplaces, gas and electric heaters, and all the latest appliances. In the 1950s, private developers started building enclosed neighborhood units that were isolated from Calgary's main thoroughfares. Each enclosed neighbourhood unit has access to a number of nearby commercial services (i.e. grocery stores, gas stations, etc.) so that residents did not have to travel lengthy distances. Due to their desired isolation and access to basic services, enclosed neighbourhood units drove up the prices of homes in the area. With the emergence of newly developed suburbs, commercial development exploded, highlighted most noticeably by the construction of the largest mall in western Canada, the Chinook Centre, opening in 1960. In addition, Calgary became home to several drive-in theatres, a new football stadium in 1960, and the South Alberta Institute of Technology in 1958.

Lethbridge and Medicine Hat often competed with each other for prime real estate developments. Lethbridge, Alberta's third largest city, benefited economically from the oil boom but also suffered with the decline of the coal industry. The city opened a community college in 1957 creating a number of employment opportunities. Lethbridge's population, 16,522 at the end of the war, grew to 35,454 in 1962. That same year, Medicine Hat's population was 24,484. The city had large national gas reserves but authorities mistakenly sold those reserves to Tulsa's Crescent Corporation, abandoning the potential for significant financial profits.

Red Deer, the fastest growing city in Canada immediately after the Second World War, jumped to a population of 19,612 in 1961 from a mere 4,000 prior to the war. While Alberta's cities were rapidly expanding, the countryside was also changing. Most people recognized oil as the cornerstone of Alberta's economic future; however, agriculture remained statistically the more important industry. After the war, Alberta's economy lagged; young adults soon abandoned their traditional roles on the farm and sought greater opportunities in Alberta's urban centres. Those who remained on the farms witnessed the gradual decrease in population of towns and villages while cities prospered with advanced education and modern healthcare, among other services.

References

Breen, David, "1947, The Making of Modern Alberta." Michael Payne, Donald Wetherell, and Catherine Cavanaugh (eds). Alberta Formed, Alberta Transformed. Edmonton: Alberta 2005 Centennial History Society.

Collins, Robert. "After a Fruitless Ten-Year Search Imperial Strikes the Big Bonanza." Alberta in the 20th Century, Vol.9: Leduc, Manning & the Age of Prosperity 1946-1963. Edmonton: United Western Communications Ltd., 1991.

Gilpin, John. Responsible Enterprise. Edmonton: Edmonton Real Estate Board Co-operative Listing Bureau Limited, 1997.

Maunder, Mike. "A Metropolis is Superimposed upon a Drowsy Ranching Town." Alberta in the 20th Century, Vol.9: Leduc, Manning & the Age of Prosperity 1946-1963. Edmonton: United Western Communications Ltd., 1991.

Maunder, Mike. "A New Urban World Appears as Suburbia Transforms the Cities." Alberta in the 20th Century, Vol.9: Leduc, Manning & the Age of Prosperity 1946-1963. Edmonton: United Western Communications Ltd., 1991.

Owram, Doug, "1951, Oil's Magic Wand." Michael Payne, Donald Wetherell, and Catherine Cavanaugh (eds). Alberta Formed, Alberta Transformed. Edmonton: Alberta 2005 Centennial History Society.

Parker, Shafer. "Farmer-Soldiers Return from War to Fight Three Battles at Homes." Alberta in the 20th Century, Vol.9: Leduc, Manning & the Age of Prosperity 1946-1963. Edmonton: United Western Communications Ltd., 1991.

Smith, P.J. "Planning for Residential Growth since the 1940s." Hesketh and Frances Swyripa, eds. Edmonton: The Life of a City. Edmonton: NeWest Publishers, 1995.

Smithson, Carla. "Smaller Cities Thrive as the Hat and Lethbridge Vie for Third Spot." Alberta in the 20th Century, Vol.9: Leduc, Manning & the Age of Prosperity 1946-1963. Edmonton: United Western Communications Ltd., 1991.

Stamp, Robert M. Suburban Modern: Postwar Dreams in Calgary. Calgary: TouchWood Editions Ltd., 2004.

Witwicki, Deborah. "In Alberta's Second Major Boom Its Capital City is Transformed." Alberta in the 20th Century, Vol.9: Leduc, Manning & the Age of Prosperity 1946-1963. Edmonton: United Western Communications Ltd., 1991.

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