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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

The Era of Urban Growth (1961-1981)

Westmount Shopping Centre

While the 1950s paved the road to urbanization in Alberta, the 1960s witnessed a time of exponential urban growth. Throughout the decade, Edmonton and Calgary continued to grow in population while towns and rural areas stagnated or declined. New businesses entering the province, particularly in the oil and gas industry, establishing their headquarters in either Edmonton or Calgary. In spite of increased production in the oil and gas sector, Alberta's coal, forestry and agricultural industries were in decline.

The real estate industry fared well in Edmonton during the 1960s as market prices were consistently on the rise. The Edmonton Real Estate board, in the midst of expanding its services, built a new headquarters. Many local real estate companies - names like Melton Real Estate, Kellough Realty and Weber Brothers Realty - were thriving, while national companies were arriving in Edmonton and buying out local companies.

Coliseum

With a rapid influx of rural to urban migration, Edmonton was faced with overcrowding in a very competitive housing market. The city expanded its borders, annexing the towns of Beverly in 1963 and Jasper Place in 1964. Meanwhile, the University of Alberta was expanding and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology opened its doors in 1962. Downtown buildings were starting to get old and decrepit, so developers demolished them and replaced them with new buildings. There were new office towers, including the 26-storey CN Tower, followed by the 33-storey Alberta Government Telephone's Tower, and the 45-storey Edmonton House apartment building. Culturally enrichening projects were soon developed. A civic centre, a new city hall, Churchill Square, a library and an art gallery were all constructed throughout the late 1950s and 1960s. The Citadel Theatre was finished in 1965 while the Chateau Lacombe opened soon after, featuring a unique revolving restaurant. Edmonton also opened its provincial museum in 1967 and, in 1970, the first phase of Fort Edmonton Park, a replica of the old fur trading post, was completed.

During the 1960s, Calgary's real estate development outpaced even Edmonton's. During the Second World War, Calgary had fewer than 100,000 residents. By 1965, the city grew to 315,680 and by 1971 this number had reached 400,000. Population growth was largely fuelled by American oil companies who continued to open up offices in the city. By the end of the 1960s, the industry provided direct employment for nearly 10% of city residents, and indirect employment for many more. Calgary's borders also expanded when it annexed the towns of Forest Lawn in 1961, Montgomery in 1963, and Bowness in 1964. Real Estate development companies like Nu-West were constantly building bungalows and split-level houses to meet consumer demands, particularly in newly developed neighborhoods that featured schools, libraries, churches, fire and police stations, and large shopping centres. One such shopping complex was the Chinook Centre, built in 1960, the biggest mall of its time in western Canada.

Calgary Tower

Meanwhile, the downtown core was revitalized with the construction of Centennial Planetarium (now the Telus World of Science), Glenbow Museum and a convention centre. Many high-rises such as the Imperial Oil Building (built in 1964) and the Guinness Complex (built in 1965) drastically changed the city's skyline. One of the most exciting real estate projects was the Husky Tower, later renamed the Calgary Tower. Standing at 626 feet, construction of the tower was immensely challenging for engineers and construction workers alike. Concrete was poured continuously for 23 days to form its core. On top, a revolving restaurant was built. The Calgary Tower opened on June 30 of 1968.

Real Estate development was at an all time high, and new metal and glass office towers soon dominated Edmonton and Calgary's skyline, while older buildings, including low-income housing facilities, were demolished. The average price of a home skyrocketed due to housing shortages and rising inflation. Such sharp increases in market prices were beneficial to the real estate industry but detrimental to those unable to afford the jump in housing costs.

New neighborhoods were created and old neighborhoods renovated. The most exciting of these housing projects in Edmonton were the total concept planning neighborhoods - Mill Woods and Castle Downs. Each community featured parks, schools, clinics and commercial properties all built in the same area. As suburban housing increased, more malls were built in Edmonton, including the Southgate Shopping Centre and Londonderry Mall. The 60,000 seat Commonwealth Stadium hosted the Commonwealth Games in 1978.

Imperial Oil Building

Although Edmonton was an important financial centre for the petrochemical industry, it could not keep pace with Calgary's accelerated growth. Individuals and families relocated to Calgary taking advantage of a growing and diverse economy. Consequently, housing shortages continued to be a serious issue. The 1970s witnessed more development for downtown Calgary as the oil industry grew. High-rises went up constantly, each one competing to be the tallest. It was clear that by the 1970s Calgary had established itself as the financial centre of Alberta.

Smaller cities were also benefiting from the province's newfound prosperity and its trend towards urbanization. Lethbridge and Medicine Hat annexed land to keep up with their respective population growth. Lethbridge, the third largest city in Alberta, became home to two major shopping malls and the University of Lethbridge during the 1960s. Two centennial projects, the Japanese Friendship Gardens and a replica of Fort Whoop-up were constructed. Between 1927 and 1976, 500 new residential units were built in Lethbridge.

Medicine Hat opened their educational institution, the Medicine Hat College, in 1971. Economically, the city prospered with the increase in petrochemical production boom during the 1970s due to its large supply of natural gas reserves. Red Deer also experienced tremendous growth during this time, transforming from a small town during the war, to the fourth largest city in Alberta by the end of the 1960s. However, it was Fort McMurray that witnessed the greatest transformation. The development of the oil sands and the arrival of large multinational oil companies turned the town into a bustling city. With a population of only 2,000 in 1964, the city had 35,000 residents by the early 1980s.

References

Byfield, Mike. "Fighting in the Middle East Triggers an Explosion in Alberta." Alberta in the 20th Century, Vol. 11: Lougheed & the War with Ottawa. Edmonton: United Western Communications Ltd., 1991.

Foran, Max. "1967, Embracing the Future. At Arm's Length." Michael Payne, Donald Wetherell, and Catherine Cavanaugh (eds). Alberta Formed, Alberta Transformed. Edmonton: Alberta 2005 Centennial History Society.

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

Jenish, D'Arcy. "Alberta soars while Canada Stagflates." Alberta in the 20th Century, Vol. 11: Lougheed & the War with Ottawa. Edmonton: United Western Communications Ltd., 1991.

Marsh, James H. "1973 and the Early Lougheed Years." Michael Payne, Donald Wetherell, and Catherine Cavanaugh (eds). Alberta Formed, Alberta Transformed. Edmonton: Alberta 2005 Centennial History Society.

Mclean, Candis. "While Calgary's Economy Sizzles, its Politics Threaten to Explode." Alberta in the 20th Century, Vol. 10: The Sixties Revolution & the Fall of Social Credit. Edmonton: United Western Communications Ltd., 1991.

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

Wittmeier, Carmen. "The Great Rural Alberta Shake-out Gathers Momentum." Alberta in the 20th Century, Vol. 10: The Sixties Revolution & the Fall of Social Credit. Edmonton: United Western Communications Ltd., 1991.

Witwicki, Deborah. "The 'Highest Court' Rules on Edmonton vs. Edmonchuk." Alberta in the 20th Century, Vol. 10: The Sixties Revolution & the Fall of Social Credit. Edmonton: United Western Communications Ltd., 1991.

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