hide You are viewing an archived web page collected at the request of University of Alberta using Archive-It. This page was captured on 16:17:32 Dec 08, 2010, and is part of the HCF Alberta Online Encyclopedia collection. The information on this web page may be out of date. See All versions of this archived page. Loading media information

Heritage Community Foundation Presents
Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Economic Depression and World War (1920-1945)

Imperial Oil Calgary Refinery

From the 1920s to the end of the Second World War, Calgary experienced little growth, with the exception of a brief stint in the late 1920s and during the latter part of the Second World War. Between 1916 and 1941, the city grew from a population of 32,000 to 88,000, an insignificant amount compared to its rapid growth during the first decade of the 20th century.

Relief marchers

Persistent drought in southern Alberta caused considerable damage to the agricultural industry of southern Alberta. Southern Albertan cities like Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, and Calgary all depended on agricultural industries and business with local farmers. Consequently, the dust bowl conditions of the south severely hampered Calgary's dependence on the agricultural industry. Calgary's population slowly increased and so too did its homelessness and unemployment rates, particularly when farmers relocated to the city in search of work.

The city was forced to take a very conservative stance in regards to its provision of services. Urban expansion was halted as the city was already overextended because of rapid growth decades earlier. Populated subdivisions were scattered in outlying areas forcing city officials to curb growth, curtail streetcar service and restrict utilities in Calgary's scattered subdivisions. The city began taking possession of thousands of acres of land in the city due to an increase in tax arrears.

Mewata Armouries

Members of the real estate industry responded to the market slowdown by investing their time and money into the oil industry, largely spurred by the discovery of oil at Turner Valley. Financial gains in the oil industry remained modest throughout the 1920s; Calgary opened the Imperial Oil refinery in 1921, connected by pipeline to the Turner Valley oil field. The majority of industrial workers, however, worked in meatpacking, the railway yards, and the Ogden repair shops. Former real estate speculators also invested in buying and selling stocks; many of them would use stocks as collateral to buy more stocks. However, when the world's stock markets crashed in 1929, Calgarians were hit particularly hard.

Although development was sparse in the 1920s, some important projects were completed. The Calgary Exhibition and the Calgary Stampede were united in 1923, marking the beginning of a popular annual tradition in the city. Many of the real estate ventures in the 1920s were civic beautification projects. In the downtown, Calgary city council developed parks and squares. The Glenmore Reserve and a natural recreation area near Weaselhead were constructed. Memorial Drive was named Calgary's civic boulevard, and nearly a thousand of trees were planted there. Riley Park, Central Park, Mewata Park, and Prince's Island Park all underwent significant improvements. Bowness Park was created as a major family park with amenities for boating, picnicking, camping, and other forms of entertainment. At the end of the decade, the Calgary Zoo was opened on St. George's Island.

Calgary reached a population of 40,000 in 1929. Amidst the growth, the real estate industry renewed its attempt at creating a formal and unified organization. They formed the Calgary Real Estate Board on March 20 of 1929 but like its predecessor the Calgary Real Estate Board soon dismantled and faded away.

View of Currie Barracks

The stock market crash in October of 1929 ushered in the Great Depression. Calgary, slowly recovering from the recession of the 1920s, entered an era of unemployment and deflation. In 1931, the Ogden Repair Shops were forced to close putting 2000 people out of work. As unemployment and homelessness climbed higher, the city of Calgary began to issue permits for families to live in a "tent city" west of the rail tracks. Vagrants came to Calgary riding the rails in search of work. A massive soup kitchen opened in Victoria Park to feed a growing number of poor Calgarians. Mansions were torn down to make way for more affordable apartment blocks. Construction in the city was at a near standstill. One exception was the Glenmore Dam, a large construction project that provided needed work for the growing numbers of unemployed.

The Second World War proved to be a source of relief for Calgary's lagging economy. The city was home to the Currie and Harvie barracks, the Mewata Armouries, and the Sarcee Camp which held thousands of trainees; Calgary was known as Alberta's garrison city during the war. The war breathed life back into the city's oil industry since oil was needed for aviation fuel, and at the time Turner Valley was the only major oil field in Canada. The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan opened three training schools in Calgary-two service flying training schools and one wireless school.

The influx of soldiers brought increased retail business to the city. Although most dance halls and bars were off limits to soldiers, the Palliser Hotel (commonly known as the Paralyzer) and Penley's dance hall were lively spots for soldiers to frequent. The war created many jobs in Calgary. Calgary's Burns and Company converted an old creamery into a dried egg producer, drying about 210,000 eggs daily. In addition, the Ogden Repair Shops were reopened in 1941, now serving as a munitions factory. Calgary's population grew as many soldiers arrived for training while farmers continued to flock to the city in search of work. In response to the apparent housing shortage, the crown corporation Wartime Housing Ltd. built the Hillhurst and Altadore housing developments.

The war was also an important time for organized real estate in Calgary. In the early 1940s, Kenneth Lyle, one of the city's few full-time real estate men, began to pursue the idea of forming a functional real estate board. The dormant board, formed in the 1920s, was revived January 26, 1943 when Lyle called a general meeting of local real estate practitioners. President Clair J. Cote Sr. led the board for three years, working with the Edmonton Real Estate Board and the Canadian Association of Real Estate Boards, to lobby on behalf of the real estate profession against wartime policies like rent controls, trade legislations, and veteran-related policies that prevented real estate practitioners from earning an income.


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.

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.

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.

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

Peach, Jack. The First Fifty Years: A Chronicle of Half a Century in the life of the Calgary Real Estate Board 1943 - 1993. The Calgary Real Estate Board.

Sandalack, Beverly A. and Andrei Nicolai. The Calgary Project: Urban Form/Urban Life. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2006.

Stenson, Fred. The Story of Calgary. Fifth House Publishers, 1994.

Albertasource.ca | Contact Us | Partnerships
††††††††††† For more on the real estate industry in Alberta, visit Peelís Prairie Provinces.

Copyright © Heritage Community Foundation All Rights Reserved