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Postwar Growth

City Hall Park

Red Deer and District experienced significant growth in the immediate post-war era, particularly in urban centres. The discovery of oil, an influx of immigrants, and a baby boom delivered prosperity to the urban communities of central Alberta. Meanwhile, the increasing mechanization of farms and employment prospects in urban centres directly contributed to a rural depopulation. The size of farms grew but there were fewer farmers. Smaller towns and villages also had trouble competing with the economic potential of the larger urban centres, mainly because automobiles had increased rural mobility.

Ross Street in 50s

Many of Central Alberta's settlements were in stages of significant growth.

Lacombe benefited from the building of two scrubbing plants nearby.

Stettler became an important centre for the oil industry when oil was discovered south west of the town in 1949. The town's population grew steadily throughout the next decades, nearly doubling from 2442 in 1951 to 4350 in 1974.

Ponoka also benefited from the oil and gas industries while continuing to maintain its identity as an important agricultural centre. The Alberta Mental Hospital, the city's largest employer, was another important factor in the town's growth. The hospital continued to expand, becoming a city unto itself with its own fire brigade, telephone exchange, bookbinding company, beauty parlours, barbers, a major cannery, and a large farm.

Camrose remained largely an agricultural centre, its economy based largely on farm-based industries rather than oil or natural gas. Still, its population increased in the post-war era, from 2600 in 1939 to 7000 in 1961.

Sylvan Lake grew as a tourism centre, serving the tourists from Red Deer, and increasingly tourists from around the province. By the mid-1950s, the town’s population was on the rise because of the post-war baby boom, the oil boom, and the general wealth of the Albertan economy. By the 1960s, prosperous Albertans were building summer cottages around the lake to the extent that Sylvan Lake was established as a Provincial Park. Sylvan Lake remained almost entirely a summer resort destination until the 1970s, when its community of permanent residents began to grow. Sylvan Lake was in the midst of a growth spurt, the biggest one in its history.

Rocky Mountain House, the heart of the lumber industry in Red Deer and Area, was also profoundly impacted by oil industry, which became important to the town during the 1950s. While the lumber industry continued to be the mainstay of the town’s economy, widespread exploration and commercial discoveries in the area in 1955 spurred further economic growth. The town’s greatest period of growth came in the 1970s, beginning with skyrocketing development permit amounts in 1968 and 1969. Between 1971 and 1976, Rocky Mountain House’s population rose from 2968 to 3432. In 1970, the Strachan Gas Plant sour gas processing facility was built by Gulf Oil Canada Limited, 22 miles south-west of the town, becoming an important employer in the area. By 1981, the peak of Alberta’s oil boom, the population of Rocky Mountain House rose again to 4,698.

New City Hall

More than any other urban centre in central Alberta, Red Deer blossomed in the post-war era, even earning the title of the fastest growing city in Canada. With a prewar population of 4042, its population increased to 19 612 by 1961. Much of this growth was due to the discovery of oil near Leduc in 1947 whereby Red Deer became a transportation and distribution centre. Rail yards were packed with oil tanker cars and drilling supplies while new trucking operations entered the city. Industrial growth surged ahead. A 2 million dollar pulp and paper mill was built in 1948, and over the next year, many new commercial and public buildings were erected including a swimming pool, a new building for the Treasury Branch, and various government buildings.

Red Deer General Hospital

The city continued to expand when the Village of North Red Deer amalgamated with Red Deer proper. With such rapid expansion, Red Deer experienced a slew of new problems. The construction industry could not keep up with the demand for housing while the city could not meet demands for infrastructure and utilities to accommodate the new subdivisions. To pay for new infrastructure, the City of Red Deer seized properties with tax arrears and raised property taxes.

Significant industrial growth continued throughout the 1950s as numerous oil industry warehouses opened in the area. In addition, Red Deer gained a transformer plant, a brewery and an egg-processing plant. Oil and gas exploration continued in the area, and in 1953, oil was discovered in Joffre, northeast of Red Deer. Between 1951 and 1954, Red Deer's population rose from 7575 to nearly 10 000, and building permits soared to nearly 4 million dollars a year. City debt increased to 2.5 million dollars by 1955. The city showed no signs of slowing down causing Red Deer's property taxes to soar, soon becoming the highest in the province.

Red Deer in the 1980s

By the 1960s, Red Deer's status as a major city was assured. The completion of a four lane highway between Calgary and Edmonton solidified Red Deer's role as a regional distribution centre. The city now gained new residential areas, parklands, an Olympic sized swimming pool, and in 1963, on the 50th anniversary of its incorporation as a city, Red Deer built a new city hall. That same year, the economic boom reached its peak, with construction contracts reaching a new high of 11 million dollars. Between 1963 and 1964, Red Deer's population rose nearly 10 percent, maintaining its title as Canada's fastest growing city.

Red Deer's growth slowed considerably after 1963. A number of key industries were forced to close, including the brewery and rubber plant. After years of prosperity, the local agricultural community started to decline when markets shrank and prices began to decrease. The economy would rebound when international oil prices sky-rocketed during the 1970s.

In 1974, a multimillion dollar ethylene plant was built northeast of the city. In the late 1970s, Red Deer experience yet another boom of staggering proportions-its population jumping from about 30,000 in 1975 to more than 46,000 in 1981. Building activity soared to nearly 140 million dollars a year, with new manufacturing plants, office towers, shopping malls, hotels, apartment blocks, and residential developments going up constantly, particularly in the growing north side of the city. New public and community developments also went up including the G.H. Dawe Community centre, several schools, a library, a pool, an arena, and the city's 75th Anniversary project in 1980, the Red Deer Museum.


Alberta Department of Business and Tourism. Ponoka Survey. 1974.

Alberta Department of Business and Tourism. Stettler Survey. 1974.

Alberta Department of Business and Tourism. Wetaskiwin Survey. 1974.

Alberta Department of Economic Affairs. Survey of Stettler. 1959.

Alberta Department of Industry and Development. Survey of Ponoka. 1963.

Alberta Department of Industry and Development. Survey of Stettler. 1964.

Alberta Department of Industry and Development. Survey of Wetaskiwin. 1960.

Dawe, Michael. Red Deer: An Illustrated History. Red Deer and District Museum Society, the City of Red Deer Archives and the Red Deer Visitor and Convention Bureau, 1996.

Hambly, J.R. Stan, Ed. A Light into the Past: A History of Camrose 1905-1980. Camrose Historical Society, Gospel Contact Press, 1980.

Ponoka 1904 to 1954: 50th Anniversary. Ponoka Herald, 1954.

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.

Sylan Lake Chamber of Commerce. “A Brief History of Sylvan Lake.” Retrieved March 27, 2009 from http://www.sylvanlakechamber.com/history.htm

Town of Rocky Mountain House. “Demographics.” Retrieved March 30, 2009 from http://www.rockymtnhouse.com/town-demo.htm

The Days Before Yesterday: History of Rocky Mountain House District. Rocky Mountain House, Alberta: Rocky Mountain House Reunion Historical Society, 1977.

Town of Sylvan Lake. “A Town for All Seasons – Sylvan Lake: Growth Strategy.” September, 2008. Retrieved March 27, 2009 from http://www.town.sylvan-lake.ab.ca/press-release/Sylvan-Lake-Growth-Strategy.pdf

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