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Volunteerism in Alberta: 100 years of Celebrating Community
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1925-1950
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Volunteerism
in Pre-1905 Alberta

Becoming a Province
1905-1924

1925-1950

1950-1975

1975-2000

2005 - 100 years
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Unemployed peopleOne of the first matters that Premier John Edward Brownlee’s government tackled was the creation of programs that would help farmers recover from the recession and the severe drought that plagued Alberta in the early 1920s. Hundreds of farms had been abandoned. Many farmers moved up to the Peace River district because the drought was less severe in that area. Peace River communities were relatively isolated by forests, muskeg, and poor road conditions. The arable land, however, was fertile and a wonder to those who suffered through the dust bowl conditions to the south. Whether Albertan-born or immigrant, settlers made the Peace country their home by planting crops, building churches, houses and farm buildings, establishing businesses, forming organizations and clubs, and volunteering in various events.

Other frustrated farmers moved into urban areas or headed south to the United States. Anglo-Alberta still preferred British, American and northern European immigrants but they were not coming in sufficient numbers. The Canadian government and the CPR and the CNR entered into a 1925 Railway Agreement that would attract central and eastern European immigrants. This task was not difficult because post-war Europe was in political and cultural chaos. Approximately half of the 72,000 immigrants who arrived in Alberta from 1926 to 1930 were from Central and Eastern Europe. Most newcomers settled in rural Alberta with relatives, friends, or fellow countrymen. This trend reinforced Alberta’s pluralistic ethnic communities. Life was hard for new immigrants. Many were isolated from mainstream Alberta by religion and language. They came to Alberta poor, were often used as cheap labour, and were ineligible for government relief. Obtaining their own farms was just an impossible dream for many.

Generally, non-Anglo immigrants who chose to settle in urban areas were cast into low paying occupations such as seasonal labour and domestic work. Not all newcomers, however, were farmers, domestics, or labourers. Immigrants were also trades people, merchants, and artisans. There are numerous urban and rural success stories about how Alberta’s immigrant groups depended upon each other and developed a network of community initiatives that included co-operatives, schools, clubs, sports, dances, music, businesses, churches, community halls, and agricultural societies.

The inception of the Alberta Wheat Pool and a 1925 bumper crop created a sense of confidence and prosperity. Some farmers enlarged their holdings, took advantage of farm mechanization, and in some instances increased their debts to banks and mortgage companies at an alarming rate. Urban land developers, business owners, and professionals – usually of Anglo origins – enjoyed comfortable, sometimes prosperous lifestyles.

Emily Murphy A group of Alberta women who made the headlines and became known as the "Famous Five" changed women’s rights throughout Canada in the late 1920s. Judge Emily Murphy was the first woman magistrate in the British Empire. As magistrate of the newly-created Women’s Court in Edmonton, she became aware that women could not be appointed to the Senate because The British North America (BNA) Act declared, "Women are persons in matters of pain and penalties, but are not persons in matters of rights and privileges." In consultation with several lawyers, Emily Murphy learned that any five persons could initiate an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada for clarification on any part of The British North America Act. In 1927, Emily Murphy joined forces with four other prominent Alberta women: Henrietta Edwards, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, and Irene Parlby. The "Persons Case" came before the Supreme Court of Canada on April 24, 1928. These five women asked the Court: "Does the word ‘person’ in Section 24 of The British North America Act include female persons?" The Court’s answer was that individuals must be "fit and qualified" to be appointed to a public office and therefore only men were eligible. The "Famous Five" then took their case to the Privy Council of England, which at that time was Canada's highest court of appeal. On October 18, 1929, the Lord Chancellor of the Privy Council declared, "Women are eligible to be summoned and may become Members of the Senate of Canada."

Transient manThe Great Depression or the "Dirty Thirties" had a devastating impact on urban and rural Albertans. The New York Stock Exchange crash in 1929 was a contributing factor that led to Alberta’s deepening economic and social woes. The 1920s were different from any other decade in human history because mass production, consumption, and media linked and created interdependence between nations. The "crash" set off a global chain reaction. Investment capital dried up. Banks called in loans and foreclosed mortgages. World trade was inhibited.

Alberta production took a nose dive. Wheat pools in particular suffered from plummeting prices. In 1930, Premier Brownlee’s government rescued the Alberta Wheat Pool from bankruptcy and garnered the UFA another election victory. Railways and coal mines cut back operations. Masses of workers were laid off. Protest marches, communist-organized demonstrations, boycotts, labour unrest, hunger marches, family breakdowns, suicides, bankruptcies, riots, police conflict, and violence between strikers and supporters were living manifestations of a society that was in deep trouble.

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