West Central Alberta Post–War
Edson grew steadily in the post-war period but not without overcoming some major obstacles. Main Street was reshaped with many new buildings, among them a shopping mall with a large grocery store. There was a new Federal building erected in 1954, and a unique craft centre launched the same year. In 1957, construction began on a community pool. That same year, a badly needed town hall was built costing the community $148,000. In addition, offices, a library, police station, and health unit was built. This construction frenzy was a result of a growing population, which went from 1,956 in 1951 to 3,339 in 1961. Edson’s expansion put great strain on town finances; the town was on the verge of bankruptcy in 1954. The sale of the Edson Municipal Light and Powers system to Calgary Power for $305,000 helped Edson pay off much of its debt.
Edson’s growth coincided with the growth of industry in the west central Alberta. During the 1950s, Highway 16 was upgraded spurring a great increase in commercial and industrial traffic. This increase helped Edson and area to weather the decline of the coal industry in the post-war era, particularly after trains switched their fuel from coal to diesel. Mining operations in the big three mines of the coal branch – Cadomin, Mountain Park, and Luscar – ceased and the mines shut down. There were also setbacks in Edson’s forestry industry; the large pulp mill that was being planned north of Edson was moved to an area close to Hinton. The Western Pulp and Power Company bought up much of the forested land around the Edson area, resulting in a loss of railroad tie and logging camps. The industrial growth that did benefit Edson was the growth in the petroleum industry. The Solomon Creek area, northwest of Edson, was being drilled by nine oil companies in 1952. Meanwhile, Canadian Bechtell was building a Trans-Mountain Oil Pipeline from Edson to Vancouver, and the families of the construction workers were all housed in Edson. The oil exploration opened up new areas in West Central Alberta that eventually led to new settlement and the opening of new logging camps.
The prosperity created by the petroleum industry allowed Edson to grow during next decade, but not to the same extent as the 1950s. Edson’s population grew to 4,060 in 1971, up from 3,339 ten years earlier. The Hudson’s Bay Gas Processing Plant, built three miles west of town, provided work opportunities to locals, as did the construction of the Alberta Gas Trunk Lines’ pipeline to the United States. New developments in the coal industry aided Edson and area; Alberta Coal Ltd. began large stripping operations nearby, and a $200,000,000 agreement was signed between Japanese steel interests, Luscar Ltd., and Consolidated Coal Co. to reopen Luscar Mine. West Central Alberta’s tourism industry also grew; Willmore Recreational Park was expanded and modernized. Lion’s Park was developed with trails, a tourist centre, picnic areas, and tenting. In addition, the Silver Summit Ski Hill was developed 28 miles north of Edson. While forestry operations continued to be economically important to Edson, some timber lands were reserved for conservation in the Edson corridor and a tree farm was started.
Edson became a home base for many working in these industries; it was also the government headquarters for the area. But, the town could not keep pace with Hinton’s growth. After the war, Hinton suffered due to the collapse of the coal industry. But, Hinton’s fortunes changed when the enormous Northwest Pulp and Power Kaymar digestive mill was built from 1955 to 1957. Hinton’s growth was rapid. A new townsite was built some distance away from the original townsite, to correspond with the expected location of the new highway. 500 homes were built there for the employees of the Northwest Pulp and Power Mill. The two townsites were soon amalgamated. A desperately needed hospital opened in 1960, Hinton’s first hospital. By 1961, Hinton’s population reached 3,529, and ten years later, Hinton had grown to 4,060. The coal industry was revived after the Luscar Mine reopened in 1969, and the Cardinal River Coal mine was also launched at the beginning of the 1970s.
By the beginning of the 1970s, Edson and Hinton were about the same size. In 1973, Hinton’s building permits reached $2,015,000 while Edson’s was about 1.7 million dollars. Hinton’s prosperity was due in large part to the coal industry and to its ever expanding pulp mill. By mid-1970s, Hinton was forced to build a 5.3 million dollar hospital, the Hinton General Hospital.
Meanwhile, Edson benefited from a growing petrochemical industry. 55 miles northwest of Edson, plans were underway for a massive Chevron Plant; 1,600 men would live on site, and 2,500 buildings were constructed for the plant. The petrochemical industry also fostered the growth of support industries like the manufacture of pipeline insulation for gas pipelines. The most important of these support industries was the Petro-Care company in Edson, charged with the maintenance of oil and gas plants. Drilling companies were also active in the area.
Equally active was the coal industry. Japanese steel interests stepped up their demand for coking coal. As a result, new coal developments were planned for the area. The Coal Valley Mining project was operational by July of 1978, requiring 250 permanent employees to be stationed in Edson.
By the late 1970s, Edson was suffering a housing shortage. Edson’s population increased to 5671, a growth of 33% between 1976 and 1980, to 5671. The growth in population not only required the building of new residential subdivisions, but new services. Several new schools were built. A new hospital was built and an auxiliary hospital, St. John’s Healthcare Complex for the care of the old and infirm. Edson got an airport, which opened in 1976. Recreational facilities were needed. Edson Recreational Complex opened in the early 1980s. Willmore Recreation Park was redeveloped as an Edson resort, complete with a man made lake, a skill hill, a motor hotel, an observation tower, and hiking and riding trails.
Ahlf, Marguerite. Edson – 75 Years: A History of the Town, 1986.
Alberta Department of Business and Tourism. Edson Community Survey. 1974.
Alberta Department of Business and Tourism. Hinton Community Survey. 1974.
Bargery, Mary. Picture Hinton, Entrance, Brule and Cadomin. Hinton Municipal Library, 1999.
Industrial Development Branch. Department of Industry and Development. Government of the Province of Alberta. Survey of Edson. 1967.
Industrial Development Branch, Department of Industry & Development. Survey of Hinton. Government of the Province of Alberta, 1963.