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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
of volunteers

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Red CrossAs best they could, Alberta’s volunteers tried to give produce, clothing, and opportunities for some levity in these grimmest of circumstances. For example, churches established relief societies. The Rotary Club of Edmonton and the Boy Scouts of Canada operated a camp for underprivileged boys. Albertans devoted themselves to diversions as a way of lessening the harsh effects of the Depression. Some favourite pastimes included: playing spontaneous hockey games, watching free minstrel shows, listening to the radio, going to the horse races, and for those who could afford it, seeing movies. The YWCA provided food, accommodation, and job training for unemployed women and girls. The YMCA offered wrestling classes to unemployed men. The Calgary Herald sponsored a toy shop run by boy scouts and girl guides. Volunteers formed numerous advocacy associations to address unemployment and social issues.  Line up

While economic conditions can have a black and white rationale, there is no reasoning with the weather. Alberta’s drought of the 1920s paled in comparison to the disasters of the1930s that left the province in an Armageddon-like state. Droughts, grasshopper infestations, wind storms, and fires left much of southern Alberta a barren landscape. When rain did fall, the eroded or fire scorched land could not absorb the water, and major flooding resulted. People abandoned their homes. Towns disappeared. People living hand-to-mouth were on the move.

Destitute Fehr family

The provincial government’s response to the Depression crisis did not win the respect of the masses. What further acerbated the public’s disrespect for Brownlee was a widely broadcast sex scandal involving young government stenographer Vivian MacMillian. In 1934, Premier Brownlee resigned.

The relatively untainted Social Credit Party, with William Aberhart as leader, promised hope of economic and moral recovery to Alberta’s desperate masses. As an educator, lay preacher, and radio personality, Aberhart attracted religious and community leaders. The Social Credit swept into power in 1935. Premier Aberhart’s proposed solutions to pull Alberta out of the Depression proved too simple and ineffective for matters so complex. "Bible Bill", as he came to be known, stayed in office until his death in 1943. With Ernest Manning as Alberta’s premier, the Social Credit remained the ruling party until the 1970s.

The Second World War (1939-1945) pulled Alberta out of its economic crisis. Thousands of people enlisted in the war effort, some fuelled by nationalism or the promise of adventure and others still by economic desperation. Women also enlisted as nurses and in the women’s division of the armed forces, including the Royal Canadian Air Force, Women’s Army Corps (CWAC), and the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS). Only a small percentage of women actually served overseas. Women in the armed forces were mainly confined to work as clerks, office personnel, ground crews, storeroom workers, or drivers.

Gruman Goose aircraftFactories opened in Alberta. The departure of so many people left gaps in the work force, which enabled many women to enter new fields as paid workers. The establishment of Army bases brought a military presence to Alberta, and posed a new requirement for modern buildings, hangers, and run ways. Besides boosting the construction industry, Alberta’s 17 Air Training Schools gave service industries a tremendous business and brought a new vigour to many towns and cities.

Construction of the Alaska Highway began in March 1942, and was completed 8 months later. The Highway was crucial as Alaska was deemed vulnerable to enemy attack, especially after Pearl Harbour (1941). Edmonton provided the Northwest Staging route for the U.S. defence plans to protect Alaska. Farm incomes rose. Importantly, there was a renewed interest in Alberta’s coal and oil resources.

Wartime measures included wage and price controls, and food and fuel rationing. Home front volunteer initiatives included saving stamps and victory bonds. There were large volunteer community drives to collect paper, rubber, and scrap metal. Women’s auxiliaries formed to collect items for hospitals, the armed forces, and for European bomb victims. The YWCA played significant voluntary role by providing social clubs, a housing registry, and daycares. Radios and newspapers relayed the loss, grief and loneliness of the overseas soldier, and presented sobering reminders that the war was killing thousands of people. Church and charity volunteers strived to help victims heal.

Red Cross

Albertans were reshaped by World War II. Returning service men and women brought back different world views and experiences. Many non-Anglo Albertans received legitimacy by mainstream society because they fought alongside fellow Canadians. Women had entered the paid labour force in unprecedented numbers. Volunteer advocacy groups were formed. Returning veterans were faced with rebuilding relationships and careers. Government programs were established that helped veterans. The Land Veteran’s Act provided veterans with land for farming, mainly in the Peace River district. The government provided equipment and built roads.

Post-war Alberta experienced a population shift from rural to urban. A serious housing shortage was resolved by establishing programs to build homes for veterans, with entire subdivisions developed strictly for this purpose. The University of Alberta was filled with veterans who took advantage of a government program that paid their tuition and gave them subsistence allowances. Overall, there was a great societal push for normalcy and for the security of family, home, and religion. Church attendance grew as did the birth rate, giving rise to the Baby Boomer generation. Many women who had been paid workers during the war returned to the comfort, or depending on one’s perspective, the confines of being wife, mother, and homemaker. Baby Boomers would in turn have a phenomenal influence over Alberta’s economy, social values, culture, and politics. Leduc Number 1 discovery well

The 1947 discovery of oil in Leduc heralded many provincial, economic, and social transformations. Almost mid-way through the 20th century, Alberta was launched into a new era.

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