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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Post-War Growth (1945-1980)

After the Second World War, Medicine Hat's economy gradually improved. The census of 1951 recorded Medicine Hat's population at 16,340, finally exceeding its population of 1913, recorded at 13,000. Medicine Hat continued its efforts to lure industries to the area in the hopes of reestablishing the city as a manufacturing centre. To attract petrochemical industries to the city, the Chamber of Commerce offered the services of geologists, architects, engineers, and business consultants at no cost. Harry Veiner, mayor of Medicine Hat from 1952 to 1966 and 1968 to 1971, was successful in attracting industries underhandedly. He negotiated an unsanctioned land deal with Northwest Nitro-Chemicals, which resulted in a major plant being built in Medicine Hat in 1955. Four years later, another series of underhanded dealings lead to the establishment of a Goodyear Tire and Rubber plant within the city. Medicine Hat's natural gas industry also grew. The city negotiated with the province to reserve its natural gas rights within 1000 square miles of the city for 25 years. By 1955, Medicine Hat had 55 natural gas wells. The city's agricultural industry also received a boost through the St. Mary's Irrigation Project, which successfully brought moisture to the farmlands around Medicine Hat.

Birdseye view, Medicine Hat, Alberta. 1950.

Growth in the early sixties was substantial. Medicine Hat's population of 24,000 in 1961, jumped to 25,000 in 1962. The city grew steadily throughout the decade, but not at the same rate as other Albertan cities. The city was no longer unique in being able to offer cheap power to attract businesses. Moreover, the district's farmlands were still arid and not as ideal as the lands in Northern and Central Alberta. Medicine Hat's population increase was a direct result of a general trend towards urbanization. The slower growth rate was beneficial to the city's budget as city council did not have to borrow substantially to pay for huge infrastructure projects. In fact, in 1962, Medicine Hat had the lowest per capita civic debt in the province.

Steam power plant construction site, Medicine Hat, Alberta. October 1952.

If the 1960s was a decade of modest growth, the 1970s were truly transforming years for the manufacturing city. Growth picked up steadily in the first part of the decade, and in 1971, Medicine Hat College was opened, the third post-secondary institution of its kind in Alberta. Medicine Hat also opened its first malls-Southview and the Medicine Hat Mall. The natural gas industry was on the rise and in 1973 alone, 1262 gas wells were drilled in the district. The rise of the natural gas industry prompted a building boom. Building permits peaked in 1974 at 125 million dollars, and in 1975, 571 homes were built, breaking the 1913 record of 463 homes. The next year, 648 homes were built.

The City of Medicine Hat benefited from the expansion of the real estate industry. New corporate entrepreneurs like Harry Yuill and Tom Sunderland were making tremendous trides in the industry. In the second half of the decade, growth was running full steam ahead as skyrocketing oil prices stemming from the OPEC crisis precipitated an economic windfall in Alberta from 1975 to 1981. Medicine Hat became home to two major industrial plants, built by Alberta Gas and Chemicals Ltd. and Canadian Fertilizers Limited. However, once these major construction projects were completed in 1976, many construction workers left the city and the building boom died down. To compensate, the city poured money into capital projects including a new hospital, an airport, and a sewage treatment plant.

By 1981, Medicine Hat had retaken its title as the manufacturing capital of Alberta. The modestly sized city's population had reached 40,000, up from 26,000 in 1971, and its citizens enjoyed the lowest taxes in Alberta.

References

Gould, Ed. Medicine Hat: All Hell for a Basement. Medicine Hat: City of Medicine Hat, 1981.

Jones, David C., L.J. Roy Wilson, and Donny White. The Weather Factory: A Pictorial History of Medicine Hat. Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books, 1988.

Medicine Hat: Our Unforgettable History, 1885-2005. Medicine Hat News.

Wittmeier, Carmen. The Great Alberta Shake-Out. Alberta in the 20th Century, Vol. 10: The Sixties Revolution & the Fall of Social Credit. Edmonton: United Western Communications Ltd., 1991.

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