1946 to 1950 - Post-War Push

In the excellent history series, Alberta in the Twentieth Century, the attitude of the returning WWII soldiers is described as rebellious. Contributor Shaefer Parker wrote that "when Alberta's farmer-soldiers came home from the Second World War, they were greeted by parents who were living little better than their pioneer forebears who had first broken the soil one generation before them. But their war veteran sons wanted change. They had enough of the self-restraint imposed by fifteen years of depression and war."

An early indication of the new activism was the Alberta's Farmer Union "non-delivery" strike, which started on September 6, 1946. The goal was to prevent price manipulation, that saw prices for farm produce fall, even as farmer's costs rose. Unlike the pre-railroad days, the lumber industry helped cushion Whitecourt from the worst of the farming economic problems.

A 'can-do' attitude translated into more and more independent portable sawmills becoming available for work in the bush in the area. These "gypo" outfits were productive enough that Western Construction contracted with them and shut down their big sawmill in town at the end of 1946. The Western planer at the mill kept going full bore, as the amount of lumber shipped increased year over year.

Western also expanded its ranch, down on the flats, which was used for stock raising; primarily horses used in forest work. Ralph Hawes managed the ranch from 1946 to 1949, before moving to Edmonton. By July 1954, he apparently had had enough of city living, and returned to run the ranch, for the next eighteen years. Ralph's wife Mollie was the niece of Mrs. Gertrude Atkinson Reay, Whitecourt's first teacher. In 1948 Western also purchased the lot on 50th street and 51st Avenue, tore down the old poolroom on it to erect a new store.

As stated last month, electrical service had been limited to nine street lights, the Western plant, and A.J. Millar's residence until 1947. In this year, Western made use of the excess capacity of a provincial government electrical plant to run metered lines into the town. The cost of the electricity at this time resulted in people using it sparingly, mainly for lighting.

The Whitecourt Forest Division was also formed in 1947. The first forestry building was a log cabin cache on the banks of the Athabasca, near today's Merrifield Farm. Rein Krause became the Forest Superintendent in 1948 and the lumber in the log cabin was moved up to the hilltop.

There was still just one phone in town for general use. With the Western phone and the C.N.R. phone, this made for a grand total of three phones for the area. Line-ups for calls were not infrequent.

Railway transportation had improved to the extent that there was now a 'fast train' into Edmonton twice weekly. It was comprised of passenger cars only and made the trip in five hours. The 'slow train', with mixed freight and passenger cars still went four times a week, taking a full day to make the trip. Cars were still not too much in evidence, with Rein Krause recalling that his arrival in 1948 put the automobile population of Whitecourt at seven.

In 1946 the Legion once again went into the movie business. This time they decided to run their own show. They purchased a motion picture outfit plus the Montemurro screen which had been left in the Hall since the previous Legion effort to set up a movie theatre in the1930's. Funds were raised by selling shares. Despite some financial problems and temporary shutdowns, the movies had finally arrived in Whitecourt to stay.

The Legion also accepted responsibility for the District Nurses Home in 1946, which they continued until the Whitecourt Municipal Nurses Home Society was formed in 1950. In 1947, the Legion took over the management and ownership of the Whitecourt Cemetery. William Glass had donated the two acre plot. A surveyor was employed who laid out the boundary lines, along with a centre road. The Roman Catholic Church looked after the north plot, while the Legion tended to the other side.

In the political sphere, Whitecourt and area had gone solidly Social Credit, along with the rest of rural Alberta. A.V. Boucier was first elected in the Socred landslide of 1935 and represented what was then the Lac Ste. Anne constituency throughout the war years and onward to 1952.

Boucier was one of the Social Crediters who considered monetary reform to be a critical part of truly representative governance. As a result, when Manning dropped the Social Credit focus on monetary reform, Boucier rebelled and eventually was expelled from the party. He sat with other dissidents, such as Arthur Wray who had been re-elected as an Independent Social Crediter.

Scapegoating, or Anti-Semitism, was an unfortunate aspect regarding the views of some of the monetary reformers. Premier Manning made clear that such views were incompatible with the established British ideals of democratic freedom. Previously Socred Premier, William Aberhart had made the point that such racist views were un-Christian.

Bingo games on a regular basis became part of the Whitecourt entertainment calendar in 1949. Curling, too, had become quite popular by 1949. Oldtimer Joff Hill described the recreation scene in Whitecourt at this time.

Joff relates that "the curling rink was built in 1949 but one has to go back a couple of years to really find out why and how it came about. Recreation in 1946 was very limited for the younger generation, or for that matter, all ages. The population of our village was something like 300 and believe it or not only four automobiles were in the village at that time.

For the summer months we had a two court tennis court, located on the property that the town's Recreation Hall is currently built on. The people in charge of it at that time were Nurse Attreaux, Mrs. Dolly Graham. George Jackson Jr., Fred Harrison. Mrs. Jean Miller, Mrs. Vera Gray and Mrs. Margaret Berget to mention a few. To the north of the tennis court was the open air skating rink, which at that time had a girls' hockey team as well as a men's team. Lighting was with a 32 volt light plant and the ones who looked after it were, to mention only a few, Norman Stewart, Harry Johnson, Fred Reed, Joe Cymbala.

Our ball diamond was on the north-east corner of the school grounds. The swimming hole was about a half a mile upstream from the present McLeod Bridge. Other activities were a show three times a week in the old Legion Hall and dances every Saturday night.

Getting back to the curling rink, during the winter of 1946-7, Joff Hill persuaded Mr. Kidney, manager of the Western Store, Jack Hamilton, the C.N.R. Tie Inspector, and Allan Millar to go to Mayerthorpe to play a couple of pick up games. Again in 1947-48, R.C.M.P. season Constable Jack Hovie, Peter Konzuk from the D.O.T., Al Millar and Joff Hill went to curl at the spiels in Mayerthorpe. In 1948-9 Harry Wedow replaced Jack Hovie.

Interest was created around town and so Mr. Millar said, 'Okay, we will build out own rink.' He donated equipment and help and the present property was obtained. The Western Construction donated all the lumber and our two sheet rink was built with a waiting room on the north end of the building. The first President was Peter Konzuk. Mixed curling was what we had at that time and every night of the week it was filled to capacity. The dues were something like $7.00 for Ladies and $10.00 for Men. The ladies' curling club was formed in 1950-1 with Evelyn Gunderson the first President and Bert Hill the Secretary. These facilities were used until 1960.

During the early years we had very keen involvement for top honors in the school girls' and school boys' curling for this zone. Our girls team were runners-up for three years in a row. Most of these girls and boys are still in Whitecourt, married with families of their own. In 1951-2, Mayerthorpe held their first Fridge Bonspiel, which was won by Joff Hill, Peter Konzuk, Allan Millar and Harry Wedow. The runner-up was Claude Gould and his rink from Sangudo."

However, as the 1940's drew to a close, Whitecourt was about to undergo rapid development. Rather than the railway bringing the long sought after prosperity, as the original settlers had hoped, the impetus for the growth was to be oil and gas. On February 13, 1947, after drilling 133 consecutive dry holes, Imperial Oil had an oil strike near Leduc. Toolpush Vern 'Dry Hole' Hunter and his crew brought in the successful well in front of an assembled crowd of 500, complete with dignitaries, after Imperial decided to time the completion of the well to make a PR event of the strike.

Rather than the predicted time of 1 p.m., it was shortly before 4 p.m. that the well came in. As Dry Hole Hunter explained “the crew and I were experts at abandoning wells but we didn’t know much about completing them. I named February 13 and started praying.” As luck would have it, although the rig was fairly new, it had one older component “that we never used because we never had to bring in wells before…This piece of machinery must have been 23 years old and the shaft broke.” In any case, rig workers were about to get a lot more experience at bringing wells in, as the initial Leduc success was quickly followed up by others. The strike stimulated further exploration around Alberta. Whitecourt was to be one of the towns well situated near oil and gas pools. Boom times were about to start for the town.