Forgotten Alberta

Sights and Stories of the Southeast

The Alberta Land Company

Posted on | July 12, 2010 | No Comments

As the Canadian Pacific Railway was busy sinking money into its two million acre irrigation project on the north side of the Bow, other similar schemes on the south side of the river hoped to capitalize on the growing demand for irrigated lands.

One such scheme was promoted by the Alberta Land Company, which was formed in 1911 by British investors with the goal of transforming nearly 90,000 acres of virgin grassland south of Bow City into an agricultural oasis. According to John Schmidt, columnist and author of Growing up in the oil patch, the Alberta Land Company was established as a subsidiary of the Southern Alberta Land Company (SALC), with its “capital” to be situated in Bow City.

The Alberta Land Company’s holdings were spread across three townsites, running 18 miles from just outside of Bow City, southward to within a stone’s throw of the Southern Alberta Land Company ‘s main canal near the future village of Retlaw. Construction on the Alberta project would receive the go-ahead in February 1912, with the Southern Alberta Co. being contracted to build its irrigation works, and provide water for the project.

Like the Southern Alberta Land Company and other on-going irrigation projects in the southeast, the Alberta Land Company project struggled with the conditions imposed upon them by the federal government.  According to John Gilpin, author of Prairie Promises: History of the Bow River Irrigation District, these stipulations would lead to inefficiencies, placing these projects in serious jeopardy.

“The construction activities of the Southern Alberta Land Company were driven by the Robins agreement, which required the completion of a system capable of irrigating 95,143 acres before land sales could begin. The result was a construction project stretching from Carseland to Suffield. The company attempted to build all the major components of the system at once. This approach increased costs and the difficulty of managing the project. The company was unable to phase in construction of its major works.”

In the case of the Alberta Land Company, the federal government stipulated that two-thirds of the total acreage granted to the Alberta Land Company was conditional, based upon 25 per cent of the land being placed under irrigation. With the Alberta Land Company unable to sell a single acre before it met these conditions, cash flow difficulties inevitably arose.

As Europe grew nearer to conflict, and the purse strings of British investors snapped tight, the kind of money required to sustain operations until conditions were met became impossible to acquire. By summer 1914, mere months after the C.P.R. finished its Bassano Dam project and water began to flow to the first users, the well would run dry for the Alberta Land Company. It, along with the Southern Alberta Land Company, and its other subsidiary, the Suffield-based Canadian Wheatlands Ltd would go into receivership. While water would eventually flow in a big way to the parched prairies south of the Bow, the Alberta Land Company’s failure couldn’t have come at a worse time for Bow City.

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    Drawing on 100+ years of family history in southeastern Alberta, Prairie Post columnist Jonathan Koch highlights the region's almost forgotten pioneer-era people and places.

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