Forgotten Alberta

Sights and Stories of the Southeast

Bow City’s well runs dry

Posted on | July 20, 2010 | No Comments

Just as Bow City’s civic fathers were launching a campaign to promote the Village to investors here and abroad, events a world away would have a deleterious effect on the “City of Natural Resources”.

Within weeks of Bow City’s proclamation as a village in June 1914, war would break out across Europe, stemming from the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, by a young Serbian nationalist named Gavrilo Princip.

By the second week of August, the major European powers including Great Britain had aligned themselves alongside or against each other in what would become known as the Great War. Members of the British Commonwealth, including Canada, rallied to the defence of King and Empire, prompting legions of young men, fuelled by the prospect of adventure and the promise of a speedy resolution, to volunteer for the Canadian forces. Unfortunately, like many things in this era, the truth was not always as advertised.

While the onset of war drove the price of grain to over a dollar a bushel in 1914, local farmers were left to curse their luck. A familiar pattern had set in, as any precipitation that fell in the spring was sucked out of the ground by a hot and dry summer, leaving farmers with severely reduced yields in the fall.

For settlers, the reality was starting to set in about the harsh lands from which they were trying to eke out an existence. In Settlers Along The Bow, a history of Bow City and Rainier, Harold Cragg recalls the ground being so hard that his father, O.E. Cragg, had to sharpen his plowshares and replace them every three hours as he worked the soil. Viola Corkish meanwhile remembers her stepfather, Thedora Koepke, moving his threshing unit 14 times in one day because the crops were so thin that year.

Meanwhile the mostly British money that had sustained the various mining, rail and irrigation interests throughout the area had, like the countryside, dried up. The collapse of the Alberta Land Company in the summer of 1914 meant that farmers south of the Bow would be left to look covetously across the river to the much maligned C.P.R. and their irrigation project if they wanted irrigated farm land.

While 125 people called the village home in 1914, not everyone was happy with the village’s sudden ascendency. Representatives of the Bow City Development Co. Ltd. (a subsidiary of the Prairie Coal Co.) who owned a number of lots within the townsite proper, were beginning to chafe at the property taxes they were now saddled with as a result of the village’s incorporation.

In a letter November 23rd letter to the Deputy Minister of Municipal Affairs, Jno. Perrie, the company protested that they were not advised of the intention of the few residents of Bow City to form a Village:

“We are of the opinion that a number of the petitions were not bona fide residents of the place at the time the petition was circulated and it is that matter we intend to investigate at the present time. Moreover we have been served with notices placing the assessment of vacant prairie at a very high figure.”

However, the protests were for naught, and as the residents rang in the New Year, good news appeared in the Brooks Bulletin about the presence of Prairie Coal Company in the village:

“…We are glad to note the Prairie Coal Co, have moved their head office from Calgary to this city. We understand that Mr. Westgate, managing director, is to devote his time to the formation of a company to build a railroad to Bow City. Mr. Westgate is a man of experience and businessability [sic], and is confident of results. He assures it of a roalroad [sic] being built to the city in the near future. A railroad is all that’s required to make Bow City one of the leading commercial cities of the west and we take this opportunity of assuring the promoter of the enterprise the co-operation of the citizens of Bow City and wish them Godspeed in their enterprise.”

With the mine doing brisk business throughout the winter of 1915, even more land fell under the jurisdiction of the village tax collector, as the town annexed an additional part of the SE-9-17-17 W4. The new Bow City council, consisting of Reeve W.J.P. Eyres, Councillors D.B. Campbell and Frank Vickers, and Sec. Treas. S.E. Armstrong reported that the village’s total assessment in 1914 was a whopping $765425.00, with $5489.33 in taxes levied that year. Not bad for 125 people.

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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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