Bushels to Barrels
From an economic development perspective, “bushels to the acre” was the benchmark of prosperity in early 20th century, similar to how barrels of oil serve as a key benchmark today. The development of the Western Irrigation project was the “oil sands” of its time, with CPR being the corporate giant investing millions in the city with their new Natural Resources building on 9th Avenue and new locomotive repair shop in Ogden which was touted as going to employ 5,000 people. It is interesting to note that CPR eventually moved its headquarters to downtown Calgary in the ‘90s, with plans now to relocate it to soon to be complete building in at its Ogden yards.
The grain elevators along the CPR tracks were to downtown Calgary 100 years ago as the office towers are today. Calgary companies controlled practically all of the elevators in Alberta says Bensusan. Indeed, Calgary was already well on its way to becoming a corporate headquarters city, citing it being ranked fifth in Canada as a commercial centre.
There is even reference to the fact the City purchased most of the land around the CPR railway to develop a manufacturing and industrial district. This was the beginning of the City of Calgary being a land developer, a role which continues today.
However, one thing has changed, in 1912, labour was well organized with 90% of Alberta’s workers being members of trade unions (today, only about 20% of Calgarians belong to a union). Bensusan notes in Calgary labourers often start their own businesses and become employers, which in turn make demand for labour almost always exceed supply. Sound familiar? Calgary, it appears, has been fostering entrepreneurs for over 100 years.
Pittsburg of Canada
Bensusan predicted Calgary would become the “Pittsburg of Canada” because of its abundance of natural gas, coal and electricity nearby and the strong network of 20 railway lines. He envisaged the population west of the Great Lakes would equal that of Great Britain and Ireland someday, with Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver becoming the three greatest cities of the continent. (Note: In 1911, Winnipeg’s population was 136,000, Vancouver’s 121,000 and Calgary’s 44,000.)
He points out Calgary enjoys three postal deliveries a day, has 5,000 telephone subscribers who have unlimited calls for $30/yr – something even London the capital of the British Empire, cannot compete with. Calgary was also said to have 50 miles of street railway track accommodating 8,838,057 passengers per year and making a $100,000 profit (this is not a typo). He goes on to say the expectation is that, in time, “public services will cover civic expenses and that a general tax levy will become a thing of the past.” We wish!
The early 20th century was a time when the British Empire was still strong and many young men left to seek their fortune in one of the many countries controlled by Britain. Bensusan notes that, in the case of Calgary, “people move there to make money and establish homes, not abandon it “as they do in South Africa where new immigrants make what they can and get out.”
In many ways, that remains true today. Young people flock to Calgary from across Canada and around the world, often thinking they will take advantage of the career opportunities the city presents and then return home or move on. However, more often than not, newcomers stay, raise a family and retire here. Bensusan observes, “Calgary’s charm must be felt to be appreciated, and once felt, you become a Calgary enthusiast like those who live there.” So true!
Already in 1912 Calgary is referred to as a business centre, industrial centre, agricultural centre, sporting centre and rapidly becoming an educational centre. Plans were already in place for the establishment of a university with a McGill College affiliation.