Formation of the Provincial Horticultural Station

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 From its roots as the Canadian Pacific Railway's demonstration farm during the Great Depression, the Crop Diversification Centre South at Brooks has evolved as a leader in horticulture and special crops research development and extension.

"In the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930's, with operational losses of as much as $400,000 recorded for the Eastern Section alone, the CPR decided to suspend its involvement in the irrigation business. Farmers were to be given an opportunity to take over the irrigation projects. The first irrigation blocks to be taken over by the water users were in the eastern section and became the Eastern Irrigation District (EID). The transfer was completed on May 1, 1935.

The EID took over ownership of all the lands formerly held by the railway company, including those lands which had been used as the demonstration and Headquarters Farms. The transfer to the EID also included buildings and equipment, with $300,000 of working capital.

Because local water users had neither the expertise nor the funding to operate the horticultural lands operated by the CPR, negotiations to transfer these lands in the Brooks area to the government of Alberta and/or the University of Alberta commenced in January 1935. H. A. Craig, Deputy Minister of Agriculture, in correspondence to the Minister of the day, the Honorable F. G. Grisdale, noted the extent of the horticultural work:

I was quite surprised to find the extent of the horticultural work established. It comprises of three fairly large plantations of apple and plum trees, a certain amount of small fruits and a great deal of ornamental fruits and shrubs. Most of this planting has been done on an area irrigated through a pumping station; some very valuable experimental, or demonstration work however, has been laid down in an area irrigated by gravity. This includes quite a number of wind-breaks, some of which are ten years old. It is by far the best horticultural collection which there is in the province.

Mr. Craig suggested that the Canadian Pacific Railway Co. was prepared to hand the property over to the government and the university without charge and recommended that the property be accepted.

There were apparent difficulties in firmly establishing what properties were to be transferred to the EID and which properties where to be transferred to the government. In the end the CPR transferred all properties to the EID, with the assurance that the designated properties would be transferred by the EID. On May 8, 1935 an agreement was reached. The agreement stated that the property known as the Demonstration Farm (185 acres) and a portion of the Headquarters Farm (180 acres) would be transferred to the province. The transfer was to include one house on the Demonstration Farm and three houses on the Headquarters Farm, tools, implements, equipment and horses sufficient to operate the property. This was the formation of the Provincial Horticultural Station.

The decision to have the EID, rather than the CPR, transfer the horticultural lands to the government, created nothing but controversy. A steady stream of correspondence between the Deputy Minister and/or the Minister of Agriculture and the manager of the Eastern Irrigation District or their solicitor from 1935 through the 1940's and the early 1950's indicates that the original verbal agreement was interpreted many different ways, depending on the perspective of each individual.

The initial conflict arose in 1935 when a portion of the “government land” was sold to the National Food Products Ltd. for the construction of a canning factory. The EID suggested that this sale was contrary to the agreement, which carried the provision that the land transferred to the government would revert to the irrigation district in the event of it being utilized by anyone other than the Government of the Province of Alberta. In 1942, to support this claim, the EID filed a caveat against the government properties, with the intent of preventing any further transactions. The validity of this caveat was challenged several times. On May 5, 1953 the Attorney General’s Department requested that the caveat be withdrawn by the EID, citing correspondence from a number of people who believed that the transfer of lands was intended as a gift by the CPR and that no restrictions were imposed.

The issue of the land caveat was never resolved, even though all the original land was eventually sold by the Government. In 1972, the Government of Alberta proposed the sale of two of the original houses transferred by the CPR and again the EID identified that they held a caveat on the property."

Taken from From the Bald Prairie: A History of the Crop Diversification Centre South by T.R. Krahn, 2000.

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For more information about the content of this document, contact Shelley Barkley.
This information published to the web on June 4, 2003.
Last Reviewed/Revised on January 3, 2019.