Boom Too

The war to end wars had just turned to be the first act. By 1939 Aviation was the front line for fighting wars. Canada assumed the lead in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, which was to train 167,000 allied air crew by war’s end. Edmonton with Canada’s first official airport, and a hub for flights north became a busier place. After the USA entered the war Edmonton was first stop for construction of the Alaska Highway, the CANOL (Canadian Oil) pipeline from Norman Wells to Alaska and the Northwest Staging Route, a series of all weather airports for delivering aircraft to the Soviet Union under the USA lend lease program.

Edmonton already had a housing shortage before the war, housing for military and civilians stationed in or passing through Edmonton became acute. Not much more than emergency measures to create temporary housing could be done, as once again the money and men needed for building houses had been deployed elsewhere. Edmonton did get about 450 war time houses built by the federal government.

Peoples Weekly, November 30, 1946

There would be no relief when the war was over. The discovery of the Leduc oil field in 1947 made Alberta a major petroleum player. Oil workers replaced the departed military. Refineries, pipelines and gas plants were springing up all around Edmonton along with the industries needed to build and maintain them.

The Edmonton housing shortage continued through the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. Garages were converted to living quarters, nearly every house had a ‘suite’ in the basement. The empty lots left by the 1914 bust were filling up. Building materials were in short supply at first, but Canada had plenty of trees. Builders became confident enough to build entire subdivisions on ‘spec’. A new provincial building code, and a Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation ensured that new homes in Edmonton were an acceptable quality and connected to water, sewer and electricity.

Growth in Edmonton and the rest of Alberta’s larger cities was steadily upward from 1945. Edmonton population of 112,000 in 1945 doubled by 1956 and again by 1974. Home prices increased, but so did wages. The ordinary guy making $4,000 a year in 1955, about the same as a teacher or skilled tradesperson, could afford the payments on a new $10,000.00 three bedroom bungalow. By 1975 that had inflated into the ordinary guy making $20,000 a year who could afford to finance a new $50,000 three bedroom bungalow.

The OPEC induced oil crises of the 1970’s made oil rich Alberta even more attractive. OPEC’s quadrupling the price of a barrel of oil in 1973 resulted in recession in most of the developed world, including Canada, with one exception. Alberta. People who were willing to work, but unable to find good paying jobs at home flocked to Alberta from every part of Canada and the world. Alberta, under the leadership of Peter Lougheed, ramped up investment in oil production, which in turn fueled growth in other industries, particularly construction. More homes were needed.

Hyper growth drove hyper inflation. That guy making 20K in 1975? was making double that in 1980. Once again it would end in tears.