As in other Alberta towns and cities, the development of the
gas and and oil industry in Whitecourt led to significant developments
in the retail and service industries. The downtown and other areas
of Whitecourt evolved rapidly to meet the needs of the various
oilfield personnel moving into the area. Both the oilfield and
forestry helped keep Whitecourt from the fate that befell other
small Alberta towns during this time.
Towns not well situated for the oil and gas boom suffered also
from agricultural changes. Farm equipment modernization led to
an exodus from many rural areas largely dependent on this sector.
First, there was a doubling or tripling in size of equipment.
A 1940's seeder might be twelve to fourteen feet wide. A 1960's
seeder was 36 to 42 feet wide and was pulled in gangs by larger
As well as being larger, the machines could do more. In the 1940's,
combines were pulled by tractor, cutting the grain and allowing
attendant windrowers or swathers to arrange the grain in windrows
for proper curing before threshing. By the 1950's, the combine
models also picked up the grain and threshed it. In a further
refinement, the combined became self-propelled, doing away with
the tractor driver, as well as the swathers. One farmer with a
machine could now do the work that ten had done previously.
In 1941, almost half of Alberta's population (48.2 per cent)
lived outside of towns and cities. By 1966, that number had declined
to 19.2 per cent. Even within the rural population, the number
of fulltime farmers declined. In addition to automation, erstwhile
farmers were also driven into towns and cities by the financial
pressures brought about through the need for expensive machinery,
even while produce prices stayed relatively constant. A bushel
of wheat that would fetch $2.75 in 1918 would still only bring
about $3.00 a bushel in 1960.
The upshot was that towns such as Cloverdale, Langdon and Mercoal
fell on hard times. Their predicament wasn't helped by the decreased
demand for coal, which was an industry in some of towns. In many
cases, one small town's loss was another's gain. Whitecourt was
well positioned to absorb some of the population from dying towns,
as it leveraged its natural oil and forestry advantages to create
a thriving business environment.
The following is an update from the Whitecourt history book Sagitiwah
Saga, by Doreen Olecko, which covers some of the people and businesses
involved in the growth of Whitecourt's retail and service sector.
The reader following the Advisor history series will recognize
some pioneer names amongst the entrepreneurs taking advantage
of the oil boom.
In 1956, Joff Hill sold his meat business to Archie Dumont and
it became known first as Dumont Foods and then a little later
as the M. & M. Meat Market. The name was coincidental regarding
Whitecourt's current M&M Meat Shop.
Jerry Graham retired from the Post Office in 1956, and Vic Young
became the Postmaster. The post office was established in the
back of the meat market building in 1956. Then in 1960 it was
moved to a newly constructed building on 51 Avenue. This building
is currently home to some small businesses, as the Post Office
moved on once again.
Joff Hill, in the meantime, had opened a Men's Wear and Variety
Store in a building on Main Street in 1957. In 1958 the "variety"
section of the Men's Wear store was leased to Ken Argue who converted
this part to a drug store. Shortly thereafter, a larger building
was built across the street and Ken Argue moved his drug store
over there. The drug store was then sold to G. Lundgren around
In 1959 Joff Hill also took over the Whitecourt Lumber Store,
operating it as Hill's Red and White. In 1963 he sold the building
to Ed Zutz who started a furniture store in it. Joff moved the
grocery business into a new building next to the Men's Wear, becoming
part of the Tom-Boy chain. In 1966 Hill's Men's Wear was sold
to Marshall Patterson and the Tom-Boy to Western Grocers, who
in turn sold the Tom-Boy shortly after to Al Frizzell and a partner.
Another business to move in during the late 50's was the National
Supply. It was situated in an old rooming house. This was destroyed
by a fire in 1959.
The Imperial Bank once again located in Whitecourt around 1956.
Their first "bank" was in a small house, behind the
other businesses fronting on the main street. This was so small
it was almost "a one person at a time in it" bank. Many
people recall lining up outside the door waiting their turn. Around
1959, the bank moved to a new location where the Night Deposit
is presently located. This later became an early home of the Alberta
A small building just to the north of Dumont Meats was put up
in 1960 and served as the doctors' office. Later, the doctors
began seeing patients in the old Nurses' Home and Allen Sulatycky
located his lawyer's office in the front part of this building.
In the back was a dentist's office where Dr. Olson came in once
weekly to tend to patients. Allen Sulatycky became the Liberal
M.P. for this constituency in 1968 - going down to defeat against
Progressive Conservative Leader Joe Clark in 1972.
Sadie McClintock built a dress shop next to the Masonic Hall
on Main St. in 1957. She sold this in 1966 and the store morphed
into Arnell's Men's Wear. This building was later demolished to
make way for the present day location of the Alberta Treasury
Battagin Stores of Mayerthorpe which had been operating there
since 1939 put up their store on Main Street in Whitecourt in
1960. Son Rowland Battagin moved to Whitecourt to manage the store.
This later became Home Hardware and is now the home of The Party
Gould and Sons Insurance Co. set up business in the downtown
in 1960. Janet's Gift Shop opened in a small house on Main Street
and Bill Ish Electric set up shop next door to the Whitecourt
Hotel, around 1960.
Jerry Graham's old insurance building, opposite the Whitecourt
hotel was moved about this time. Mr. Graham had retired one or
two years earlier.
In the mid 60's, members of the Masonic Lodge built a new hall
up on the hilltop. The old hall on Main Street was converted into
a store building and has housed several businesses, including
Whitecourt Upholstery. During the 60's there were two laundromats,
one next to the Legion and one known as King Koin Laundry.
In 1963 Consolidated Dry Cleaners and Laundry took over the Dumont
Foods - M. & M. Meat Market building. In 1966 fire broke out
in the living quarters at the back of the store occupied by owner.
N. Bumphrey. The family escaped but due to a temporary shortage
of water, the whole building was destroyed. Fortunately the Bumphreys
were in the process of moving to a new location in the King Koin
Laundry building and were able to rush their building program
and carry on business shortly thereafter. After moving to the
new building, it was renamed Whitecourt Cleaners & Launders.
The El Rancho Cafe between Klymoks and the King Koin Laundry
started in 1963. Vic Kraft ran this for several months and sold
it to "Pancho" Albertyne. This building was sold, remodeled
and renamed The Bar-B-Que Pit. In the 1970's it was renamed The
Lamplighter. Frank Laub built and operated the Whitecourt Bakery
around 1963 across the street from the old Town office.
Gordon Ash began his Whitecourt Jewelry Store in the Gould building,
operating there from 1956 to 1960 when the Insurance Agency was
born. Mr. Ash then moved into the Wiggins Plumbing building, opposite
the present day Town Administration offices. A few years later
this store was expanded.
Bill James operated Bill's Men's Wear on 52 Ave. An added feature
to this store was "steam baths and showers in the basement."
When Bill ceased operating his business in 1965, Ogden Electric
moved into the building.
Jeffries Hardware, later to become Valley Hardware, then Revelstoke,
was built at the far end of 50th Avenue in the late 50's. "Mac's
Woodwork" also operated close to Valley Hardware but was
destroyed by fire in 1964.
In 1957-58 the Atlas Lumber Co. established themselves in Whitecourt
and put up a sawmill. The Atlas Co. was taken over by Revelstoke
Companies Ltd. in 1963.
In the mid 50's the Merrifield family started a dairy business
which has been expanded and modernized over the years. Starting
with just three cows and delivering raw milk by horse drawn van,
the "Merri Dairy" operation grew as the surrounding
district grew. In 1970 a pasteurizing and homogenizing process
was added and in 1971 milk was being delivered in plastic packages.
When the milk was bottled the dairy sold 700-800 quarts a day.
In plastic, over 1600 quarts a day became available for sale.
In 1959 a local newspaper once again began to appear. It had
been long time since Charles Alpine had published the Whitecourt
News Record, from 1914 to 1917, while waiting for the train in
vain. The new paper was called "The Whitecourt Echo"
but usually only carried one page of Whitecourt news items, sometimes
not even that. Cecil Mcllwaine was the local "editor"
working with "reporters" Ed Zutz and Ev Gunderson. The
paper was printed by a Mr. Pugh in Edmonton. Doris Flasha took
over the editor/reporter job in 1960. All those working for the
"Echo" found it somewhat frustrating in that the printed
stories and facts quite often did not resemble the copy they sent
In June. 1962, Yellowhead Publishers Ltd. of Edson opened a newspaper
office in Sadie's Dress Shop in Whitecourt. W. J. Owens of Edson
was named Editor of the new paper, called "The Whitecourt
Star." Although the paper was printed in Edson at the Yellowhead
plant, it did focus on Whitecourt news. Owens commuted to Whitecourt
and got the paper well established but after six months found
the pace too hectic, so in November 1962, Ross Quinn of Whitecourt
became Editor of the Whitecourt Star. Under Ross's jurisdiction
the paper kept abreast of local happenings and gradually increased
in size. The Whitecourt Echo ceased publication in the spring
After operating out of his home for a few years, Ross moved the
Star to the Meier Building (next to the old Post Office) and began
Whitecourt Publishing Ltd., doing job printing. On August 31,
1968 Ross purchased the Whitecourt Star from the publisher Doug
Caston of Yellowhead Publishers in Edson and the Star then became
part of Whitecourt Publishing Ltd. and truly a local production.
Whitecourt Publishing, after increasing staff and modernizing
its equipment, moved into its own building on 50th Avenue in 1973.
Barry Banulius then became editor, with Mr Quinn remaining as
owner and publisher.
Next month, the Advisor will cover the early Whitecourt boom
years and politics. This will be a summary of Chapter 20 of the
book Sagitiwah Saga, put into the context of wider Alberta history,
and some cases world history. Those interested in Whitecourt's
history can purchase Sagitiwah Saga from the Once Upon a Time
book shop on 51st Ave, next to the Vista Theatre or from the Forestry