Puttin' the Rainmaker Out'a Business

C. J. BRODERICK April 15 1923

Puttin' the Rainmaker Out'a Business

C. J. BRODERICK April 15 1923

Puttin' the Rainmaker Out'a Business


A YEAR or two ago when a portion of Southern Alberta was sorely stricken by drought and the Official Rainmaker was stirring his mystic cauldron and working his magic night and day. we were driving through .the country to the north of Lethbridge. Tire trouble^ held us up for about an hour and. while waiting for repairs to be made, my attention was attracted to the figure of an old man in an adjacent field, his body rising and falling to the action of a pump handle. Up and down—up and down for a full half hour while I watched, the monotonous movement continued. It was a hot day—swelteringly hot —surely there must be some stern necessity that could drive a man on to this sort of labor. Finally I walk-ed over.

The water he was pumping was finding its way along a narrow ditch and thence down a slight dip into a small truck garden through which it was permitted to percolate. Against the sere and yellow background of burned out prairie land, the little garden made a gay splotch of color.

When I approached, the old man stopped and wiped the perspiration from his eyes, ''Jest trying t’ put that fool Rainmaker out'a business,” he grinned, pantingly. “Can’t somehow stand up t’ this like I uster—gettin’ a mite too oíd, I guess."

A series of dry years when the harvest was scant, but back of which were the wondrous years of 1915 and 1916 when he reaped sixty bushels of wheat to the acre, had made him clench his teeth and plod on. “It’ll come back—all we need is t’ stay with it a while longer it’ll come back—this South Country.”

As he talked, the tired, drawn look left his face, and his eyes lighted with the enthusiasm of his vision.

“Country looks pretty sick, eh? Jest you wait, though, we’re goin’ t git irrygation here. Should a had it ten year ago and would have, too, if they’d listened t’ me.”

Later, I was to learn that my friend of the pump was none “other than “Dad”

Pearson, the “Father of the Lethbridge Northern,” one óf the romantic figures of Southern Alberta.

Romance? They say that the romance of the West died when the Range was fenced. That was bizarre, spectacular. Romance really began when the cowboy vanished and the farmer arrived to wage his solitary struggle against a nature not always kind.

For weeks and months there would be ço rain and the fields would lie parched and gasping for moisture. The delicate green of the young grain would fade into a sickly yellow as it withered. Next year they would sow again and more plentifully than before, for surely rain must come now. And that year, the crop fails again, though the Rainmaker, like Mark Twain’s Merlin of old, works his magic frantically night and day.

Faith? Hope? Hadn’t they seen wonderful years, 1908, 1909, 1915, 1916? Who was tq say that next year would not repeat? Gamblers? If you like. Columbus gambled on faith and won a new world!

Aided by Adversity

AND so, in Southern Alberta, it is being proved again TN that adversity' makes men: makes them strong-

willed and keen to conquer. Adversity makes men like

Dad Pearson who, while fighting the present, can still look out and over to the horizon to where a new day dawns.

“If they’d paid ’tention to me,” said Dad, “we’d a had irrigation ten year ago.”

In 1910, Dad heard that the Honorable Frank Oliver, then Minister of the Interior in the Laurier Government, was to arrive in Lethbridge. He got busy. He tramped through the countryside carrying a petition praying for irrigation. Automobiles were not as plentiful then as now. The petition was signed and Dad presented it to the Honorable Frank. Later Ottawa advised Dad that his scheme was not practicable.

Listen, now, to Dad’s reply! \

To the Hon. Frank Oliver, Ottawa, Ont.

My Dear Sir:

Your favor of October 26th to hand and contents noted. Would say in reply that I, being duly authorized by the United Farmers of Alberta, Iron Springs District, to put this irrigation project before the Government, and I assure you that I cannot be sidetracked by your statement that “the Government has never undertaken irrigation canals but have left that enterprise to individual efforts” and why, let me ask you, leave so an important a task, to individual effort?

I further insist on your bringing this matter before the house and insist on the Government sending an engineer to look over the ground and determine the practicability, also the cost of same.

And we further insist that the Minister of the Interior draft a bill in accordance with the petition I presented to you at Lethbridge September 1st and submit the same before parliament at the earliest possible date as we understand that only members of the government are permitted to bring in any measure permitting the expenditure of money.

Y ours truly, ,

G. W. Pearson.

The reader will note particularly the preponderance of the word “insist.”

To this letter, Dad received a somewhat non-committal reply. Government-assisted irrigation was something new and the Goyernment hedged. However, all governments come to grief eventually and, shortly thereafter, we find Dad on his way to Ottawa to interview Mr. Borden. G. R. Marnoch and Mayor Hardie of Lethbridge went too, but Dad supplied the dramatic element. Dad is a blunt man and not a diplomat, and these were days that required bluntness.

He appeared before Mr. Borden and his cabinet, collected and confident. His suit was patched; he carried a home-made cane; his hair was long and he wore a pair of boots that had gone through two dry seasons. But his appearance was forgotten when he started to speak. He held that august body enthralled for a solid hour as he pictured the desperate plight of the settlers.

When the deputation returned to Lethbridge, they knew they had won. Surveys were commenced and a program of irrigation subsequently developed that has stretched far beyond Dad’s wildest dream. To-day he stands by his little pump and says: “I told yer so.” His little pumping scheme has developed into a five-anda-half million dollar scheme! ' From where he stands he can look out on that prairie where once the buffalo roamed and .the Indian whooped ánd scalped and capered, and see powerful, snorting, earth-scattering machines digging the bed for a new river which, at man’s own will and convenience, will spread its waters over the lands. One hundred and five thousand acres in the immediate vicinity of Lethbridge, Alberta, will be watered.

Man can harness rivers at his pleasure. The taming of the wild and woolly cloud is another matter. The

Rainmaker dreamily stirs his cauldron and hopes with a faith transcendant. The Irrigationist takes his coat off and—digs. If he dreams, it is a dream of the rushing waters of a mountain stream diverted in their mad rush for the sea and caged in mighty reservoirs from which they may be tamely led down over broad acres and made to do their part in feeding the world’s hungry millions.

One hundred and five thousand acres of land that formerly produced only intermittently will soon be producing regularly and bountifully!

One hundred and five thousand acres of assured crop will be added annually to swell Canada’s pantry and purse!

For man has tired waiting at the beck of capricious elements. He has tired of searching the sky for signs of rain. He wants only to be done with the awful strain and worry of shaking the dice and taking a chance. He demands now a sure thing. It may mean harder work—but he wants, above all else, a sure thing.

And the government agrees. The Alberta government stands solidly with all its credit back of the Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District.

The Farmers Run It

T INDER an Act known as the Irrigation Districts Act, the farmers are given machinery for co-operation. They are encouraged to govern themselves in the construction, maintenance and operation of irrigation systems and, so that a link may be provided between the district and the provincial legislature, the act creates an advisory council, called the Irrigation Council. This body is, of necessity, composed of men who combine qualifications in irrigation engineering with executive ability, for it is to this council that both the government and the districts look for advice in all matters, finan cial, administrative and engineering.

The Dominion government, too, plays a big part in this question of irrigation.

It will be remembered that it was to Ottawa that Dad appealed first.

The control of stream flow lies in the federal government. Running water never ponders on provincial boundaries, or international boundaries either for that matter. For all time to come there must be no divided control of water as between the province and the Dominion.

This status is recognized, and the federal authorities have undertaken, as their share of development, to

measure streams and divide the land into districts according as water may most advantageously be distributed. The Department of Reclamation, through its branch at Calgary, has been working quietly but earnestly and future generations will one day look back and

marvel at the foresight displayed in these years of research. The Lethbridge Northern is only a drop in the bucket compared to the total acreage it is possible to irrigate.

A Long Channel

t'OR instance, there is " the North Saskatchewan scheme, well known as the William Pearce Project.

This scheme alone contemplates the irrigation of thrqe million acres in a long strip of country lying east and north east of Calgary and entering into Saskatchewan. The water will be carried by natural and artificial channels about 400 miles from its point of diversion to its connection with the eastern end of the

system. Some day Alberta will erect monuments to those men whose work made possible this development and first among these monuments will undoubtedly be one to William Pearce. The story which is woven around his name is one of devotion to an ideal. If the archives of the Department of the Interior at Ottawa were searched,

those documents and reports over the signature of William Pearce would astound us. The practical use of stream flow has been a hobby of his. Interior officials would call it s a mania. Standing out in prominence among his voluminous treatises on coal, tar sands and other mineral resources, will be found exhaustive reports on the North Saskatchewan Irrigation Scheme. For years and years he has hammered away on this topic until, in very desperation, Ottawa has, within the past few years, started reconnaissance surveys with a view to establishing or disposing of the practicability of the undertaking. They have now reached the point where it can be said definitely that Mr. Pearce’s vision w-as founded on fact. It is well within the bounds of possibility that this generation may see his vision materialize into reality.

Second only in magnitude to The William Pearce Scheme comes the Lethbridge South Eastern— 350,000 acres—using waters that rise partly in the United States. Recently the international question to which this scheme gave

rise has been settled by the International Joint Commission. The peaceful settlement of such a knotty problem is one more example of that spirit of co-operation and friendship between the United States and Canada—an example that is at once the despair and admiration of European nations. Europe has fought bitter wars over less.

However, the greatest obstacle to proceeding with the Lethbridge South Eastern is a Canadian prejudice. A Natural Park is involved. The beautiful Waterton Lakes must be used for a reservoir and loud cries are going up against what is imagined will be spoliation of a beauty spot. It is always a moot point just how far aesthetic sentiment should interfere with utilitarian service. Engineers claim that the Lakes will not suffer. At any rate a difficulty presents itself for solution, and, in the meantime, land that should be producing lies idle and settlers are desperately holding on hoping and praying for moisture.

There are also the South Macleod, the United, and four other districts some of which are in process of formation, making a total, even without considering The William Pearce Scheme, of nearly two million acres of land that may be made arable.

The United District is a project of about 25,000 acres and is being constructed just west of Cardson by the Mormon Settlement, and is being financed, just as is the Lethbridge Northern, under a provincial guarantee. This is comparatively a small scheme and is so well situaated that it offers cheap and easy construction. There are no great engineering difficulties to overcome and the settlers are contracting the work themselves on a community basis—community effort being one of the tenets of the Mormon faith, a feature which stands them in good stead where irrigation construction is considered. The Mormons are born irrigators. LTtah was almost a desert until Prophet Smith waved the magic wand of compulsory concerted action in community building.

Let us come back to Dad Pearson and his Lethbridge Northern. Surveyed now and established, it required only financing. The province was asked to guarantee the bonds. Alberta has guaranteed bonds in the past and the results have taught caution. It is a serious thing, this pledging of the public credit. Therefore, to make doubly certain of the practicability of irrigation under district form of government, the province engaged the services of an irrigation engineer of international reputation to report on it. The report received was favorable, so favorable that all doubtvanished and debentures to the extent of five-and-one-half millions were guaranteed. These debentures are payable in thirty years at six per cent. During the first seven years the interest only is paid, the principal being discharged during the last twenty-three years.

The cost of constructing, maintaining and operating the system according to the last revised estimate works out at $51.00 per acre. The yearly assessment to pro-

Continued on page 51

Continued, from page 27

vide for all expenses of the district is estimated as follows:

Per acre

For the first year, 1923............ Nil

For 1924 to 1928 inclusive, interest

on bonds........................ $3.06

Maintenance and operation........ 1.75


From 1929 to maturity of bonds—

Interest on bonds ............... $3.06

Maintenance and operation...... 1.50

Sinking Fund ................... 1.44


Thus it will be seen that the annual rate per acre during the first seven years will not exceed $5.00 and it is confidently asserted that $2.00 per acre will take

care of the budget after the bonds have been retired.

But, why irrigate at all? Why not abandon these dry areas and move into moistçr zones where virgin land awaits’ the plow? Why, indeed, spend huge sums on irrigation when a million acres are available in the North where rain can more generally be depended upon?

This question has been asked recently with ever increasing vigor.

It is a moot point whether Southern Alberta should ever have ceased to be range. Old cattlemen demurred at the time and they still shake their heads as the dry years put in a more or less regular appearance. With them it is a case of: “I told you so—this country is only fit for cattle.” However this may be, there is no going backwards, and it most surely would be retrogression, for the range must always have meant a sparsely-settled country with production definitely limited. Aside from that, there is the economic factor involved in abandoning a territory threaded with a network of railways and dotted with cities and towns. And this is apart altogether from the huge capital already invested in farm equip-

ment and buildings, schools and roads. In addition, history has proven that is is a man’s nature to pit his strength against the desert. Man has always conquered barren, unproductive land with irrigation, and if, in the conquering, he has discovered that irrigation offers distinct advantages over rain farming and cattle ranching, the world can be said to have progressed to just that extent. A world-renowned agriculturist, Doctor John A. Widtsoe, says:

“Irrigation makes sure, steady yields of crops from year to year, from century to century, from millenium to millenium.”

But when the Farmer government came into power in Alberta, it was not satisfied

that the previous Government had sufficient assurance that conditions were well enough known to warrant the expenditure of large sums of money in the “South Country.” In other words, the government wanted to know once and for all whether there was anything in the argument that portions of the South be abandoned. To this end, therefore, it appointed a Board of four men well and favorably known for their wide experience —the Survey Board for Southern Alberta it was called. Their report is a lengthy one and goes into all manner of things that effect the farmer. Most prominent among alL-their findings is the following statement:

“It is doubtful if there are any

great stretches of land in any part of the world of a character so uniformly rich as to the soil itself and as to the potentiality if carefully used, for quick convertibility at the hand of man into immediate wealth by the production of grain. If there is any other part of the world that is endowed as this is with the added potentiality for development of so large a proportion of its area under the diversified forms of farming made possible by irrigation, it has nQt yet been heard of.”—(The italics are mine.)

Then the Survey Board goes on to tell of the immense resources in coal that lie at the door of Southern Alberta and points to the development promised from this source alone.

Despite all this, it is even yet being seriously argued that all interests would be best served by moving settlers from the dry areas to the more humid atmosphere of the North.

Last year the rains came and, from those areas that had suffered from drought for five years, there were shipped more

than thirty million bushels of wheat and twenty million bushels of other grains.

It would be difficult to convince even those farmers on land that cannot be irrigated that all hope is gone and that they would be well advised to move and sacrifice their present investment.

It requires faith to look ahead, and Alberta is too close to her resources to view them in proper perspective. It is not easy to be an optimist in days ofdepression.

“Careful cultivation,” said the superintendent of the Lethbridge Experimental Farm, “will produce some crop in the driest years.”

Instead of moving settlers out of the country, it is quite within the possibilities that there will be found a steady

movement into Southern Alberta for years to come. The irrigated tracts alone will attract thousands of the best farmers.

It is toward irrigation that Southern Alberta naturally trends, and irrigation is no experiment in the “South Country.” Dad Pearson had seen the results in those systems established by various companies. That was why Dad was so keen to get water on his land.

For twenty-five years, irrigation has been practised by land companies in Alberta. The Mormon Settlement southwest of Lethbridge pioneered the first irrigation movement from the States and to-day we find these people among the first to adopt district organization in the construction of a new system to water 23,000 acres.

Irrigation is as old as civilization. In this I agreed with my informant, but, notwithstanding that, the question occurred to me, “If irrigatipn is science applied to farming—can the rain farmer adapt himself to it?” To answer this I was taken out to the C. P. R’s Coaldale tract, into the Canada Land Company’s tract and through to Brooks and Bassano.

Canteloupes! Big juicy melons growing right out in the open! Strawberries!—the second crop, too, they told me. Raspberries, plums, logan-berries and even that delight of delights—a watermelon!

I looked over a hedge, a regular English hedge, and across the road I saw barren, bald prairie. Not a tree nor a bush. The grass was brown.

Inside where I was standing, everything was green; bushes were laden with fruit. Just beyond was a waving field of wheat that would thresh forty bushels to the acre. There was a field of alfalfa, thick and luxuriant, in which were feeding about fifty pigs. Potatoes, cabbages, cauliflower, and that most majestic of all vegetables, the stately, heavy-leafed Indian corn, were all growing profusely. Cows contentedly grazed on some upland hay and, as we walked through a grove of stalwart Elms and Manitoba Maples, a! little white bungalow came suddenly into view, set down in the centre of the greenest lawn! A boy tugged at my coat —“Come around and see my bees,” and, keeping at a safe distance, I saw hive upon hive of bees. There were chickens too, and ducks and geese, ’n ever’thing!

Ten years ago this place had been unproducing prairie. An Englishman seeking a home believed what the company told him about irrigation. He knew absolutely nothing of its practice. He learned as he persevered. One hundred and sixty acres of land was something of an ordeal, but his boys grew fast. Lazily swinging in a hammock under beautiful trees, he told me of his early struggles and disappointments and then he looked out across the road. “I need more land,” he said, “I want to keep my boys, so I’m buying that raw quarter under the ditch.” My mind flew ahead ten years and visioned that bleak, flat piece of land blooming and blossoming and yielding in spite of nature.

Wonders of Irrigation

WHY irrigate? Given the enthusiasm, the will to work, and irrigation will create wonders. “How did you gain your experience,” I said to my host. “Oh, I just followed my nose and read,” and he sighed as he told me of the educational opportunities now being provided by the province to young irrigators: the agricultural schools, the demonstration farms, the travelling instructors.

The above is not an isolated case. It is in fact so true of a number of irrigated farms that the identity óf the one described is in itself not apparent.

As exponents of the doctrine of faith there surely can be none to equal the men of Southern Alberta. I have shown \ something of the hardships and discouragements that those in the dry areas have undergone during protracted periods of drought, but I have said nothing of the grasshoppers which in recent years added •so much to the burden. With despair in their hearts the farmers would go forth to battle these pests each year. Never •once did they cease in their efforts of extermination and last year, aided by the

government, there was planned and executed possibly the best organized campaign against pests that ever was staged. Tons of molasses and paris green to be mixed with grain were shipped in during the winter. Mixing stations were provided to prepare the mixture on a huge scale. Whole communities combined to spread it over the fields. Hoppers died by the millions. Never once was the effort halted. In the city of Lethbridge, business men went out in automobiles, each man with a map of his special battlefield, and the poison was sprayed from ingenious devices. Miles of country were covered quickly and thoroughly and the city itself was not neglected; wherever there was a hopper there also was a determined man.

The hopper was beaten. This year, experts say, the pest will be obliterated— wiped out.

Organization plus determination won. It is the same spirit that is irrigating the “South Country” and making of it a spot safe for prosperity. The future is bright. Here is the logic with which one prominent irrigationist paints the future:

“Where there is one farmer working a section of land under the hit or miss conditions that follow dependence on rain,” he said, “there will be ten farmers working the same section under irrigation, for irrigation means intensive farming with no land lying idle.

One hundred and sixty acres is as much as one man can profitably handle and I know that, given the properly-instructed man, eighty acres under water will show as large a profit as a dry section would in an ordinary year,” and he produced tables to prove his point. Continuing he said: “Take alfalfa, the greatest of all forage crops. It will produce normally under irrigation, two crops a year. This year on some farms two good crops have already been taken off, and the third is actually maturing. In another ten or fif' teen years there will be a dense population in those districts that are irrigated.”

After what I had already seen, his logic was convincing, He would indeed be a very pessimistic man who would dare to say that the future is not bright for Southern Alberta—and a courageous one too, for the average Southerner is a mighty perky individual.

Some good men were forced to their knees during the winter of 1921-1922 and took government relief. When spring came they sowed their fields and sought employment in the towns or on construction to earn a grub-stake. The women stayed behind to carry on. The rains came and the whirrr of the thresher last autumn justified their faith.

This article would not be complete if some mention was not made of the little City of Lethbridge—“The hub of the irrigated belt.” Coal brought it into existence—it is built on coal and thrives because of the miners’ payroll. Originally nature intended it to be treeless and it was treeless up to twelve years ago. Today it is a garden city. Its streets are thickly lined with tall, wide-branched trees growing out of green, grassed boulevards—boulevards that are kept green during dry spells by miles of surface sprinkler pipes. No home is too humble to have its closely-cropped hedge and smooth lawn, its shrubs and flowers. Just another few weeks, in June, and the perfume of lilacs will surfeit the air. The houses are veiled in creeping vines that glow a resplendent crimson from a touch of frost. Galt Gardens, placed in the very centre of the business section, are kept up by the city’s professional gardeners. In early September each year they are a veritable fairyland of color.

Dad Pearson is justified. The faith that was and is Dad’s is typical of the faith of pioneer farmers of Southern Alberta. The names of other champions of irrigation might be cited, but all who took part in the campaign saw with Dad’s eyes and it is to Dad and the type of dogged pioneer he represents that they point when tribute is offered.

The dry-belt is passing. It will soon be with the buffalo and the Indian—back in the fantastic past.