Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The Sweet Beets of Southern Alberta

Once upon a time in Lethbridge, there were beets.  Sugar beets.  And guess what, they’re still here!

The sugar beet industry has shaped southern Alberta from day one.  The Galt Archives even has a photo from Southern Alberta's first sugar beet harvest in 1902 (below).  That same year the first Albertan sugar beet company was born; the Knight Sugar Factory, located in Raymond.  This was only three years before Alberta officially became a province.  We’ve been sugar beet growers longer than we’ve been Albertans!

Raymond Sugar Beet And Flour Milling Industries. - 1902

However, despite its early beginnings, beet sugar was not an immediate success.  An article in the Lethbridge Herald dated September 30th, 1950, says that there used to be a prejudice against beet sugar.  Despite the fact that both cane sugar and beet sugar are essentially the same product – sucrose – beet sugar was not initially accepted in southern Alberta grocery stores. As a result, most of the sugar was shipped to Winnipeg.  Meanwhile, wheat was growing and selling very well.  Wheat did not require such an expensive process of refinement as sugar beets did (boilers, for example).  Also, sugar beets were quite labour intensive, and workers were not an abundant resource at the time.  For the farmers, it was just much easier to grow wheat.  Consequently, in 1914, the Knight Sugar Factory ended its “pioneer business venture”.

Ten years later, in 1924, sugar beets began to regain popularity.  After the war, the proceeds from wheat had decreased, while irrigation techniques had been much improved.  This provided a perfect window for sugar beets.  An idle factory from Idaho was dismantled and set up in Raymond the next year under the governance of the Utah-Idaho Sugar Company.

But, would you believe it, the next two years turned out to be “terribly discouraging”.  The weather was far colder than usual, and many beets froze, which caused them to go bad faster than they could process them.  However, despite a rough start, the venture turned out to be a huge success.  The entire produce those first few years was easily sold in Alberta and gobbled right up.  It was a much different reception than the first time around.  The Alberta Sugar Beet Growers’ Association emerged that year, and with it the co-operation between the farmers and the sugar company proceeded without a hitch.

In 1930 things were going so well that they expanded with a second factory, so that they could handle 120,000 tons of beets.  This, unfortunately, coincided with another cold summer.  The company took a big hit. This summer also marked the year when the Great Depression began to take its toll in Canada.  As a result the Utah-Idaho Sugar Company decided to drop their Canadian enterprise.  The factory was eventually bought by B.C. Sugar Refining Co. Ltd., directed by Ernest T. Rogers (i. e. Rogers Sugar, ring any bells?).  This company had previously only produced cane sugar, and there was a great apprehension amongst the Albertan farmers that the owners meant to shut the factory down.  Happily, this wasn’t the case.  The Utah-Idaho Sugar Company made the sale on the condition that the factory be run for a certain amount of years after purchase.  The company became successful again, and grew steadily.   It was soon time to build a third factory in 1936, located in Picture Butte.   During World War II, when the Canadian government provided incentives to maximize the production, Alberta produced the largest amount of sugar beets it has ever produced to date.

Sugar Beet Harvest Picture Butte District. - 28 September 1961

B.C. Sugar Refining Co. Ltd.’s fourth factory was built in 1949 in Taber.  It still runs today.  Since then, the sugar beet has been an ever present industry to our farmers (except in 1985 when farmers and owners could not agree on a selling price which resulted in no beet sugar that year, just like the NHL this season).

Roger's Factory in Taber: Copyright Pat Kavanagh:

Today, according to the Alberta Sugar Beet Growers, sugar beets provide the “only domestic source of sugar in Canada”, as it is much too cold for the sugar cane plant.  Canada is currently the 31st largest producer of sugar beets in the world.  We have never produced as much as we did during World War II, however in 2006 “314 farms in Canada seeded 19,488 hectares, according to the Census of Agriculture”.  Alberta is the biggest player in the sugar beet scene in Canada, with the 80% share of the domestic production.  Statistics Canada has an excellent picture of the distribution of beet farms and refineries in Canada at this link: 

Alberta’s weather can be a little on the cooler side, with shorter growing seasons, which creates a smaller beet.  However, because we can have long hours of direct sunlight, our beets tend to have an “unusually high sugar concentration” which is why we are still successful in growing them.  The sugar beet industry has left an important mark on Southern Alberta’s history.  There are over 300 farmers involved in growing sugar beets in Alberta.  It has been around for exactly 110 years, despite many weather hardships.  It takes strength to be dependent on something so unreliable as the weather.  But patience in the bad years and hard work in the good ones has created a rare Canadian industry that has stood the test of time.  And the result benefits us all; the farmers, the business owners, and the consumers.  

(The Lethbridge Herald article (March 30th 1962) that inspired this article.)
I found numerous articles in the online Lethbridge Herald database (throughout the entire history of the paper) about the sugar beets industry, which gave me the information to write this article.  You can gain access to this valuable resource by visiting us here at The Galt Archives.
–by Steffi Reynolds

Steffi Reynolds is a third-year English major at the University of Lethbridge whose passion is stories; reading stories, hearing stories and telling stories to others. This fall she is the archives assistant social media contributor for the Galt Museum & Archives, earning Applied Studies credit while sharing some of the stories uncovered in the Archives.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Silver Screens of Lethbridge Past

I love movies!  I love them at home when I’m taking a deserved break.  I love them at the theatre when I’m with friends crunching on over-priced popcorn. I love leaving my life behind for an hour and a half and diving head first into a fictional and more exciting one.  I love watching chick flicks when I’m feeling lonely, action movies when I’m feeling weak, and comedies when I’m feeling grouchy.  I love what movies sometimes teach me.  It’s possible I love movies a little too much.

Furthermore, I love (tired of that word yet?) the idea of movies back in the “old days”.  And the epic old theatres they were watched in.  It was the early 1900’s.  Movies were a new, exciting, and even controversial thing.  It was a treat to see a film; something special.  Now days there are so many movies being released at all times that we can’t even hear about them all, let alone see them.  We are actually in quite a transitional period in the movie industry right now.  Everything is becoming digitized.  I find this loss of the physical a little depressing.  The smell of a book, for example; it’s just not same as the digital (and less expensive) version.  Or the experience of the theatre:  the smell of popcorn, the feel of the weird carpet walls, or the sound of that one laugh amongst the many that is extremely distinctive and loud.  When I saw Seven Pounds, there was more than one moment I could hear everyone around me sobbing.  I love that uniting feeling.  Movies can feel like a personal experience, but I think that what makes movies so great is how they bring people together.  The build up before the release and the endless discussion as to the degree of success or failure afterwards is all a communal experience.

At least we are not anywhere close to losing theatres just yet.  So I started looking up information about movie theatres in Lethbridge’s history at the Galt.  For my last article I researched Irma Dogterom, and lo-and-behold, it was her book Where Was It?: A Guide to Early Lethbridge Buildings where I found a great deal of my information. The Galt Archives has a little library with this and other similar books based on Lethbridge history (check it out).  The Galt also has files of newspaper clipping by subject which was very informative.  I thought I’d share some of my findings with you.

It was August, 1897 when the first examples of moving pictures were shown in Lethbridge (that we know of).  They used a Theatrograph (the first commercially produced projector), later called the Animatograph.  This was quite soon after it had been invented; apparently Lethbridge embraced them quite quickly.  In 1898 they also used a Kinetoscope, a newer better version of the Animatograph.  They were shown in the “Building Company Hall”, later known as The Opera House.  It was sort of a town hall/entertainment center located around where Express Coffee now is.

Oliver’s Hall, in April 1901, became the first site for the Cinematograph.  Here were held “the first crude moving picture” shows, says Dogterom.  It still stands, empty I believe, right across from the King of Trade.  It even has OLIVER still written in stone on top.

 The movie business caught fire fast.  The first movie theatre was the Bijou (meaning The Jewel) Theatre, later called the Variety Theatre, in 1907.  Burnt to a crisp in 1917.  The second was The Lyceum (meaning hall, who knew?) in 1908, which changed names and owners many times.  It became Starland, then The Star, then The Phoenix, then King’s, and then just Kings.  It closed in 1925.  It was in a little building to the right of the (now) Alec Arms Hotel.  That same year the Eureka Theatre opened, later called the Orpheum (derived from the Greek God Orpheus, whose poetic and musical skills could charm anything).  It closed 1918.

Another was born in 1910, the Griffith Theatre, quickly changed to the Majestic Theatre.  It only started showing moving pictures in the late twenties.  This theatre was the largest for quite some time, seating 1000 people.  It was the first theatre in Lethbridge to show a talkie; The Singing Fool with Al Jolson.  This movie was “credited with helping to cement the popularity of both sound and the musical genre” (Wiki).
The Grand Electric Theatre opened only for a few months (a shame, cause the name is awesome) in 1910 while The Morris Theatre was being built.  The Morris and the Monarch Theatre both opened in 1911.  The Morris Theatre changed its name five times: from Sherman Theatre to The Orpheum (different from the other Orpheum) to Colonial Theatre to The Palace to Capitol Theatre.  When it opened it had a very unique and elegant canopy on the front.  It also opened with very ‘modern’ padded seats, but students kept swiping the cushions for padding for roller skate straps.  Some believe the manager’s pleading at the school, says Irma Dogterom in her book, only hastened the pinching.  Soon the seats were just wood again.  Meanwhile, the Monarch Theatre (later called The Regent and then Lealta (meaning loyalty)) was the first theatre on the Northside, on the corner of Third Avenue and Thirteenth Street in what used to be a bank.  At this time the rest of the theatres were all very near to each other, some even neighbours, on fifth street on the Southside. It was also one of the first theatres to show foreign films and experimental films.  The owner, when it was the Lealta, used the old bank vault as a developing dark room for his photography.  It closed around 1962.
It’s really curious that Lethbridge felt the need for so many theatres.  Granted these theatres often didn’t limit themselves to just films but showed other things like plays, magicians, boxing etc.  But still.  Movies are as popular as ever these days and we only have two.  Interesting.

The last theatre to emerge during what I have deemed as the Lethbridge’s theatre boom is the Empress Theatre, which later became Roxy Theatre in 1913.  It is remembered as the first theatre with air conditioning.  In closed in 1959.

Our theatres since then may still be in some of your memories.

Around 1950, the Western Drive-In, later known as the Green Acres Drive-In, and Paramount (later ‘Cinemas’ was attached to the end) emerged.  The drive in closed around 1986.  I saw one show in Paramount before it closed in 2007.  It was the first theatre in Lethbridge with more than one screen.  It is now a bank and some offices, which is a little sad, but they have kept the outer structure unchanged.  They have also posted pictures along the walls of the interior of what the inside of the theatre used to look like.  I really like that they have kept that connection to its original use.

In 1969 College Cinema opened in the College Mall and closed in 1994.  In 1975 the Twin Cinemas, later called the Lethbridge Center Cinema opened.  It closed in 2005.

Currently we have two theatres in Lethbridge; Galaxy Cineplex at the mall and The Movie Mill.  We are actually quite lucky to have this contrasting balance.  Galaxy shows the new releases on larger screens.  The Movie Mill shows either movies Galaxy did not show or the big hits around a month after they are shown in Galaxy, at a reduced cost.  I like being able to go to my must-see movies on the big big screen (does the fact that they have two sizes of screens costing the same amount annoy no one else?), like Batman or Inception, but not missing out on the less mainstream movies.  Like Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom (I whole heartedly recommend this movie!!).  Or if there is a movie I want to see mostly for interests’ sake, I’ll wait for it to come to the Mill and save some money.

I was really surprised at how many movie theatres Lethbridge has had since motion pictures were invented.  At one time there must have been at least five all running at the same time.  With the birth of TV and internet, I wonder if the need for theatres has decreased.  I do hope they’ll stick around though.  They remind me that even though I could live an increasing large portion of my life without any human contact, it’s not as good that way.  Being with people counts for something, it enhances the experience of life.

What about you?  Any favorite movie theatre experiences you’d like to share??  I would really love to hear them!  

-BY Steffi Reynolds

Steffi Reynolds is a third-year English major at the University of Lethbridge whose passion is stories; reading stories, hearing stories and telling stories to others. This fall she is the archives assistant social media contributor for the Galt Museum & Archives, earning Applied Studies credit while sharing some of the stories uncovered in the Archives.