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Looking Back at 1972

1972 was a pivotal year for me and for this province. There was a lot going on in my life as I chose to step away from my beloved Crowsnest Pass and I did not finally return until 2005.  You can take the boy out of the Pass but you can’t take the Pass out of the boy.

Provincially in 1972 the new Lougheed government was ramping up with a spectacular master plan that year, unlike any this province has ever seen.  In their first session they passed 127 different bills that looked at everything from environmental protection, human rights and an official policy on multiculturalism. They boosted the oil and gas royalty rate from 5 to 25 per cent and created the Alberta Foundation for the Arts and the Alberta Opportunity Company.   And just for laughs they decided that we should be allowed to buy margarine that was yellow-tinted.  

Here in the Crowsnest Pass, the 1972 Decoux scrapbook, which contains clip-pings from his reports to the Crowsnest Bureau of the Lethbridge Herald, reveals a whole litany of developments. There was a lot going on that year here and most of it was good news.  Despite one of the hardest winters old timers had seen in decades, things were looking up.  In January it was announced that the Feds would be putting$39,000 (don’t sound like much does it?) into the Recreation Board in the form of a grant to help finally build a swimming pool here. The rest of the projected$154,000 in costs was to come from the communities!

The Pass endured five to eight foot drifts for months on end that year, with back alleys plugged solid and persistent north winds that made it bitter cold. In March Delos Developers announced that they had all the clearances to begin construction of the Crowsnest Shopping Center which would be 27,000 square feet and cost in excess of $400,000. Later that month Phillips Cable revealed that they were expanding their plant capacity which would result in a staff increase of 60 to a total of 210. 70 women and 140 men had good working conditions and wages and even a social club.  Of course the scrapbook is a blend of good and bad and with the bad came the horrific news that on March 20th a deadly mudslide slipped down onto a CPR crew west of Coleman and took the lives of Emilio, Luigi and Serafino Marra. It was later revealed that water trapped 70 feet above the tracks by a coal mine tailing dump was the culprit.  But of course no one was held culpable. 

The Bunny Bonspiel, always a huge event, sported no less than 64 men and 32 women’s teams in ‘72.   On the downside of news again, Coleman Collieries announced in June that they were permanently shutting down both the Tent Mountain strip mine and the Racehorse strip mine, putting 115 men out of work. It just wasn’t economical they claimed and the union was told they would try and absorb as many as they could into the underground operation at Vicary.

Pool construction went along just as planned and on July 1st, with much fanfare, it was officially opened and promptly filled up with 300 kids. The community really leaned into the fundraising aspect of this with Fern Paquette of Phillips Cable at the helm of the Pass Pool Project Committee. There is a picture of then chair of the Recreation Board, Don Dececco accepting a cheque for $48,646 raised by the committee through workathons, bingos, beer gardens, sale of bricks (from you know where!) dances and other events.  That summer Bluff Mountain was tested as a satellite location for CFCN-TV rebroadcast and proved to be just the ticket to improve their signal throughout the Pass.  Coincident with the pool construction there were no less than five playgrounds under development that summer. Besides the one west of the pool, a further four were planned for Frank, Bellevue, Hillcrest and East Coleman.  This was made possible using 18 young people working for the Federal Government Opportunities for Youth Program.  

In August, renowned archaeologist Dr. Barney Reeves led a research team that conducted a spectacular dig at the east end of Crowsnest Lake. There, systematic excavation revealed evidence of occupation (recent) from about 1200 AD to as late as 1750, just 25 inches below the surface. Eventually the dig was taken down deeper and a 6,000 B.C. habitation level was found about five feet down. Over 2,500 man-made artifacts were screened from this important prehistoric site. Evidence of bison, sheep, deer, elk, moose, beaver, fish, dogs and birds were gleaned.  I recall Dr. Reeves mentioning in a tour some years later that they found evidence that fish nets had been used at the mouth of the Crowsnest River.

It was also interesting to note that in an August article federal MP Alan Sulatacky attended a Bellevue village council meeting where he promised a new post office would be built in 1973. He mentioned, at that time, that “the answer to the economic problems now being faced by the Crowsnest Pass and particularly Bellevue, is a unified system of government!”  

It was reported in the Crowsnest Bureau news in the fall that CJPR radio 1490 frequency would be going on the air on October 20th. A high tower was located for broadcasting and Daryl Ferguson took the helm as sales manager and Mary Grigel came from Lethbridge to be the office manager.  In November there was an article with picture of the construction of the new Coleman Credit and Savings Union building, a 7,000 square foot, $125,000 effort that was to house a drug store, a hairdresser , an insurance firm and the Credit Union. It now houses Coleman Remedy RX and the Happy Mart store.  

It seemed that construction was the order of the day that year and there was yet another ribbon cutting in the late fall as the new Blairmore town office with the library located on the main floor was officially opened.  Following that, in mid-November, the footings were laid for the new $950,000 Senior Citizens and Nursing Home complete with 32 seniors rooms, 30 nursing beds, a dining room and recreational facilities. It was great fun holding small events in that dining room in later years.  All in all 1972 was a year jam packed with happenings and the Pass appeared to be doing pretty well, all things considered.  We need to find both the energy and rock solid government support to keep the amazing Crowsnest Pass ball rolling.