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Life and Times

In 1906 Okotoks was a "booming metropolis" with three hotels, two livery stables, five churches, five doctors and a hospital, one drugstore, two grist mills, one saw mill, one sash and door factory, three blacksmiths, one veterinarian, a mining engineer, three implement dealers, the Union Bank, a telephone operator, the Okotoks Review newspaper, three brickyards, a cement plant, and five stone quarries. By 1906 the population had hit 1900, a figure that would not be reached again until 1977.

While early residents worked hard, they also enjoyed a vibrant community life.  There was a great deal of excitement in 1912 when the first indoor arena was built on the corner of Centre Avenue and McRae St. The arena was destroyed by fire in 1917 and rebuilt in 1920.  Five years later, in 1925, snowfall resulted in the collapse of the roof. It wasn't until 1929 that a new arena replaced its accident-prone predecessor, constructed where the library is now located.

Flooding has been a recurring issue throughout our history, dating back to1898 and 1902. A flood in 1915 carpeted Elizabeth/McRae Street with knee-deep water, leading to the placement of 200 flat cars of rock brought from Frank Slide in Crowsnest Pass on the north side of the river one mile west of Town in 1916. Locally referred to as "white rocks", the rocks didn't prevent a 29-foot flood crest in 1942 that allowed one to touch the water from the old bridge. The most recent floods occurred in 1995 and 2005. Older development in the river valley is still at risk from floods but the vast majority of residential development lies above the escarpment out of harms way.

From 1925 to 1950 in Okotoks was a period of ups and downs in Okotoks. Men left to fight in World War II, and many did not return. Okotoks "modernized" in 1929 with the removal of wooden sidewalks and hitching posts from Main Street. A coal mine opened briefly on South Railway Street in the 1940's, and was joined by the Chinook Flour Mill that opened in Mahon House (still standing at #4 Elma Street). The mill closed at the end of the War, but the house continued on, one of the first residenceswith indoor plumbing in Okotoks.

Okotoks settled in for a period of stability from the 1950's to the 1970's. A sleepy town, the lumber, brick, and oil industries had dwindled away, leaving 600 faithful Okotokians to wait out the next economic turn. Era highlights included the rerouting of Highway 2A from Centre Avenue to its present location in 1953, extending the Town's main street in a westerly direction. As Okotoks grew, its main commercial district shifted west, away from the historic centre near the railway station.  Barbed wire fencing between neighbours was prohibited in 1956. The Texas Gulf Sulphur Plant (known as CanOxy) opened in 1959, employing 45 people.

An indicator of how much our lives have changed in only 100 years of history comes from the school day memoirs of Mrs. Wiebe (early 1900's). "In those days we played games. Pum-pum pullaway, prisoner's base, tag, run, and sheep run were perennial favourites. We even played baseball, our ball being made of yarn ripped form stockings, wound tightly and sewed securely so it wouldn't unravel. For a bat, we used a slab of firewood mostly untrimmed. In winter we snowballed and played "fox and geese". Most of us didn't own either sleds or skates, and had no place to use them if we possessed them as most of our traveling was done on shank's mare. To the child of today, the part the rural school played in our lives would be hard to understand. We had no radios in those days. Gramophones were marvels of ingenuity, and as scarce as hen's teeth. The customary mode of travel was either on horse or behind one or two, and the acquiring of a buggy or a democrat (a heavier, two seated vehicle) caused more excitement that the arrival of the latest model car does nowadays. Riding or driving, the human body was the chief shock absorber, and the speed of the horse was limited to not more than 10 miles per hour. We didn't expect constant entertainment. We knew how to amuse ourselves and we were the better for it."