By Jack MacDonald
In recognition of the upcoming Rimbey and District Old Timers’ Annual Reunion to be held at the Rimbey community Centre on Monday, June 30, former resident Jack MacDonald was written a retrospective on the community as it was in 1939 and 1940 at the beginning of the Second World War. The author acknowledged that his memory isn’t quite what it used to be and pre-apologized for any incorrect spelling of any names and added that he will be in attendance at the Reunion and looks forward to seeing some old faces and meeting a few new ones.
When Canada entered the Second World War in September of 1939, Rimbey’s population was just over 400 people, slightly above the census recorded in 1935 that indicated there were about 360 residents of the village.
Both before and after 1940 well established businesses survived and a few others started but closed in a short time. Calgary Power and an all-weather gravel road to Lacombe and Red Deer had a positive effect on Rimbey, but major growth had not started until A.B. MacDonald built the first modern hotel in 1946.
War veterans were returning with the help of government assistance – much of which was used to buy acreages or to start new businesses. The Leduc discouvery of 1947 triggered oil and gas exploration throughout the entire province. Rimbey benefited from this and grew enough to reach ‘Town’ status by 1950 and the population grew beyond 1,000 residents.
In 1948 a new hospital and school were under construction followed by paved streets and a town water system. Steady growth continued with many new and diverse businesses. The population reached well over 2,000 by Rimbey’s Centennial in 2002.
Back in 1939, the whole country had suffered through 10 years of depression. The Rimbey district fared better than many other areas which suffered from drought. Although Rimbey and the Blindman Valley had great growing conditions, there was always the danger of crops lying unharvested because of a shortened season or damage from frost and hail.
After 1935 grain and livestock prices were only modestly higher and there was next to nothing in government assistance. Without good management and some luck, it was easy for a farmer to end the season in the red. Cash money to re-invest or spend was in short supply and the banks were frustratingly conservative. These were the conditions in which every Rimbey business had to compete for a scarce dollar.
A further annoyance to Rimbey was the Montelbetti brothers from Bluffton. They had a large general store and an award-status creamery. They had 10 trucks in their fleet which delivered groceries and other goods while picking up milk.
The Montelbetti brothers both bartered and gave credit. They tried hard to gain district business any way they could. After heavy snowfalls, their trucks would plow the roads leading to Bluffton and came within two miles of Rimbey to the north.
Rimbey still remained a popular place to shop with much of the business being conducted on Friday and Saturday. Cars were angle-parked on both sides of Jasper Avenue (now 50th Ave.) and in the winter, sleighs were tied to the hitching rails east and south of the Rolston & Wilton Store. On Saturdays, the stores stayed open until 11:00 p.m. and the movie house, operated by Sharp Circuit Shows, did a capacity business with tickets selling at .25 and .35 cents each.
Residents of Rimbey were proud of their four-room brick school. The teachers were paid more than some of those in the rural areas. In 1939/1940, Ottar Massing was the principal and received $130 a month. He taught Grades 11 and 12. H.E. Caroll was in charge of Grades 7, 8 and 9 at $100 a month. Molly McLees taught Grades 4, 5 and 6. She and the primary teacher were paid $90 a month. All salaries were based on a 10-month year. Ed Johnston was the school board chairman in 1939 and Art MacDonald was the secretary at $25 a month. He issued all the cheques and attended board meetings. At times there were lively discussions as to what could be spent on school improvements. The school did not have electric lights until 1938. A two-room addition was completed in 1941.
When war was declared in September of 1939, many of the young men and a few of the World War I vets joined up immediately. A Private’s pay was $1.50 a day with non-commissioned ranks receiving slightly more. Harry Jaynes, who was also a World War I Imperial veteran, obtained the highest non-commissioned rank of Regimental Sergeant Major and later received the British Empire medal.
A junior commissioned officer (1st Lieutenant) pay rate was $5.00 a day plus a $45 spousal allowance, and $12 monthly for each child. Captaincy rates were a dollar or so over these. Both Dr. Earl Halpin and Dr. john Byers joined with the rank of Captain. A year later they both received their Majority. It does not seem to be a lot to compensate for leaving a practice and family, but then a steady pay cheque may have looked good. In 1939 there was no Alberta Health Care for doctors to draw on. Dr. Byers left behind over $3,000 in mostly non-collectible accounts.
In September of 1939, then mayor L.S. Cutler and the village councilors approved the purchase of a fire-warning siren to be installed at the AGT telephone central office, which was located at Mrs. Browne’s residence. She and her assistants operated the switchboard 24/7 and were in the best position to sound an alarm. The siren was also briefly activated at 12 noon except on Sundays. Although there were always concerns about fire, the village did not have the budget for additional fire equipment. An all-volunteer fire department was formed in 1949 and later a modern pumper truck was purchased.
It was in 1939 that the Rimbey High School first offered typing courses. Six new Underwood Standard desk typewriters were installed in the principal’s office. Jesse Kennedy taught the special classes. The school also opened a new woodworking shop in the school basement under the direction of Ottar Massing.
The Rimbey Post Office handled a higher volume of mail, issued more money orders and had higher stamp sales than any other community of equal size in the province. This was partly because of four large rural routes. Mr. and Mrs. Foster Simpson delivered mail by team on two of the larger routes. Bob Johnston had a route, as did Max Veliet in the mid 1930’s.
A.B. Macdonald held the Postmaster appointment from 1928 to 1946 and there was always an assistant including Evelyn Sibbald from 1938 to 1940 and Jean DeCoursey and Roy Ellis in the mid 1930’s. In 1939 and 1940, W.J. DeCoursey had the contract for hauling the mail from the CPR train station to the post office every day except Sunday. Based upon the train schedule, the pick-up and deliveries were made in the afternoons on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and in the morning of the other days.
In the days just prior to Christmas or when the Eaton’s and Simpson’s catalogues would arrive, there were at times, up to 100 heavy mailbags in one day. George Reith operated a daily bus service between Rimbey and Lacombe and delivered all sizes of express parcels and the daily newspapers from Edmonton and Calgary. They arrived at 6:00 p.m. every night except Sunday. George had a 1936 long wheel-based, seven-passenger Plymouth with a roof rack. The car managed trip after trip sometimes loaded enough to barely clear the ground.
The ‘New town site’ in 1939 had only a few houses with the CPR owning two houses, the Wheat Pool owning a house for their grain buyer and the UGG for their buyer. Harold Eckardt owned a large two-story building which was the Eckardt family home. The Eckardt’s also rented suites. (In the early 1940’s, Eckardt issued and approved Alberta government documents including driver’s licenses and was the Alberta Treasury branch manager from 1946 to 1948.
Don and Jesse Kennedy occupied one of the CPR houses – Jesse taught piano and don was the station agent. The Thorvaldson family lived next door and Mr. Thorvaldson was the CPR section supervisor. In September of 1939 there were three grain elevators in Rimbey. The grain buyers at that time were Mack Tuckey of the Pool, Jack Ralston of the UGG and Harry Jeynes of Alberta Pacific and they were all friendly rivals. The Ralston and Tuckey families occupied the houses while Jeynes was single and stayed at the Cottage Hotel.
There were also livestock holding yard near the railway tracks and Roger Sloan handled bulk Imperial products. Ted Atkinson delivered North Star oil and gasoline.