With the ceremonial driving of the last spike in the national railway, Canada was finally united from coast to coast. However, vast empty tracts of arable land remained in the west. The Liberal government under Sir Wilfrid Laurier was determined to attract farmers to this area, to enhance Canada’s economic growth. He appointed Clifford Sifton who embarked on an ambitious campaign of encouraging immigration to the Canadian Prairies. With the promise of 160 acres of free land to farmers, Sifton’s initiatives succeeded in attracting many immigrants to the Canadian West during this first great wave of immigration from 1870 – 1930.
So began a more intensive populating of the area east of the bustling city of Calgary, in the Municipality of Shepard. Immigrants from America and eastern and central Europe homesteaded here, bringing with them a legacy of hard work. Skilled trades people, entrepreneurs and others came too, recognizing the need for their services that would be created by this increasing population.
The unincorporated hamlets of Forest Lawn, Albert Park and Hubalta appeared within the Municipality of Shepard around 1910 as small communities sprang up to support the surrounding agricultural families. A school, the one-room Bow River School, had already been constructed in 1904 at what is now known as 17 Avenue and 41 Street SE. The first class consisted of six pupils. Due to rapid growth a new, four-room school was constructed at 16 Avenue and 39 Street in 1912. It was again named â€œBow Riverâ€ and continued to serve the community until it was demolished in 1955 to make way for the new Patrick Airlie Elementary School. The first Bow River School was moved to Albert Park where it served as that communities first school. That building is still standing and is currently used as a church.
Real estate speculators from the United States attempted to take advantage of the boom times by buying up pieces of land and subdividing them into residential lots. When the lots did not sell due to lack of a rail link to Calgary, the speculators laid their own tracks from the Calgary City limits and promised the railroad would soon be coming. Of course this never happened. With the coming of World War I the area was in a serious economic depression and many of the lots reverted back to the Municipality of Shepard. Some twenty-five-foot lots which had previously sold for $300 were now sold for as low as $5.
Residents continued to come to the area, however. Early industries included tractor plants, a marmalade factory, mink farming, a chick hatchery, mixed farming and general stores. The hard times continued with the Great Depression of the 1930s. To take the burden off the Shepard Municipality, the Provincial government created the Village of Forest Lawn (which included Hubalta) and the Village of Albert Park. A year later they were amalgamated into the Village of Forest Lawn, under provincial control. In 1942 the province canceled all tax arrears and the bulk of the relief debt. By 1946 the Village of Forest Lawn felt confident enough to assume self-government.
In 1953 the Village of Forest Lawn received town status. Service organizations and sports teams abounded. Elk, Moose, Kinsmen and Lions Clubs were active in the community, as was Teen Town (a forerunner to the Boys and Girls Club). Residents participated on Town Council (the Mayor and the Councilors were not paid), the community association, school associations and church groups. Landowner David D Oughton donated land for the building of a much-needed school which was built in the Albert Park area in 1953. The burgeoning population of the Bow River School had been educated in several facilities including community halls, churches, and two unused WWII armories until a new elementary school was built. The new school was named for Patrick Airlie, who had served 37 years on the Bow River School Board and was instrumental in organizing the first library and community association in the area.
In 1953 the young town organized an annual sports day, which was soon changed to include a parade down 17 Avenue in which much of the community took part and showed their pride. The 1955 float “Forest Lawn – Town of the Future” was entered in the Calgary Stampede Parade and took first place. The town also had its own police force and voluntary fire department. In the late ˜50s an intensive public works program was begun which saw construction of sidewalks, curbs, gutters, storm sewers and other amenities. The town also operated its own power company and bus service into Calgary.
In 1958 the Town applied for city status, but this was never acted on. With its growing ties to the City of Calgary and political will which favoured centralization of Alberta’s two main metropolitan areas, the Town of Forest Lawn, with a population of 12,000, was annexed by the City of Calgary on December 30, 1961. The last mayor of Forest Lawn, Harry Akkerman, handed over the key to the town to Calgary Mayor Harry Hays, asking for a “square deal” for Forest Lawn.
Since then the communities of Forest Lawn and Albert Park have continued to welcome waves of immigrants reflecting changing conditions in countries around the world, including, Chinese, Pakistani, Vietnamese, Filipino, Hispanic and Sudanese. Many newer communities have also been established in the area once part of the Town of Forest Lawn.
The communities of Albert Park and Forest Lawn celebrated 100 years in 2010. To recognize this occasion, the BRZ worked with residents to undertake several centennial projects including:
- Historical plaques at venues throughout the community.
- Albert Park celebrations and carnival
- A Homcoming celebration in conjunction with Albert Park and Forest Lawn community associations at the GlobalFest finale
- Tree planting thanks to City - Urban Forestry