The roots of the Western Irrigation District began before Alberta was a province, with a far-fetched plan of substantial labour and risk that brought irrigation to a desert-like region, and with it scores of settlers, dreams and possibilities.

To this day, the passion that drove early innovators to design and implement the irrigation district remains. Our team continues to find exciting ways to modernize, expand access and serve customers and our community.

WID Timeline

The 1880s
1914 - 1919
April 1944
CPR booklet cover 1906 History of WID

Settling the west

As part of the compensation package from the Canadian government to complete the railway through the Rockies, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) received 25 million acres of land in the prairies.

They had a railway, shipping vessels and land, which led to a massive immigration campaign to populate the West and maintain a self-sustaining business model.

CPR irrigation map 1906

CPR makes plans

Settlements were becoming plentiful south and east of Calgary. The soil was rich, the land was flat and the climate seemed suitable for farming.

The only issue seemed to be enough water to prevent drought and provide more varieties of crop production.

The CPR pursued the largest irrigation project known at the time, with the guidance of William Pearce and J.S. Dennis. The Irrigation Block, as it was termed, was divided into three sections: Western, Eastern and Lethbridge.

A weir is constructed

East of Calgary, the Kinniburgh Slough, is built up to become Reservoir No. 1.

The construction of a weir began on the Bow River in Calgary. The water was diverted to a canal that stretched more than 25 km to a holding reservoir, now known as Chestermere Reservoir.

Working with the natural topography, the canal carried the water by gravity.

Hundreds of men and thousands of horses were involved in the canal project. Many were local farmers and families that settled in the area.

Berm dam in Chestermere

Reservoir No.1 filled with water

With the completion of the weir, canal and reservoir, the water diversion for agriculture began.

This was when Reservoir No. 1 (Chestermere Reservoir) was filled for the first time in anticipation of settlers for irrigation farming a near reality.

CPR marketing and informational train car

CPR attracts settlers

Marketing efforts were sold as a package with transportation from Europe to Western Canada, and arable farmland priced at $2.50 per acre.

The target was European farmers to make the move of a lifetime, own land, and start fresh.

CPR's Demonstration Farm

Farming in a new climate and with dry soil conditions was foreign to many new settlers.

The CPR found it necessary to create Demonstration Farms to teach the fundamentals of farming in these conditions.

Ditchriders measuring water levels

Canadian Pacific Irrigation Department formed

On completion of the major distributary system of the Western Section, the entire irrigation district was turned over to the operations and maintenance staff in the Spring of 1911 forming the Canadian Pacific Irrigation Department (C.P.I.D.).

World War I starts and settlers stop coming

With the start of World War I in 1914, things came to a virtual stand-still.

There were no new settlers during this time and it wasn't until 1919, with the the end of the war, that a renewed interest in settlement began.

Market crash and beginning of Great Depression

During the 1920's conditions were relatively good until the collapse of the economy in 1929. Then followed the drought years of the "dirty thirties" when no one had any money and unemployment throughout the country was rampant.

WID takes over irrigation

Western Irrigation District is established

A group of farmers took over the western block of the CPR’s irrigation operations to create the WID.

Main canal from Calgary was upgraded

Alberta Environment began a $25 million upgrade of the Western Headworks Canal between Calgary and Chestermere.

New pathway system opens along canal

The cleanup and creation of the pathways along the canal by Alberta Environment were a welcome addition.

WID celebrates 50 years

It was a great day to celebrate the historic 50th anniversary of the Western Irrigation District.

It was a time for remembering WID in the past and looking forward to what may lay ahead in the future. Employees, family and friends gathered to visit, reminisce and enjoy the celebrations.

WID 75th anniversary attendees

WID celebrates 75 years

250+ people attended the celebration of WID`s 75th anniversary in August 2019 to share memories and stories of the WID’s history.

In honour of this historic occasion, a special brew dubbed ‘When in Drought’ was prepared for the anniversary by local Strathmore business Origins Brewing and Malting.

Major investment in irrigation

Premier Jason Kenney and Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Devin Dreeshen announced major investment in irrigation infrastructure in the province.

An $815-million investment is a partnership between the irrigation districts, the province and the Canada Infrastructure Bank.

New WID building Strathmore, AB

WID moves to new facility

A partnership between the WID and Marigold Library system resulted in the construction of a new building that will serve in joint use as well as their separate and very different needs. The facility is not only shared but owned by both organizations.

They were able to move into the shared facility in the fall.

First Plebescite in WID history

One way to increase irrigation acres is through an expansion plebiscite. A vote was held in March in favor for WID to apply to the Government of Alberta to increase the number of acres they can provide.

With government approval irrigators began applying to increase their acres in April.

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