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Calgary & Southern Alberta - Economy

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Calgary & Southern Alberta

Economy


Images Courtesy
of Alberta Energy

 

The period between 1970 and the present revealed the instability of Calgary’s continued reliance on predominantly one sector of the economy, namely the oil and gas industry. While the 1970s constituted a boom period in Calgary – between 1978 and 1982, the city's construction industry broke the Canadian record with permits totalling more than one billion dollars – the economic recession of the early 1980s hit the city more dramatically than other urban centres.

The oil industry, however, continued to influence Calgary’s development. By 1982/1983 the Canadian Oil Registry listed Calgary as the base of 638 head offices, or 76 percent of Canada’s oil and gas producers, explorers, and developers. In addition, the city contained 76 percent of the country’s petroleum consulting firms, 82 percent of the country’s geophysicists, 63 percent of its oil drilling contractors, as well as 1,387 oil related companies. Oil men – predominantly American, British, and Northern European -- constituted a homogenous business class in the city: all were married, tended to vote Progressive Conservative, and belonged to established Protestant religions. Women, radicals, Jews, Aboriginal peoples and other minority groups held little, if any, status within the group. The focal point of Calgary, its downtown core, provides proof of the city’s continued reliance on the oil and gas industry. Industry towers and headoffices dominate the skyline: Suncor, Shell, Gulf Square, Esso Plaza, Pan Canadian, Petro-Canada. The city’s prosperity became evident as new exclusive suburbs such as Eagle Ridge emerged to transform the landscape. While American companies dominated exploration and production, Calgary based companies like Atco proved to be instrumental in developing transportation units capable of working on the frontier.

Alberta’s economy, however, began to deteriorate in the early 1980s. While the world price of oil was $44 a barrel in 1981, in 1986 the price unexpectedly collapsed to $10. As a result of world grain surpluses, furthermore, agricultural prices fell dramatically. A series of dry years in the early 1980s resulted in bankruptcies and rising debt. In response, Don Getty’s Progressive Conservative Party emphasised diversification in high technology, tourism, and forestry. His government also implemented health care, social service, and education cut backs.

By 1982, the realities of the economic recession became apparent to Calgarians – almost 10 percent of the city’s population lived below the poverty line and, by the summer of 1983 – 14.9 percent of Calgarians suffered unemployment. Shocking most Calgarians, the Glenbow Foundation announced that it had run out of money and would shut down. Between April 1982 and 1983 the population declined and repossessions increased. The construction industry most clearly reflected Calgary’s boom and bust cycle.

Chart: Building Permits Issued in Calgary: 1907-1968


Return to Calgary as a Commercial and Tourism Center: 1971-1991


Calgary & Southern Alberta / The Applied History Research Group / The University of Calgary
Copyright © 1997, The Applied History Research Group