Written by: Allan Rowe, Historic Places Research Officer
On March 25, 1910, a party of emigrants embarked from Great Britain to settle on 24 “ready-made farms” in the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) Irrigation Block in Alberta. The farms were clustered together in a colony located approximately 50 kilometres east of Calgary, in an area that came to be known informally as the “English Colony” (officially named Nightingale in 1911). While the English Colony was not a long-term success—the majority of the original immigrants had moved on by 1912—the history of the colony offers a fascinating window into different aspects of early agricultural settlement in Alberta.
The story of the English Colony begins in 1904 with the CPR’s acquisition of nearly three million acres of land in Treaty 7 territory between Calgary and Medicine Hat (south of the Red Deer River and north of the Bow River). While this area had generally been viewed by settlers as too dry for farming, the CPR believed that irrigation would transform the land and make it suitable for agriculture. In the language of the time, irrigation would, “make the desert bloom.” The company began construction on the irrigation system in 1904, which diverted water from the Bow River just east of Calgary and delivered it to a reservoir (now Chestermere Lake). From there water was distributed through a series of secondary canals and ditches to farms throughout the western third of the Irrigation Block. By 1910, the CPR had already sold nearly 70,000 acres of irrigated land in the western section.Read more