People may be surprised to learn that the region referred to as the Special Areas is not special.
A provincial government commission that studied the Special Areas said it was an unfortunate fluke of history that the word “special” was ever applied to our region.
The overwhelming evidence, it said, is that nothing happened here that didn’t happen elsewhere in Alberta (and throughout the prairie region, including Saskatchewan).
By way of example, the one-time town of Hatton used to be just east of the Alberta/Saskatchewan border. Hatton boasted a population of 800 and had a row of elevators that rivaled those of the most vibrant prairie communities.
Nine of the big prairie sentinels stood tall along the railroad tracks.
As was the case in parts of Alberta and BC during the 20s and 30s, Saskatchewan also saw many municipalities go broke.
The big difference was that Saskatchewan never eliminated locally elected governments. It never created a Special Areas.
It recognized that democracy wasn’t responsible for the circumstances but drought and a federal policy of trying to put a dryland farm on just about every quarter section.
By the 1880s, Ottawa knew that rain patterns over much of southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan were scare and unreliable.
The unsuitability of much of the land for farming was also known. Early on, industrious Europeans had established farm colonies south of Medicine Hat. Yet less than a decade later, they had no choice but to abandon their carefully constructed communities. (Just one of these 1880s “colonies” had 300 people.)
Due to putting homesteaders on land that wouldn’t support dryland farming, by the end of WWI (1918), nearly 600 farms north of the Red Deer River had already been abandoned.
This was 20 years before the Special Areas was created.
During these early years and in the thirties, things were just as tough on the Saskatchewan side of the border.
Hatton was affected. Today at Hatton there is nothing. Just a plaque in a field and an old cemetery. Other than that, there’s little evidence that a town of 800 ever existed.
I’m over 70. I’ve been a Special Areas resident all my life. I regret that those of us who live here have been subjected to a long-term governance process that ensures we have no locally elected municipal government.
I regret that we have no property rights, and that the basic legal rights other Albertans enjoy (including legal rights during expropriation) do not apply to the Special Areas.
I regret that the region lives under a law (Special Areas Act) that gives a Cabinet Minister the power to tell me what crop to grow or which grazing pattern to follow.
I regret that he can declare my titled land the property of the Crown, and that I have no legal right to compensation or appeal.
I regret that under the Act, all land in our region—titled, tax recovery, and Crown—is vulnerable to outside interest groups.
I especially regret that because of the Special Areas Act, our family farm cannot be bequeathed to our children and grandchildren with a title they can rely on.