Twenty miles south of Lethbridge is Raymond, one of the centres of Mormon country. It is known as the Sugar City and is the town sugar built. At the beginning of the Twentieth Century it was a vast open prairie with arms outstretched waiting for someone to take advantage of its rich virgin soil, sunshine and water. Although Magrath and Stirling had been colonized in 1899, the land in between had not been settled.
Early in 1901 Jesse Knight, a Utah Industrialist and humanitarian, sent his two sons, Oscar Raymond and Jesse William to ALberta to investigate this land. The result was they purchased a block of 30,000 acres and set to work to stock it. Later in the spring their father met them at Stirling. The weather was ideal, and the country beautiful and green. It looked like a real paradise to him. He was here only a few days before he had a clear idea of what he wanted to do. He would build a sugar factory that would give employment to Latter Day Saints and others who would come where they might secure land on easy terms and build their homes.
On July 10, 1901 he entered into a contract with the Canadian Northwest Irrigation Company and the Alberta Railway and Irrigation Company to purchase an additional 226,000 acres, and build a beet sugar factory, to have the same ready for operations to handle the beet crop of 1903, and keep it in operation for twelve years. The agreement was guaranteed with a pledge of $50,000. Following the signing of the contract a townsite was located and named "Raymond" after Mr. Knight's oldest son Raymond. Jesse Knight insisted that the Town Charter contain a forfeiture clause to the effect that if liquor, or gambling houses or places of ill-fame were established on the premises the property holders would forfeit title to the land.
Officially, it was Sunday, August 11, 1901, in the forenoon, when Apostle John W. Taylor, Jesse Knight, George H. Brimhall, Charles McCarthy and about 150 others gathered on the grassy prairie and marked the spot where the Knight Sugar Factory was subsequently built and started the movement from which Raymond was founded. In the afternoon of the same day the congregation formed a circle around a huge buffalo skull where the townsite of Raymond was dedicated by President Charles Ora Card of the Alberta Stake.
In less than one month from the time of dedication, the George C. Munns family arrived from Utah to establish their home on the prairie. The inhabitants, up to this time, were men who were plowing the sod, putting put up fences, and in general, preparing to bring their families to the new land of Alberta. Mr. Munns stopped on the spot where the old George Heggie home now stands and put up a tent. Here they lived most of the winter. History was made by these folks as they were the first family to arrive in 1901. They were soon followed by the second family, Charles William Lamb, wife Dora and small son Floyd September 4. The next day Hannah Gibb came with five children in a raging blizzard. That night her cow had twin calves and both froze to death.
Hannah Gibb's four sons came later with the cattle. The water at the International border was polluted with typhoid germs, which the boys drank and soon all were very ill. But the attentive care of the mother nursed them back to recovery. "Grandma" Gibb was a nurse and often raced over frozen prairies in wagon or sleigh to bring a baby into the world. She delivered hundreds of babies and never lost a case.
There was much to do before winter set in. Snow had to be shovelled and tents put up. Raymond was called "The Tented City" that first winter. Sleeping bunks had to be fashioned out of lumber, cupboards and closets made. Land had to be purchased; pastures fenced; 3,000 acres of land had to be plowed and prepared for beets and grain. Warren Depew was the Jesse Knight foreman and it was he who plowed the first furrow. It was quite a sight, indeed, to see eighty teams turning the sod.
Jesse Knight provided an $8,000 pipeline to furnish water for the town before even a house was in sight. Charles McCarthy built the first mercantile store in 1901, and King Bros. erected their store in the spring of 1902. A Ward of the Latter Day Saints Church was organized November 8, 1901 with J. William Knight as first Bishop and Joseph Bevans and Ephriam B. Hicks as counselors. On December 6 that year, Jesse Knight built a small but adequate church for the pioneers to worship in. Mrs. L. D. King played the organ. Heat was furnished for the church by a pot-bellied stove. Light from coal oil lamps illuminated the room.
A hugh tent adjacent to the banks of the irrigation canal that was under construction provided a lodging and boarding house for the employees. The cook was Harry Jones.
1902 saw many buildings going up and completed - restaurants, barns, homes, and stores. Blacksmith shops were of major importance with plow shares to sharpen and horses to shoe. Immigrants flocked in by the hundreds and the din of construction was heard night and day. Carpenters and contractors - C. W. Lamb, Ben Stringham, O. J. Rolfson and his brother E. F., with others were equal to the task.
By 1903 the pioneers were quite well established in the new town. The village became a town and was incorporated July 1st, with Charles McCarthy as Mayor and T. O. King, C. W. Lamb, A. E. Moore, E. B. Hicks, R. H. McDuffee, and F. B. Rolfson as councilmen. The wheels of the Raymond Flour Mill and Elevator began to turn January 20, 1903; the new frame school house was completed; the first Sugar Factory in Western Canada was in operation as Mr. Knight said it would be. The Taylor Stake was organized August 31, with Heber S. Allen an President and Theodore Brandley and J. William Knight as counselors. A new Taylor Stake House was under contract and a Presbyterian Church was built.
The Raymond Mercantile and King Bros. Stores supplied the town with groceries, dry goods, boots, shoes, furniture, household goods, and machinery.
Jim Turner hauled water in barrels on a go-devil sled, to his many customers at 25 cents a barrel.
By 1906 Raymond was a hustling, busy, little town of 2,500 people with a good local and long distance telephone service, express service, a branch of the continent's strongest bank, the Bank of Montreal, professional men, doctor, dentists and druggist, good stores, good churches and a local newspaper.
Perhaps the greatest thrill of the year 1907 was the installation of an electric light system, which was turned on for the first time December 27. Another thrill was to follow two years later with the building of the Raymond Opera House, with a marvelous spring dance floor and commodious stage. The grand opening of this unusual cultural centre, presented a home dramatic "Arizona" under the direction of B. S. Young and family. It was just the beginning of many happy entertainments to be held in this hall.
From the beginning Raymond was the centre of the hunter's paradise. Lakes to the north and all over the Milk River Ridge on the south, provided the natural habitat for millions of ducks, geese, snipe and swans. The pintail grouse and prairie chicken were found in abundance all over the prairies. In those early days there was no bag limit and it was not uncommon for a hunter to shoot forty or fifty ducks in a day's hunt along with fifteen or twenty Canada geese. Deer and elk roamed the hills and coulees in the ridge country and still provide enough for an open season each year.
The first school house built in 1903 was soon overcrowded and in 1910 a new three-storey brick school went up. This housed grades one to eight. The same year the Latter Day Saints Church established their first church school in Canada, here. It was named in honor of the founder of Raymond, the Knight Academy. This served as the secondary school until it was sold to the Raymond School District in 1921 for a high school. In 1920 a Provincial Agricultural College was built here and functioned as such until 1931. It is now used as an Alberta Hospital. A new high school was completed in 1952 and the old building served as a Junior High taking the overflow of grades five and six. 1963 saw the completion of two new schools to replace the old high school and elementary. The year before the Catholic people had erected a separate school, named Sacred Heart School. So today Raymond has four new schools, of which the citizens can be justly proud.
During several years just prior to the First World War economic conditions here were so unfavorable to the Knight Sugar Company that after their twelve year contract expired they shut down their plant and returned to Utah. During the war high grain prices made prosperous times for the farmers. However, following 1918 grain farming alone was inadequate and the far-seeing leaders of Raymond and district united their efforts to bring back a sugar factory. After much hard work and many negotiations the Utah-Idaho Sugar Factory was brought in to Raymond in 1925. This was a great boost to the economy of Southern Alberta. The factory of the new company - Canadian Sugar Factories Ltd., had its problems but finally consistent progress was made from year to year in beet and sugar production. In 1931 the Utah-Idaho Sugar Company of Salt Lake City sold the Raymond plant and stock of sugar, to the B. C. Refining Company of Vancouver. The subsequent success of this factory laid the foundation for a second factory at Picture Butte in 1935 and a third one at Taber, Alberta in 1950.
The Golden Jubilee of the Town of Raymond was celebrated near July 1, 1951 with a community barbecue, program, parade and stampede. A booklet was also published called the Golden Jubilee of the Town of Raymond with the permission of Mayor William Jensen and his council consisting of Deputy Mayor Renan Pack, W. W. Wilde, Albert Ralph, Bruce Galbraith, Howard Melchin, and Lyman H. Jacobs.
The following year, October 8th we had the honor of His Excellency, The Governor General of Canada, Right Honorable Vincent Massey and His party visiting Raymond. Mayor Frank R. Taylor welcomed him at a gathering in the High School auditorium of the citizens and school children where he addressed them and presented the Governor General's medal to Thomas Lincoln Wood, son of Lincoln A. and Mildred, for highest marks in grade nine examinations in the inspectorate. He then declared the rest of the day a school holiday.
The local Chamber of Commerce honored His Excellency to a luncheon in the Latter Day Saint's Stake House. From there he left to survey the Saint Mary's River Dam near Spring Coulee.
The Town of Raymond joined the Warner County No. 5 for school purposes January 1, 1955.
Time brought other changes to Raymond. 1946 saw the laying of a sewer line and a drainage system. Open ditch irrigation was also discontinued. In 1954 hard surface was placed down much of main street, and most streets had cement sidewalks by now. In 1955 the Canadian Western Natural Gas Company Limited installed their lines and the first gas was ready August 8th. Raymond was indeed a busy, progressive, prosperous, little town.
It was a severe blow to Raymond and district when the management of the Canadian Sugar Factories announced that the last campaign for slicing beets in Raymond would be 1963. Although sincere organized efforts were made to keep the factory open, all were in vain as the Head Office declared that it was in their interests to discontinue operations in Raymond. As big a setback as this may seem, it does not dim Raymond's vision of future progress, or determination to go forward with courage, hope, and eyes open to brighter days.
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