1961 drought worse than the '30s?
Blowing dust, swarms of grasshoppers, and not enough hay to feed the starving livestock. For Prairie farmers, drought can be disastrous. But it's not just the farmers who suffer — a severe drought in Western Canada can hurt the entire Canadian economy. From the devastating dustbowl years of the Great Depression to some of the more recent Prairie dry spells, CBC Archives explores the history of drought in Western Canada.
• In addition to the 1930s and 1961, other severe 20th-century Prairie drought years include:
• The federal and Saskatchewan provincial governments agreed to create the South Saskatchewan Dam -- also known as the South Saskatchewan River Project -- in 1958. It was designed to provide a reservoir to help irrigate drought-stricken farmland. The Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA) oversaw the project.
• A dam is an artificial barrier constructed across a flowing body of water in an effort to contain a water reserve.
• Citizens and politicians had been suggesting the idea of a dam at the South Saskatchewan River since the beginning of the 20th century. High costs were often the main barrier to implementing the project.
• Prior to the completion of the South Saskatchewan River Project, small irrigation projects and other domestic and municipal water users used less than one per cent of the average 8.4 billion cubic metres that flowed annually through the Saskatchewan River.
• Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas was instrumental in pushing through the project, as was Prime Minister Diefenbaker. Diefenbaker had made the project one of his campaign promises in the election of 1957.
• Construction on the project began in 1959. Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was present at the groundbreaking ceremony, and announced: "Canada...seeks to ensure that there will be less heartbreak and surer hope in this region in years to come."
• The project was finally completed in 1967. There were two dams created; the Gardiner Dam (Canada's largest earth fill dam) and the smaller Qu'Appelle Dam. Together they made up what became known as Lake Diefenbaker.
• The Gardiner Dam spillway is more than a kilometre long, and it took 280,000 cubic metres of reinforced concrete to build.
• The project cost about $120 million to build between 1959 and 1967. The provincial government paid $25 million and the federal government (via the PFRA) paid $95 million. If it were being built today, it would cost a total of $1 billion.
• The entire reservoir has the capacity to hold approximately four billion cubic metres of water. Today, Lake Diefenbaker's water is used for irrigation projects, but it also feeds a hydroelectric power plant. It's a popular recreation area as well.
Broadcast Date: July 9, 1961
Guest(s): Tommy Douglas, William Harrison, Tom Kuryluk
Host: Norman DePoe, Ron Laplante
Last updated: May 31, 2013
Page consulted on December 6, 2013
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