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The Last Mormon Trek North
- The Quest for a Better Life

"Raymond Remembered" pages 3-31 - 3-35
by Jack Hicken

The last significant Mormon migration to Alberta occurred in 1901. This was not a migration formally instigated under Church directive and control, as had been the earlier ones to Cardston, Magrath and Stirling. Rather, this was a spontaneous migration, largely motivated by the economic opportunities being created in Southern Alberta, primarily by Jesse Knight. Knight's venture - which would attract more than 1,500 settlers in just a few years - was straightforward and uncomplicated, at least in theory. On the prairie, approximately mid-way between Magrath and Stirling, he planned on building a sugar factory and a town. Settlers thus would have triple opportunity for making a livelihood. There would be employment in building and operating the sugar factory, and in the work and business opportunities in its supporting town and, as well, there would be the opportunity to obtain relatively inexpensive land in the area for farming and ranching.

It should not be assumed that Jesse Knight made his sugar factory decision without counsel, or that LDS Church leaders were not involved in encouraging him. The idea of growing sugar beets in Alberta was not a Knight impulse. Apparently, it had first been suggested to Charles Magrath, of the Alberta Railway and Irrigation Company, by Apostle John W. Taylor, in June 1892. However, the feasibility of the idea wasn't challenged until November 1900. That spring, Charles Magrath had passed out sugar beet seeds to some of the farmers at Magrath and Stirling. In the fall, he had sent samples of the harvested beets to the Utah Sugar Company, at Lehi, Utah, for analysis. The report from Thomas R. Cutler, manager of the Lehi plant - that most of the beets were "wonderfully rich" and that "purity should not run lower than 80 percent" - was one of the major factors in even considering the possibility of building a sugar beet factory in the Raymond area.

The records indicate that Jesse Knight knew of the Utah Sugar Company report to Charles Magrath, but that he was not impressed at the outset. Magrath, upon receiving the report, had travelled to Salt Lake City to discuss with John Taylor the possibility of LDS interest in a sugar beet project. After discussion with his fellow LDS leaders, Taylor had tried to interest Knight in building the sugar factory in order to encourage colonization in Alberta. Knight's reported response, that the ideas being presented to him were absurd, and especially the one about the proposed sugar factory, would have seemed final to most listeners. But in January 1901, after much urging by his friends, Jesse Knight sent his sons, Ray and William, to Alberta to see the land he was being encouraged to buy.

Knight's original purchase

Ray and Will Knight were greatly impressed with the land they examined near Spring Coulee, 15 miles east of Cardston. Yet, when questioned later by their father as to the character of the land they had seen, both were rather hesitant in suggesting purchase. They agreed it was wonderful grass country, but they "feared something must be wrong, because there is so much grass, yet so few cattle to eat it."

The business transaction which brought the Knights to Canada took less than an hour, but it has influenced the growth and economy of Southern Alberta ever since. Charles Magrath, by his own admission, greatly misjudged the intentions of Raymond and William Knight when he met them in Lethbridge on their way home, and also later when he met with their father in Salt Lake City.

"I decided to accompany the sons south to Salt Lake", Magrath wrote later, "as there seemed to be a possibility of disposing of some land when they met with their father. All I was expecting was the possibility of a sale of perhaps two sections - 1,280 acres at best." Magrath's own words best describe the business transaction which then transpired: "Jesse Knight - for whom I afterwards learned to have the highest respect - was very direct with me. I was asked to produce a map and the sons were called upon to show him the lands they had examined. This happened to be a block of some 30,000 acres near Spring Coulee. Mr. Knight asked our price and terms. I believe our figure was $2.50 per acre. To my utter amazement, he said, 'I will take the entire block.' "

That original block of 30,000 acres became the Knight's Bar K2 ranch. Jesse Knight came north in the early spring of 1901 to see the land he had acquired. He arrived on 26 May and was met by his sons who had already begun ranching in a rather large way, and by John W. Taylor who was interested in selling more land for the Irrigation Company.

Jesse Knight was not disappointed in the acreage he had bought, or in the other land which John Taylor subsequently showed him. With characteristic discernment and - as his son said later - without consultation, or fear of the outcome, he seemed to have a clear vision of what he wanted to do in Canada. Just two days after his arrival he proposed to personally undertake the construction of a sugar beet factory somewhere between the Mormon communities of Magrath and Stirling. Such a proposal must have come as a considerable shock to Charles Magrath. He knew the extreme difficulties the Irrigation Company had been experiencing since 1890, trying to interest investors in company lands. Yet, here was a fantastic offer - not by a group of men, but by only one man. However, Magrath still faced a problem. Knight was amazing to be sure, but was he really serious? His credibility would have to be established.

As any student of Southern Alberta history knows, Jesse Knight was indeed serious about building a sugar factory and a town. On 16 August 1901- after contract terms had been negotiated - he deposited $50,000 with the lrrigation Company as a guarantee of good faith - and Raymond was on the map!

Man of action!

Jesse Knight was a man of action. He had envisioned a "fine settlement" during the first days of his Alberta visit and he was determined to make it happen. His proposal was to build a sugar factory and a supporting town. It did not seem to matter to him that the land he chose was still mostly unbroken prairie sod or that there were few inhabitants. On the plus side, as he pointed out, there was water from the canal for irrigation and the land was known to be capable of producing beets of a high sugar content. By the middle of June, negotiations had reached a level where Jesse Knight was to receive 3,000 acres of Irrigation Company land immediately. This acreage was to be plowed during the fall of 1901 and made ready for cultivaton and for settlers arriving in the spring. On 10 July, Knight further contracted to build a sugar factory which would be ready for operation in the autumn of 1903 - a factory he would guarantee to operate for a minimum of 12 years. The Irrigation Company, in turn, would allow Knight to purchase 226,000 acres of its land in the Raymond district, at greatly reduced rates, because of his investment in the factory.

Problems facing settlement

The infamous Palliser Report - which for years had acted as a sign post directing people away from the Canadian prairies - was falling into disrespect at the time, largely because of the success of the Mormon communities in Southern Alberta.

However, in no way did that lessen the fact that investment and immigration were virtually at a standstill at the turn of the century. Forces which today explain, as a matter of historical fact, the slow development of the Canadian Plains were still very real then, and merited due consideration by most prospective investors. American agriculture had just shaken loose from the grip of its longest depression ever - a depression which had sent farmers retreating from the American Plains in great numbers during the 1880s and 1890s. By paralyzing American agriculture, the depression had also affected possible speculative interest in the Canadian Plains. Also, the unstable political situation created on the prairies by Louis Riel's Saskatchewan Rebellion of 1885, still had sufficient emotional power to frighten away to safer regions most land seekers or prospective investors. And lastly, although failing, the dogma of the sterile American desert, still persisted as real in many minds. However, because Alberta's Mormons already were growing various kinds of crops on part of Palliser's "sterile plain" that may have been all the proof Knight needed to invest.

Perhaps the most critical factor most Alberta land investors had to consider was the weather. The fact that sugar beets had been grown successfully on an experimental basis for one season in no way nullified the consistent weather situation of extreme temperatures and scanty precipitation. It was true, there would be irrigation for the beets, but the possibility of having crops frozen three years out of five had to be seriously contemplated. The settlers coming to the Canadian grasslands had to consider bad weather as a matter of probability, not possibility. Far more important than the climatic norms in Southern Alberta, were the extremes of climatic variability. The minimum time needed for complete cultivation and harvest of a beet crop would demand optimum co-operation from the weather each year. This was like asking for an annual miracle. Beets could be raised certainly, but to plant and harvest them was going to require rugged workers willing to toil in all extremes of weather and for very little money. And, most of the Mormon settlers were only minimally aware of this rather bleak picture.

Increasing population brings boom

Settlers began arriving in the Raymond area shortly after the naming of the townsite. Most of them were young, optimistic and happy. All of them seemed long on hope and short on cash. They had been attracted to Raymond by the opportunity for immediate employment and by the thought that they could eventually better themselves by owning land in this frontier country. Within six months, Raymond had 400 inhabitants, plus several modern homes, a large church, a hotel, mercantile store, meat market, lumber yard and bakery - even a railroad station. In less than 12 months, the hamlet of Raymond had become the village of Raymond and - by 1 July 1903 - the village had formally become a town, dwarfing all her predecessors and even rivaling fast-growing Lethbridge.

The population jumped to an official 1,568 by the 1906 census. Population within a 100-mile radius was second only to Lethbridge's total of 2,313, and easily surpassed Cardston's 1,001, Magrath's 884, Stirling's 438 and Fort Macleod's 1144.

The Immigrants

The early immigrants to Raymond - the majority from Utah - came primarily to acquire land. Southwestern Alberta could offer them what Utah no longer could in 1901. Here were extensive ranching and farming lands at relatively low cost. A man with a small amount of money, and a great deal of determination, stood an excellent chance of establishing himself on a good farm. Under such conditions, Jesse Knight's Raymond proposal looked attractive to many people. It offered not only land on easy terms, but also the opportunity to make immediate cash by working in the sugar mill and associated projects.

There was no one out of work in Raymond during those early years. The construction of the sugar factory and town provided almost unlimited employment for anyone willing to work. Men with teams of horses were especially in demand. Knight had promised that 3,000 acres would be ready for seeding to beets in the spring of 1903 and to accomplish this he offered excellent wages. That summer a man could plow and earn $2.50 per acre. Later, because of the hardness of the prairie soil, Knight raised the price to $3 per acre. Many men were attracted and dozens of teams were engaged in the work. Each new furrow seemed to be symbolic of new opportunity. The Mormon settlers were pioneers once more, and the town boomed.

All who came to Raymond were seeking new opportunities. Alberta - a last frontier at the opening of the 20th century - issued a powerful challenge. The virgin lands suggested fresh hopes and new futures. And, to those whose lives had been uprooted, or tried and tested for various reasons, here was an opportunity to gain independence and to lose some of the encumbrances of the past.

Primarily and outwardly, those new opportunities meant land and the hope of economic stability. But inwardly, there were often more emotional reasons which motivated the immigrants to come to this challenging new land. For example, Charles W. Lamb's very private reason for settlement here may have been quite typical of many of the younger people who answered Alberta's call. Lamb's memories of Utah were not always pleasant. "My father was a mean old so-and-so was all the usually mild-mannered Lamb would say of his Mormon Battalion parent.

Whatever happened between Charles Lamb and his father has been lost in death, but it is known that Lamb had said he "was tired of being bossed around, and bored with herding sheep and cattle for others." He prized his individualism and apparently believed that Alberta offered him the freedom which he desired for himself and respected in others. He immigrated to Cardston in 1898 and, with his wife, then moved to the Raymond area in 1900. Since he was a carpenter by trade, he helped build the new town. In 1901, he became one of the first residents of Raymond - his being the second family to settle in the town.

The Walton and Anderson families came to Raymond in 1902. They had been miners at Scofield, Utah, but the disastrous explosion there - which killed 208 fellow miners in May, 1900 - ended their mining careers. Their own narrow escapes in the disaster had had such a traumatic effect on them that they never returned to the mines. After an unsettled year, they moved north to establish farms near Raymond.

Thomas Hicken (the author's grandfather), was in his 50th year when he decided to leave Heber, Utah and immigrate to Raymond. Though he originally claimed it was land for his sons and himself that motivated the move, family members have said differently. "Father was never a farmer; he was a business man," said J.O. Hicken, the author's dad. "He always had good jobs and was relatively prosperous in Heber. He was the tax assessor and collector for Wasatch County, and had been offered a partnership in the Hatch Mercantile if he would stay. But, father was determined to come north. regardless of the opportunities at home and in spite of his age.

At pioneer farming in Alberta, father just didn't fit. He was like a square peg in a round hole. He was too old for the heavy work, and only one son of his 15 children ever became interested in the land. Only in later years - after all but three of us had returned to live in the United States - did we learn that father had been running away from heavy memories. He had hoped that in Alberta there would be something which would erase or suppress the feelings of personal guilt and responsibility which he associated with the death of his first wife. Land had only served as an excuse." Probably only a few of those early settlers had deep drives of individualism equal to the intensity of Charles Lamb's, or experiences which could parallel the tragic events which the Waltons and Andersons had lived through, or reasons for unrevealed depression like those that tore at Thomas Hicken. But, nearly all who left records have indicated some peculiar cause for discontentment or heartache which led them to leave Utah and migrate to the Raymond area at the turn of the century. Although these examples are limited, and can only serve as partial indicators in relation to private motivation for the settling of Raymond, they do provide evidence that individual reasons for emigration often went far beyond economic stability in their complexity.

Reality hits home

Optimism was the key word for the Raymond settlers during those early years. Everything was new and opportunities seemed unlimited. In advertising, the region was boasted as if it might have been a segment of heaven. The area soon became known as "The Choicest Spot, in the Best Mixed Farming District in the World" and "The Home of Alberta's greatest industry - the Knight Sugar Factory" and "The district where the rich have increased their wealth and the poor have become independent. Regardless of the enthusiastic wash of superlatives and the glowing terms used by the local Board of Trade, conditions were not as assured, stable or lucrative as advertised. The sugar factory which Knight built was never a financial success and, one may speculate, had not really been built as a commercial enterprise in the first place, but rather more for the benefit of the settlers in the surrounding countryside.

From its inception, mountainous problems confronted the profitable operation of the factory. With the first production came the first competition, with the established sugar interests in Vancouver slashing their prices, hoping to preserve their monopoly. And, the price of sugar was only one problem. Even after a price stabilization program had been instituted by the Dominion Government, the operation still wasn't profitable. No amount of government support could offset the other unfavorable situations, such as the inadequate supply of beet labour and the general working conditions in the fields. These problems simply hinged on the fact that growing beets was too labour intensive to fit into the farming being favoured at that time. The result, as William Knight observed, was "It seemed impossible to get farmers to grow beets in sufficient quantity to make the industry profitable." In this "Home of Opportunity" the settlers had soon found it much easier and just as profitable to produce grain and livestock as it was to toil in the back-breaking cultivation of sugar beets. Besides, the growing demand for grain by the new urban and industrial populations of Europe and the United States was pushing grain prices too high to be ignored.

For the Knight sugar factory this atmosphere was crippling. When farmers should have been expanding their beet acreages, they were decreasing them, depending less on irrigatable crops like sugar beets, and more on grains. In spite of this trend, the sugar factory continued operations until 1914. However, it never had a sufficient supply of beets to make it a financial success. As a result, in 1917, the Raymond factory was dismantled and moved to Cornish, Utah.

There is no question that Raymond came into existence primarily because of the philanthropic spirit of Jesse Knight. Unlike its sister LDS communities of Cardston, Magrath and Stirling, Raymond had no direct Church sponsorship. By early 1900, the LDS Church seemed to have ended its active program of colonizing and settling Southern Alberta. Though approached with further proposals to settle more people, the Church showed no active interest.

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