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Rural Routes: Taber

There’s a common saying that goes around Taber, often said by the townsfolk and the Mayor himself. “If you can't grow it in Taber, you can't grow it anywhere.”


In Southern Alberta, located at the junction between Highway 3 and Highway 36, is the Town of Taber. With its rich, fertile soil, ample sunny days, top-notch irrigation system, and the expertise of multi-generational farmers, Taber is the perfect place for agriculture to thrive.


But while agriculture is a huge part of the town’s identity today, Taber’s thriving agriculture scene might not have been possible without its irrigation history.


Figure 1: Irrigation (Taber Irrigation Impact Museum)

The town’s relationship with water application began in the late 1890s when it was the location of Tank 77, a Canadian Pacific Railway tower and pumping unit that sourced water from the river in order to power steam locomotives. At the time, the locomotives were used to transport coal mined from Lethbridge to Medicine Hat on a daily basis and Tank 77 provided the water necessary to keep the steam engines running throughout the whole journey.[1]


From there, the town’s economy began to diversify and in 1908, the Taber Agricultural Society was established.


“It started back in the 1920s when mining was becoming less and less viable,” says Andrew Prokop, the Mayor of Taber. “Then with the depression in the 1930s, there was a decline in the coal industry—so that's when the farmers came into play in the local area.”


Figure 2: Irrigation (Taber Irrigation Impact Museum)

Farmers in Taber called for an expansion of the “Big Ditch” irrigation canal that spanned 100 miles from Kimball, Alberta (near the US border) to Lethbridge, Alberta. The land in Taber was too dry, and their crops were unable to flourish. The expansion of the canal would draw water from the Chin Coulee, benefitting Taber cropland. However, the project experienced multiple delays and was put on hold until after World War I.[2]


In 1917, a severe drought hit Southern Alberta and the need for an expansive irrigation system grew more apparent—farmers all across Southern Alberta saw a significant decrease in their crop yields and irrigation was looking more promising.[3] Finally, in July 1919, the expansion started and was completed in September 1920. Throughout the years, the irrigation system has continued to develop, and agriculture has become stronger than ever.


Today, there are nearly 60 different varieties of crops, including potatoes, sugar beets, grain and many more, that are grown around the Taber area, alongside the town’s best-known crop: sweet corn. As a matter of fact, Taber is known as the “Corn Capital of Canada.” The town even had a 36-foot-tall corn stalk sculpture installed right along Highway 3 back in 1994 to highlight this famous crop.[4]


Figure 3: Corn Fest (Town of Taber)

Taber sweet corn is enjoyed among the locals and across the country. Each year Taber celebrates Corn Fest, a free three-day event filled with plenty of family friendly activities. For Prokop, what he loves about Corn Fest the most is that it feels like a huge family reunion.


“That's what I like about Taber as a whole—the people here are really great. Even [for] the visitors that take part in the Corn Fest activities, it becomes a huge family reunion for people that have ties here one way or another,” says Prokop. “It's a really big event for Taber.”


Corn Fest is still going strong as it is coming up on to its 36th anniversary. Aside from sweet corn, Taber is also known for its sugar beets. Since 1902, farmers have been growing this sweet crop—which eventually led to the opening of Roger’s Sugar Beet Refinery Plant in 1950. This refinery is still in operation today.[5]


Figure 4: An aerial view of Taber during Corn Fest (Town of Taber)

From Taber’s famous sweet corn and sugar beets to their vast irrigation history, Taber has been a driving force within the agriculture sector for decades.

“We're very fortunate to be in this particular region for that purpose, and the end-all crop results speak for itself as far as the end-all product,” says Prokop. “We really have the best of all worlds with everything that's right here at our fingertips.”


[1] Tank 77 — Taber Irrigation Impact Museum [2] Quenching the Prairie Thirst, Chapter 9 — John Gilpin http://www.taberirrigationdistrict.ca/assets/docs/Chapter_9.pdf [3] Quenching the Prairie Thirst, Chapter 9 — John Gilpin http://www.taberirrigationdistrict.ca/assets/docs/Chapter_10.pdf [4] Discovery Taber — Town of Taber https://www.taber.ca/Home/Components/FacilityDirectory/FacilityDirectory/84/4 [5] Sweet- Story: Made in Alberta — Discover APEGA https://discoverapega.ca/stories/sweet-story-made-in-alberta-sugar/

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