Lethbridge Herald, The (Newspaper) - September 3, 1974, Lethbridge, Alberta
8 THE LETHBRIDGE HERALD Tuesday, September 3, 1974 Rail closure fears contradicted by Prairie cluster forecast CARDSTON Grocer Lloyd Gregson sits back in his small cluttered office, loosens his green apron and coldly eyes the prospect of CP Rail closing its rail line to this town. "Of course I don't think the government should allow them to pull out, not when they are needed for freight. "Yes, we'd lose business. While in Lethbridge, they (grain fanners forced by the closure to haul their grain to city elevators) would shop there. I H5sume the town's economy would suffer "It would be one step in lulling small towns and that just doesn't make sense." Mr. Gregson is mayor of this bustling community of about people. He says the rest of the pop- ulace feels as he does, and two hours of sidewalk interviews bear him out. The interesting thing about all this is that Mr. Gregson's fears are directly contradicted by a study done 2Vz years ago for the Canada Grains Group and its overseer, Otto Lang, the federal minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board. That report states that few small Prairie towns will grow bigger than they already are, some will remain stable and many will die. And whether or not a community loses railway service won't make much difference. The director of the study has told The Herald that the unprecedented prosperity attained by the average Prairie grain fanner since the study was written has little effect on its predictions. J. C. Stabler, an economics professor at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, says rural Prairie society will continue a process of clustering around major communities. "This will lead to places under 100 and 200 popula- tion dying. Also places located on low density rail branch lines and gravel roads and otherwise poorly located will go downhill. "But well-located centres of 800 to and people that offer 30 or 40 services will flourish. They'll get stronger in a relative and an absolute Dr. Stabler said from Saskatoon. Dr. Stabler and his colleagues studied more than Prairie communities to determine the effect of concentration of grain handling and transportation facilities. The report yielded rosy predictions for Cardston and Magrath. But Hillspring and Glenwood face shaky futures and Welling, Spring Coulee, Woolford and Whisky Gap are headed for oblivion. All six southwestern Alberta communities were included in the 540 on the Prairies that face possible loss of rail and elevator service studied by Dr. Stabler and his colleagues. Dr. Stabler also studied 106 communities in Saskatchewan neither located on branch lines which might be removed in the event of consolida- tion nor having experienced withdrawal of rail or elevator facilities during the past 10 years. And he also studied 21 communities which had lost rail lines and elevators, or one or the other, between 1961 and 1971. The result of it aU? "On the basis of these investigations the conclu- sion emerges that removal of rail elevator-- services would not have an adverse effect on any but the very smallest of centres which, in the nor- mal course of events, will most likely cease to exist as communities within the next 10 years anyway." Dr. Stabler points to the well-established general rural-to-urban population shift and to a growing tendency of rural dwellers to do their shopping at only two levels as the two factors shaping Prairie society. "The shift in employment from agriculture to secondary and service industries, in evidence in the Prairie region for several decades, has continued into the 1970's. By TERRY MCDONALD Herald Staff Writer "This shift is the regional counterpart of a national process in which labor is transferring from industries experiencing rapid gains in labor produc- tivity but only modest growth in demand, to those in which productivity growth is slow but the growth of demand is rapid. "These changes are largely responsible for the decline of the rural population, and partly responsi- ble for the growth of larger urban centres which has accompanied the redistribution of the Prairie labor the study says. Along with the changing production pattern has come a substantial decline of the trade role of small communities serving rural areas. "The declining number of rural residents has played an important part in this process. But, in ad- dition, rural dwellers have exhibited a growing tendency to conduct their shopping at only two levels. "Convenience items are generally purchased in the closest community but many, if not most, other items are purchased in the larger cities. "The bypassing of intermediate sized places has further contributed to their decline. This change in shopping patterns was itself made possible by the upgrading of the intercity road network and the spread of automobile ownership during the past 20 years. In the 2Vz years since the report was completed, grain farmers have had more money to spend than at any time in years. But, "Just because farmers have more to spend doesn't mean they will spend it in small com- munities. In fact, they are more likely to spend it in bigger places. "Bigger and better cars make it even easier for farmers to bypass smaller Dr. Stabler says. In the 21 communities from which rail elevator facilities were removed during the past decade "the reason why the removal did not have a pronounced effect was, apparently, that the service centre function is not closely associated with the grain handling operation. "A survey of the shopping patterns of farmers who were forced to change delivery points when these 21 places closed supports this interpretation. The shopping pattern of most people for most items was not significantly altered." The study says most of the 540 centres located on branch lines that are potential candidates for aban- donment as a first step in rationalization of the grain handling and distribution system are general- ly very small and perform a very limited service centre role. About half have fewer than SO inhabitants and only a single retail outlet. The smallest 200 lost between 30 to 40 per cent of their population and 25 to 35 per cent of their retail outlets between 1961 and 1971, and now contain an average of 11 persons and less than one retail outlet each. "Thus, even in the absence of rail elevator removal, further decline appears certain." Continuation for another 10 years of the trends observed during the past decade would likely mean that the smallest 200 centres would house only the elevator operator and his family, if anyone, and would provide no services at aU. The next largest 100 places would be in the class that the smallest 200 are in today and would themselves be on the verge of passing out of ex- istence as communities. "Thus, as far as nearly one-half of the 540 centres are concerned, removal of rail and elevator facilities would not alter what appears to be inevitable, although it might affect the the study says.