“This area is not suitable for growing crops,”surveyor John Palliser states in 1863. He is referring to the area of southern Alberta (the Palliser Triangle) near the town of Taber. While ranching and grazing eventually becomes common, growing crops is not successful. By the Dirty Thirties, this area is a dust bowl.
But, forward-thinking entrepreneurs decide that with irrigation the land around Taber can become more fertile. Early efforts required digging canals by hand and pumping water from St. Mary’s River into the rows of sugar beet fields. Mosquitoes hatch in the wet mud and are a major challenge. But, the idea works, and by the 1940s there is a huge demand for migrant workers to work the expanding beet fields.
Coincidentally, in 1941, with the bombing of Pearl Harbour, a wave of Canadian families of Japanese descent are evacuated from the West Coast and relocated farther inland. Shinkichi (George) and Miso Okamoto, their children and parents are one of these families forced to leave their Victoria home. With the demand for labourers, they move to Taber. Two weeks later, a friend’s letter warns them, “Under no circumstances go to a beet farm!” It is too late. They are already housed in a beet shack doing labour-intensive seasonal work in the beet fields: sowing, thinning, hoeing, watering, and eventually harvesting the crops. Moving the heavy irrigation equipment around the fields takes up a large part of George’s day. It is back-breaking work.
The Taber Irrigation Impact Museum focuses on the impact of irrigation on Taber’s development. It showcases the irrigation systems and processes from early labour-intensive methods to the current computer technologies that growers use. Through the efforts of pioneer settlers and workers such as the Okamotos, and the constant modernization of irrigation systems, Taber continues to have a thriving agricultural industry with abundant production of crops such as sugar beets, pulses, beans, and the famous Taber corn.
• Irrigation (equipment, tools, photographs)
• Coal mining
• Agriculture (machine yard - summer only)
• Archives and genealogy (photos, family stories, Taber newspapers from 1907 through current on microfilm)
• Art Gallery
• Historical exhibits (changes three times per year)
• School and other group tours
• Historical research projects