Academic journal article Alberta History

Will Tregillus: An Alberta Booster a Century Ago

Academic journal article Alberta History

Will Tregillus: An Alberta Booster a Century Ago

Article excerpt

In 1912 Calgary reached the peak of its first big economic boom. From 1901 to 1911 the city's population grew ten-fold, from 4,000 to over 44,000. (1) Prairie freight rates declined, the price of wheat rose, and cattle were in great demand. The "Foothills City" on the CPR's main line became the largest city between Winnipeg and Vancouver. Boosters believed that both Calgary's and Alberta's future were unlimited. And of those boosters, few in Calgary exceeded William Tregillus, a English immigrant, who believed implicitly in the unlimited potential of his new home.

Blest with ability, capital, and a good education, Tregillus fitted easily into the immigrant society of southern Alberta, the last area of the Canadian prairies to experience the full impact of non-Aboriginal settlement. Upon his arrival in 1902 he established a large ranch near Calgary, a city with a strong British heritage. According to the census of 1911 over 70 per cent of the population was of British descent. (2) In Calgary an Anglo-Canadian business and professional elite dominated, but social boundaries remained fluid and remarkably open. (3)

In terms of his background, Tregillus differed from many of his fellow western Canadian promoters. Urban historian Alan F.J. Artibise analyzed the rhetoric of progress immediately before World War I. (4) Commenting on western Canada, Artibise noted, "the vast majority of boosters were Anglo-Saxon Protestants of relatively humble origins who had come from the small towns and cities of the Maritimes and Ontario." (5) In contrast, Tregillus, was a well-spoken, upper middle class immigrant who came from England, not Eastern or Central Canada. (6)

In Calgary, the risk-receptive Will Tregillus established in 1912 the Tregillus Clay Products Company, the largest brick plant in southern Alberta. In that same year he prepared the Tregillus-Thompson Directory for 1913. On the western outskirts of Calgary stood his large ranch. There he raised horses, and then switched to dairy cattle to supply milk and cream for the Canadian Pacific Railway trains passing through the area. (7)

The opportunities in the new province astonished him. In Alberta he was free from old England's formality and conventions. In 1910 he wrote in The Grain Growers' Guide, the western farmers' newspaper:

   Who can dictate to the farmer in any
   particular? He knows that he is not
   expected to maintain any view or confess
   any creed that is not in accord with his
   deepest convictions; nor to yield to the
   opinion, prejudices or jealousies of any
   man or set of men, save only as his conscience
   may lead him." (8)

His faith in the Canadian West knew no bounds: "The recital of some of the not uncommon successes one hears in the Western country--although told in perfect truth and soberness--seem romantic to those who live in the older countries where possibilities are most restricted."


In 1912 a Calgary newspaper referred to Tregillus as a "millionaire," one of Calgary's sixteen. He ranked in the league of Senator James Lougheed, owner of the Calgary building that bore his name, as well as other valuable properties in the city. He stood with Pat Burns, the celebrated meat packer and rancher, and T.J.S. Skinner, the real estate giant who had just built a huge mansion in Mount Royal, Calgary's most exclusive suburb. (9) With his gift in 1912 of a huge land grant for a proposed new university, the well-educated Englishman with a practical training became one of Alberta's most influential citizens.

Born near Plymouth, England, in 1858, (10) Will left Britain in August 1902. Two of his brothers who had departed from England for western Canada twenty years earlier had just visited the family in England. Their success in the new country attracted him. Western Canada offered this ambitious Englishman, now in his early forties, the chance of a new beginning. …

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