Rural Government


by S.A. Holthe

In the beginning, the first form of local organization in the Northwest Territories was the herd districts, which were formed in 1883. Fire districts, in turn, were permitted in 1886. In 1887 the territorial legislature passed the Statute Labor Ordinance, which provided for the formation of districts so that a simple and economical system of taxation might be structured, the proceeds of which were to be used for construction of roads and highways. In 1893 it was decided that only single townships could organize, for that appeared at the time to be the best unit size. The Local photos provement Ordinance of 1897 renamed the Statute Labor Districts as Local Improvement Districts, and the size was extended to include two townships. A further ordinance in 1903 allowed for inclusion of six townships, and, in 1905, the Local Improvement Districts were placed under the jurisdiction of the Local Improvement Branch of the newly established provincial Department of Public Works. Alberta had become a province and, in addition to facing the complex task of developing a viable provincial government, attention had to be directed by Premier Rutherford's Liberal government to statutes promoting effective local government.

One of the above opportunities for local government were of significance locally in 1905, but the information illustrates that the machinery had been set up in preparation for settlers at such time as they would be here in sufficient numbers to require government at the local level. And the time soon came, as the following account from the Vermilion Standard indicates: Moose Ranch, Feb. 9, 1910 - January 27, twenty-five to thirty men met at Chas. Hood's and organized a Local Improvement District. Some came with mules, some with horses, some on skiis, and some on oxen.

Taxes under the Local Improvement Act were 3 1/8 cents an acre ($5.00 per 160 acres), not including educational tax. There is reference in other sources to the title "Territorial Unit No. 542" and the number assigned to it is significant, for it was to be applied to the municipal district which followed. The names of the officers of the first fledgling form of local government are lost to us.

The Rural Municipality Act was enacted in 1912 by Premier Rutherford to provide for rural municipal corporations. The province was divided into squares of nine townships each, starting from the south-east corner. A further statute in 1913 required elections by wards instead of at large. One further enactment, passed by the Liberal government of Premier Stewart in 1918 needs to be mentioned here to complete this portion of chronology. The Rural Municipality Act was changed in name to the Municipal Districts Act and at the same time, local improvement districts were compelled to become municipal districts. Also, the acreage basis of taxation was to be dropped and replaced by one based on assessed land value