Calling the Rainmaker

You can’t always wait for a long weekend when you want rain.  In the old days, Albertans used to hire a rainmaker to come and make the clouds let loose their precious drops of moisture.

For example, a Donald S. Johnson of Regina travelled Alberta and Saskatchewan working as a pluviculturist:

He claims that his universcope, a contraption 16 inches high and roughly the size of a large electric fan, can draw – and has drawn – rain.  Johnson operated his machine in Calgary the week preceding the annual Stampede.  Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when he left before the show.  But it rained anyway during Stampede week – after the Stoney Indians, in a fit of pique, held a rain-dance.

Meriden Record February 14th, 1951

That was decades after Charles Hatfield, famous in the early 20th century for his rainmaking method, which consisted of evaporating a secret chemical from the tops of wooden towers, was at work. When, in 1915, Hatfield was hired to make rain in San Diego, he found such overwhelming success that it poured for 17 days.  Unfortunately, dams were washed out, roads were submerged, communication lines downed, houses were destroyed and up to 20 people died.

In 1921, Hatfield came to Alberta.  This time he made no rain at all:

His alchemy, worked amidst the etheric waves from his famous tower and magic vats, have lost their charm to the extent that the master of the clouds is no longer a popular idol among the farmers of the Medicine Hat district.
The Border Cities Star  January 26, 1922

There is mention, in the Chepi Sepe book, of a rainmaker coming to Spirit River in the dry years of the 30s.  No name or any other information is given in the anecdote, in which Robert and Bob Scott are hurrying to the railway station to meet the rainmaker.

From the other side of the street, Molly Cox saw Robert and son going at this fast gait, so she called out in her melodious brogue, “Where are you going so fast, Mr. Scott?”  Without stopping, Robert shouted back, “I’m going to get the rainmaker”.  As quick as a wink, Molly shouted back, “He’s dead”.  Somehow Robert Scott kept going, concentrating on the poor “rainmaker”, hoping he would still be waiting on the station platform.  Then suddenly Robert “caught” Molly’s reply, stopped abruptly, gazing back at Molly in wonderment.  Finally he gathered enough courage to ask the question, shouting “How”.  Came Molly’s reply loud and clear, “He couldn’t make his water”…

Who was the rainmaker?  Did he make it to Spirit River?  Did he make some water after all?

If you can tie up the loose ends, please contact Town Spirit!  Leave a comment below, or email

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2 Responses to Calling the Rainmaker

  1. peace lover says:

    Cool! I read a short story once about a rainmaker in the US but I didn’t realize there were any in Canada. What’s that old movie about a rainmaker? Not “The Rainmaker”.

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