Alberta waged rat propaganda campaign in 1950s to combat infestation

The sketch of the rodent looks menacing. “You can’t ignore the rat,” the caption reads. “Kill him.”

A rat poster from the 1950s is shown in this handout photo from the University of Alberta. The poster dates back to the 1950s when

EDMONTON — The sketch of the rodent looks menacing.

“You can’t ignore the rat,” the caption reads. “Kill him.”

The poster dates back to the 1950s when, for 10 straight years, the rat was the public enemy No. 1 in Alberta and citizens united behind the cause of preventing an infestation.

As the province currently struggles to maintain its self-proclaimed status as the only rat-free jurisdiction in North America, researchers at the University of Alberta say one of the main reasons spotting a rat in the province is big news today is because the rodents were so vilified in a campaign six decades ago.

“The rat-free idea became a very important part of the Alberta identity,” says visual culture master’s student Jingjing Zheng, who along with art design professor Lianne McTavish, has done a visual analysis of the provincial government’s decade-long campaign against rats, which started in 1950.

“These visual materials played a very important role constructing community identity,” Zheng said.

Material collected from the time has a distinctly propaganda feel.

Posters were mostly about defending the province’s boundaries from “an enemy” and shaping “an identity.” Citizens were taught to be alert and able to spot “enemy activity,” McTavish said. The posters touted the Alberta Rat Proofing and Rat Control Act and were put up at hundreds of government buildings and schools around Alberta.

“We were surprised to see how many posters showed the enemy as a rat,” McTavish said.

The province also distributed 1,500 anti-rat pamphlets to citizens each year.

The study also found Norway rats portrayed as Second World War enemies — the Japanese and Nazis.

“We find them fascinating and very funny too,” McTavish said. “They were very complicated, multi-layer images — almost like cartoons — sending a mix of messages.”

But the campaign was about more than messaging.

The province hired pest control officers to patrol the Saskatchewan boundary and paid a Winnipeg company thousands of dollars to “poison proof” a 250-kilometre stretch, blowing 60,000 pounds of rat contact powder along the boundary.

At the time, farmers also received free rat poison and rat corpses — imported from Winnipeg — were posted at government offices, schools and public events to re-enforce the message that the best rat was a dead rat.

Rats have always been linked to poverty and diseases, so the government played on people’s sense of citizenship, Zheng said.

There was also an emphasis on the family values, McTavish said.

“A beautiful farmstead and a happy family were the social values behind these posters,” she said.

“They presented a certain view of Alberta as distinctive within North America and populated, for the most part, by citizens who were devoted to these values of keeping out these vermin rats.”

Just Posted

Break-in at Red Deer business

Social media reports confirm a business break and enter in Red Deer… Continue reading

‘Rough waters’: Spill raises new questions about fast-growing N.L. oil industry

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Newfoundland and Labrador’s ambitious plans to dramatically expand… Continue reading

Trudeau rules out snap election call, national ballot slated for Oct. 21

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says there will be no early… Continue reading

Canadian firm says it has found largest diamond ever unearthed in North America

YELLOWKNIFE — A Canadian mining firm says it has unearthed the largest… Continue reading

Man from Olds killed in collision near Sundre

A 39-year-old man from Olds was killed in a collision near Sundre… Continue reading

WATCH: More than 100 protest UN migration pact, carbon tax in Red Deer

Chants of “Trudeau must go” echoed through the streets of downtown Red… Continue reading

Man who demolished landmark house ordered to build replica

SAN FRANCISCO — A man who illegally demolished a San Francisco house… Continue reading

Giuliani: ‘Over my dead body’ will Mueller interview Trump

WASHINGTON — With a number of probes moving closer to the Oval… Continue reading

Quebecers criticize western oil but buying more gasoline, SUVs, bigger homes: report

MONTREAL — Quebec’s premier is quick to reject “dirty” oil from Western… Continue reading

Speaker Geoff Regan opens the door to his apartment in Parliament

OTTAWA — One of the best-kept secrets inside the main building on… Continue reading

Baloo the cat is back at home after being mistakenly shipped to Montreal

HALIFAX — Much to the relief of his loving family, Baloo the… Continue reading

‘It’s what we do’: Famous Newfoundlanders help replace veteran’s stolen guitar

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Two famous Newfoundlanders stepped in to help an… Continue reading

Quebec’s anti-corruption unit blames media coverage for recruiting troubles

MONTREAL — Seven years after it was created, Quebec’s anti-corruption unit is… Continue reading

Former PQ cabinet minister poised to become next Bloc Quebecois leader

MONTREAL — It appears likely that Yves-Francois Blanchet, a former Parti Quebecois… Continue reading

Most Read