For 70 years the government of Alberta has spearheaded an aggressive campaign which includes fines, chemical warfare, propaganda, a hotline, a co-opted education system, and a specialized squadron of 8, armed with shotguns and probably pickups with mounted machine guns or something. I don’t know, I’ve never been to Alberta. They do have shotguns though.
The subject of this campaign? Rats. That’s right, for 70 years, Albertans have been living under a rat-Nazi regime. Straight up rat-Nazis. Let me break it down for you: Alberta’s second biggest industry is farming. Every year, rats cause an estimated $20-$30 billion in damage globally, mostly to the agriculture industry. Rats didn’t arrive in Canada until the late 18th century, but the hike to the landlocked province took about another 200 years. So, by 1950, Alberta’s Department of Agriculture was ready.
Between 1952 and 1953, over 63 thousand kg of arsenic powder was deployed on farms along the eastern border with Saskatchewan. According to the government of Alberta’s website, “some non-target poisoning of livestock, poultry and pets occurred.” Probably because of all the arsenic they blew along the eastern border with Saskatchewan. If I had to guess.
The website describes the public education efforts made to promote the program. It also mentions “initial resistance” to the program, and then never brings it up again, which is terrifying. Anyway, posters like this one were distributed to schools in towns all over the province. Albertans had never seen a rat before and preserved dead rats were brought in to “aid identification.”
Apparently, it worked. Alberta claims many residents today still have never seen a rat. According to rat patrol officer (yup) Phil Merill, the province’s rat hotline 310-RATS (still a real story) mostly receives calls about misidentified rodents, and schools still teach kids how to tell if there’s one of those filthy animals around.
Pet rats are banned too. If you’re caught harbouring a rat, or a neighbor ‘rats you out’ (kill me), you face a $5000 fine, and rat-Anne Frank faces summary euthanasia. In 2004, a group of Calgary residents discovered some rats breeding in their neighborhood. A truly insane CBC article describes the neighbors forming a posse and hunting them down with brooms and 2x4s. It was days before authorities arrived to clean up, and by that time 38 rats had been met with vigilante justice.
The world has a pretty wack history of the public getting really into ‘pest control campaigns’ like this one. In 1912, children in Montreal hunted down and collected 25 million house flies at the urging of a local newspaper in an effort to curb rampant tuberculosis. It didn’t work. In 1902, the French colonial government of Vietnam paid bounties on rat carcasses, until locals began breeding rats for the reward, which is awesome.
Regardless, Alberta is really proud of their rat thing. Articles like this one pop up in the national press way more often than you’d think (although those articles probably aren't called Albertans rat-Nazis). But maybe they should be. In a lot of ways the program is quite impressive. It’s the only non-remote part of the world with as few rats, and other places in North America have recently had to up their rat control game.
In 2015, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio announced $2.9 million of rat money, and a New York Times article about the announcement detailed the city’s history with rats:
“There have been 109 mayors of New York and, it seems, nearly as many
mayoral plans to snuff out the scourge. Their collective record is
In fairness, NYC’s population is a little under double that of Alberta’s 4.3 million. But Chicago, with a population of only 2.7 million has also recently doubled down on rat removal. In 2016, mayor Rahm Emmanuel brought the total number of Chicago’s rodent control crews up to 28 in order to address a growing problem.
It seems like most governments are pretty down on rats these days, but there is a light in the darkness, and her name is Matilda. In 2010, Matilda, a pet rat, moved with her family to Alberta, unaware of her illegal status. Upon learning of the rat prohibition, the family turned her in to authorities. This is when Matilda turned on the charm -- the 5-0 took a liking to her and contacted a shelter in neighbouring B.C. which agreed to take her in, and the pet was flown to safety.
So maybe Alberta isn’t the cold-blooded genocidal Reich I thought it was. But honestly guys, if you’re going to completely eradicate something, maybe you should focus on eradicating the actual literal Nazis that live in your province, it’s not helping your image.