What makes Red Deer great?
It was a pleasure reading columnist Jim Sutherland's list in the Advocate of 100 reasons why Red Deer was such a great city for him growing up. In my 36-plus-a-bit years here, I've seen and been to many of the locations Sutherland mentioned, and have been fortunate to have met quite a few of the personalities he listed who made their mark on our city.
The small histories and landmarks of this city add up to a big portion of Red Deer's current character, so it's important that we use our Centennial to remind ourselves of the people and places that shaped who we are.
Back in 1976, when I arrived here to live, Red Deer was just over 30,000 in population. There was a distinct connection even then to the city's history, expressed mostly in the heritage of the families whose names appear today in city subdivisions, on street signs and landmarks.
We need to thank Sutherland and other lifetime residents like fellow columnist Harley Hay and longtime contributor Michael Dawe, that their stories of early life here are recorded.
Simply because of our growth just over this past generation, these stories are the only connection most Red Deerians have to the way Red Deer became in the words of former mayor Bob McGhee “the valley of contentment between two mountains of conceit” on Alberta's Hwy 2.
But celebrations like a Centennial are also about looking forward.
So, as a relative newcomer to Red Deer, who never got to see a movie at either of our two drive-in theatres, here's a list of things I believe will make Red Deer a great place in the years to come. (They are, like Sutherland's list, offered in no particular order.)
(1) The continued growth of our trails network, eventually to expand links north-south from Innisfail to Wetaskiwin, and east-west from Drumheller to Rocky Mountain House, with many pleasant stops in between;
(2) the completion of our downtown renewal project, with increased residential spaces, parks and green spaces and an active business centre;
(3) a revival of our Ghost project — with more historical figures represented, and maybe even a fountain or two;
(4) a major theatre and concert performance centre;
(5) a greater inclusion of the city's north side into the main stream of cultural and recreational life in the city;
(6) an airport with regular service links to other Western cities, so older folks like us can visit friends and family without needing a six-hour drive;
(7) what the heck — high-speed rail links north and south, with a downtown terminal
(8) more major green building projects, like the Berry Architecture building (formerly a popular bowling alley — surely just an oversight on the esteemed Sutherland list);
(9) full university status for Red Deer College;
(10) a new courthouse;
(11) more space for City Hall, without eating up one more square foot of City Hall Park;
(12) an Olympic-sized swimming pool, perhaps linked to
(13) the return of YMCA to Red Deer;
(14) a municipal police force (as great as the RCMP have been for Red Deer, we're large enough and diverse enough in population now to create a city-designated police force);
(15) a museum and archives capable of serving a city of over 100,000, and a region of over 300,000;
(16) an art gallery with a permanent (and rotating) collection, plus another wing dedicated to staging shows (and sales) by local artists
(17) a good number of runs at the Memorial Cup for the Red Deer Rebels;
(18) an indoor soccer stadium with at least four fields, so that Red Deer can host provincial-level championships, plus
(19) completion of plans for the outdoor sports fields and amenities at Great Chief Park, so that provincial football and soccer championships can be settled here in style;
(20) speaking regionally, a long-term commitment to a conservationist-first approach to development along Hwy 11 west of Rocky Mountain House (it's our last approach to the mountains that is still relatively free of commercial development);
(21) a long-term settlement of water access issues on an unpolluted Red Deer River, so that the most basic requirement of life — fresh, clean water — can be preserved as we grow;
(22) a major legacy for Red Deer hosting the Alberta Winter Games;
(23) moderate, predictable and manageable city growth that does not overwhelm our ability to plan for it and manage infrastructure;
(24) people willing to use their talents and abilities as public servants, who will come forward with their own vision for a better future in the same way that many of the people Sutherland mentioned on his historical list did in the past;
(25) greater commuter access and safe passage in the city for people who choose to walk and bike on their daily errands. (You didn't think I'd leave that off, did you?)
There, that's 25 items, only a quarter size of the list Sutherland could compose. But he's had a lifetime to look back to find it.
There are lots of people in Red Deer right now, and no lack of people in our future who can make their mark on the city, and who need support to make a great future happen. We're still the City of Volunteers, you know.
We need to decide what it is that makes this city great, but we also need to step forward to accomplish those goals we believe are important. Great Red Deer residents made things happen in the past; the future is up to us to achieve.
That's a pretty good start for a Centennial party, don't you think?