Although we drive down the major roadways in Red Deer on a regular basis, we rarely ask how it was that these thoroughfares got their names. In our city, most are named after prominent residents and/or long time families.
The main north-south roadway was named after Rev. Leonard Gaetz. Since the townsite of Red Deer was created on the site of his farm in 1890, it was only fitting that a major roadway be named in his honour.
Leonard Gaetz was born on June 7, 1841, at Musquodobit Harbour Nova Scotia. Surprisingly, given the general lack of opportunities of the time and the large size of the Gaetz family, young Leonard along with his brother Joseph were sent off to Acadia College at Wolfville, Nova Scotia, where they trained to be ministers. Nevertheless, money was so tight that the two young men walked the many miles from their home to the college barefoot in order to save on shoe leather.
Leonard proved to be an excellent student and by age 19 was already out preaching as a Methodist minister. His oratory soon became famous and he was one of the speakers in Halifax on July 1, 1867, when Canada became a nation.
In 1865, Leonard married Caroline Hamilton who had also enjoyed the rare opportunity of studying at Acadia College. They began a large family and ultimately had six sons and seven daughters (two of whom died as small children). Leonard’s career soared for many years and the young family moved around Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and eventually to St. James Street in Montreal, which was one of the largest Methodist churches in the country.
The Gaetz’s later moved to Hamilton and then London, Ontario, when Leonard’s health broke down. He moved his family to a small farm near Hamilton, but had a very hard time of things and was soon virtually penniless. However, a group of prominent Ontario Methodist businessmen had started a land investment venture, the Saskatchewan Land and Homestead Company. They approached Leonard to see if he might take on the responsibility of being their local land agent for a tract of 180 sections of land (more than 115,000 acres) which they had purchased at Red Deer, Alberta. Leonard agreed and came out in the spring of 1884 to a new farm on a fertile flat, next to the Red Deer River.
Leonard had great success with this farm, and soon was producing award-winning grains and vegetables. He also went into a number of business ventures including a general store at the Red Deer Crossing settlement and a sawmill. Leonard became a very effective promoter of the Red Deer area and attracted many new settlers to the area, including large numbers of his relatives.
In 1890, when the Calgary-Edmonton Railroad was built through the district, Leonard struck a deal whereby a half interest was given to the railroad company if it would locate its new townsite on his farm. As half owner of the new development, Leonard had the main north-south avenue named in his honour.
The townsite deal proved very lucrative to both the railroad company and Gaetz, so much so that Leonard was later able to give each of his daughters a house and two lots on Park (56) Street as a wedding present.
In 1895, Leonard decided to try a return to the ministry in Brandon, Manitoba, but with his wife’s health now failing, they returned to Red Deer in 1901, the same year that their eldest son Raymond was elected the first mayor of the town. Caroline died shortly before Christmas in 1906. Leonard, suffering the complications of diabetes, died soon afterwards in June 1907.
Gaetz Avenue is not the only thing named after Leonard Gaetz in Red Deer. Gaetz Memorial United Church is also named after him and Gaetz Park, along the south bank of the Red Deer River, was gifted to the City in his and his wife’s memory by their second son Halley in 1908. Moreover, there is a statue (bronze sculpture) of Leonard Gaetz at the intersection of Gaetz Avenue and Ross Street.
Michael Dawe is a Red Deer historian and his column appears on Wednesdays.