The surname Gaetz is inescapable in Red Deer, and it is a historical family that continues to generate the most questions, says a local historian.
Michael Dawe said Gaetz Avenue, Gaetz Memorial United Church and a Ghost statue of Leonard Gaetz, make people curious about the pioneer family.
Dawe said Leonard Gaetz, a Methodist minister, came to Red Deer in 1884 with 10 children, and at the time, his wife Caroline was expecting their 11th child. Many of Gaetz’s relatives also made their way to Red Deer.
“In the early days of Red Deer, they used to have a little saying, ‘There’s a Gaetz on every corner. There’s a Gaetz on every stair. If balloons become the fashion, there will be Gaetz’s in the air,’” said Dawe, who spoke at Red Deer Museum + Art Gallery on Family Day.
Leonard went on to become a successful farmer and businessman, and his relatives also left their mark.
Gaetz Lake Sanctuary was named after Leonard’s nephew John Jost Gaetz, and G. W. Smith School was named after Leonard’s nephew, George Wilbert Smith.
Dawe said Family Day was an appropriate day to reflect on families past and present.
“This is one day to remember our own families, but also celebrate others that made Red Deer what it is today. There’s lots of good families that really contributed.”
In 1939, Mickey the beaver turned the spotlight on another Red Deer family, Wallace and Mary Forbes.
The young beaver was taken to their home after it was found injured and alone. While they nursed the beaver back to health, it became very attached to their young daughter Doris.
“At one point, she became very ill. She had a bad cough. The beaver would go upstairs to her bedroom and he would sit on her bed and when she coughed, he would cough to show he was sympathetic,” Dawe said.
Numerous newspaper articles were written about Doris and Mickey and the pair attracted visitors who included Lady Batton Powel, founder of the Girl Guides in 1946.
“You have a very cute little girl who looked a little bit like Shirley Temple with her curls, and this pet beaver. They became pretty famous.”
Red Deer has also been visited by royal family members over the years, including Princess Margaret in 1980 to help celebrate the 75th anniversary of the province of Alberta, and the Queen in 1990 to officially open Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre’s pediatric unit.
And when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, who later became known as the Queen Mother, visited Edmonton in 1939, most of Red Deer went to see them, Dawe said.
“It’s estimated that every two out of three people in Red Deer went up to Edmonton to see the royal couple.
“It was a very popular visit because it gave Canadians a chance to see the royal couple, but also there was a pretty strong sense that the Second World War was coming. Part of the trip was to build morale.”