A rare cache of sandstone, quarried more than 120 years ago from the Red Deer River bank, has been gifted to the community for old building restoration.
Bill and Elaine Woof found six tones of cut sandstone on the C&E Trail property they bought two decades ago.
They were told by the former property owner that this stone had been reclaimed from the abandoned and now destroyed Indian Residential School (also known as the Red Deer Industrial School). It was located across the river and up-steam from Fort Normandeau.
Elaine said they found no use for the cut blocks, so the sandstone spent 20 more years piled under some spruce tree boughs.
But before Elaine lost Bill to cancer last month, the couple had discussed putting the material to better purpose by turning it over to the community for old building repairs.
Red Deer city councillor and local historian Michael Dawe recalled his excitement at hearing about the Woofs’ intention to donate the unique stone. “That’s all there is of this, you can’t get any more.”
He noted the material was mined at a local quarry that closed in the 1920s. “The advantage is this is the same colour and texture of the sandstone on our old buildings,” he added, noting that Red Deer River stone is more silver grey than sandstone from the Calgary area.
Since the donated material is in good condition and the same hard-to-match shade, the community is grateful for such a generous and valuable gift, said Dawe.
Elaine said, “We were just happy to see it used as a legacy, to maintain historical buildings.”
The sandstone now sits under a protective tarp in the City of Red Deer’s Public Works yards.
If it was reclaimed from the Red Deer’s Indian Residential School, then it was mined before the facility opened in 1893. The school has a sad legacy. With poor living conditions and the highest student mortality rate in Canada, it was shut down in 1919 and replaced with another Indian Residential School near Edmonton.
Most other sandstone buildings also vanished from the area over the years. Dawe said few all-sandstone clad buildings remain in Red Deer, so the ones still standing are worth preserving.
The best example is the St. Luke’s Anglican church, which requires some repairs around several windows, and the Green Block, now home to Artistry in Gold Jewellers, on the corner of Ross Street and Little Gaetz. Several old homes were also created with sandstone foundations, including the Parsons House and the J. J. Gaetz House.
“Now we have this wonderful supply for the next big project,” said Dawe.