One of Red Deer’s most important early businesses, and one which exemplified the high quality of a lot of early construction in the community, was the firm of Baird and McKenzie.
Hugh Baird was born in Tigerton, Scotland, in 1873. In 1904, Hugh and his brother James decided to try a new life in Red Deer. The following year, they were joined by most of their family – parents, James and Annie (Beaton), as well as their sister Betsy and her husband, John Skene.
For a brief while, the family tried homesteading in the Valley Centre district east of Red Deer. However, they soon moved into Red Deer. Since James Sr., Hugh and John had experience in the lumber and construction industries, they decided to go into those types of businesses.
One of the first major projects, on which the Bairds and John Skene worked, was the construction in 1907 of the beautiful Red Deer Public School, nicknamed The Castle because of its striking architecture.
Hugh went into partnership with George Dustan, a master craftsman who was also part owner of the Red Deer Tile and Brick Company. They built the large Smith and Gaetz (Central) Block, on the corner of Ross Street and Gaetz Avenue, as well as such impressive brick residences as the Ellis house on Douglas (55) Street.
Tragedy struck in August 1908 when George Duston passed away suddenly of a stroke. The tragedy was compounded by the fact that Duston passed away during a sharp downturn in the economy.
Hugh moved briefly to Victoria, British Columbia, to see if prospects were better there. However, he was soon back in Red Deer.
Meanwhile, in 1906, Allan McKenzie moved to the Stauffer area of West Central Alberta with his parents from New Richmond, Quebec. After briefly trying homesteading, he moved to North Red Deer and became a carpenter.
In 1910, Allan’s uncle and aunt, John and Janet McKenzie Fallow, and their large family moved to North Red Deer. John had been hired as the superintendent of the Great West Lumber Company, the large sawmill operation, located where Bower Ponds are today.
Allan McKenzie built the large brick Fallow home on the brow of the North Hill. Unfortunately, John Fallow died of a heart attack a year after the house was completed. Nevertheless, this residence remained in the family for a great many years afterwards and still stands at 12 Howarth Street Close.
Hugh Baird was one of the tradesmen who worked on the Fallow house. As that project drew to a close, he and Allan McKenzie decided to go into business together as contractors.
Their timing was excellent. The Town of Red Deer and the newly-formed Village of North Red Deer were entering into one of the strongest booms in the community’s history. The new firm of Baird and McKenzie was soon extremely busy constructing impressive brick commercial buildings and quality residences.
In 1913, business was so brisk that Baird and McKenzie decided to construct a sash and door factory and a planing mill, next to the Great West Lumber sawmill. That fall, Baird and McKenzie really hit the jackpot when they secured the contract to build most of the miners’ cottages and several of the commercial buildings in the new townsite of Nordegg.
On April 29, 1914, Allan McKenzie married Winifred Fallow, one of Janet and John Fallow’s daughters. Tragedy struck when Winnifred’s mother passed away shortly after the wedding.
The great construction boom came to an abrupt halt with the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Once the Nordegg project was completed, the firm of Baird and McKenzie folded. The once mighty Great West Lumber Company permanently ceased operations in 1916.
Allan McKenzie eventually started a new career with the construction firm of Bennett and White. He and his wife later retired in Vancouver.
Meanwhile, Hugh Baird went to Wisconsin for a while, but then moved to Edmonton where he had secured a position with the Provincial Department of Public Works. He passed away in April 1956.
Michael Dawe is a Red Deer historian. His column appears on Wednesdays.