Christmastime will soon be upon us. It is a time when tradition is very important to most people as they celebrate the season. It is therefore interesting to reflect back 70 years ago to the Christmas of 1952.
Red Deer was in the midst of an emerging boom. The great post-war baby boom was beginning. Thus, there were large numbers of young couples starting families and establishing new homes in the community.
Also fuelling the boom was the rapid escalation of oil and gas activity. Oil reefs were discovered in the Sylvan Lake and Gull Lake areas. There were a number of successful natural gas wells drilled in the West Country as well.
There was a tremendous increase in construction. The value of local building permits soared by $1 million to more than $2.2 million. An estimated 165 new dwellings were built in the community with many including basement suites and other rental spaces.
The local school districts struggled to keep up with the rapidly rising enrolments. The Public School Board, in 1952 built two new schools – South and South Hill (later renamed Piper Creek). Announcements were made of school additions in Grandview/Mountivew. The Public School Board also announced the construction of a home economics and industrial arts facility at the Central School complex.
There was also a strong need in the community for new recreational facilities. The Arena building on Ross Street had become totally inadequate. Hence, a new Arena was built on the Red Deer Fairgrounds on the south side of the Downtown area.
There was a number of controversies to the project. Several people felt that the facility should be built closer to the centre of the community instead of the “outskirts” of the Downtown. Estimated cost of construction jumped from $165,000 to $250,000, which necessitated a number of cost-cutting measures including the delay of an ice making plant.
With an unexpected warm spell setting in during mid-December, the consequence was that the official opening of the new Arena had to be delayed from December 17 to December 23, almost the eve of Christmas. Nevertheless, huge crowds showed up for the opening and a featured Ice Fantasy Show.
The warm weather that delayed the official opening of the Arena bolstered the annual Christmas shopping season. The stores in the Downtown were full of shoppers seeking gifts and Christmas accessories.
Appliances were a common Christmas special offering. Washing machines were advertised at $209.95 for good quality machines. Philco radios were on-sale at $71.95 with fancier models being offered at somewhat more. Televisions were not advertised as it would be a few more years before Red Deer had a local T.V. station.
For Christmas feasts, turkeys were 41¢ per lb., Christmas hams were 49¢ per lb., Mandarin oranges were $1.61 per box, fruit cakes at 65¢ each and heads of lettuce were 19¢ per pound.
Local organizations, schools and churches held their Christmas gatherings and concerts further lifting the holiday spirit. The local Nazarene College staged an enormously successful production of Handel’s Messiah.
Christmas Eve fell on a Wednesday that year. At each gathering, the pews were filled to overflowing, as the congregations celebrated the special event. There were yuletide sermons, special prayers and the lusty singing of the traditional hymns and carols.
Everywhere, there were hearty greetings of “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year”.
Michael Dawe is a Red Deer Historian. His column appears on Wednesdays.