Dr. John Collison, Mayor of Red Deer, greeting Lord and Lady Baden Powell at the CPR Station in 1923. (Photo from Red Deer Archives)

Dr. John Collison, Mayor of Red Deer, greeting Lord and Lady Baden Powell at the CPR Station in 1923. (Photo from Red Deer Archives)

DAWE: Dr. Collison’s lasting impact

This year marks the centennial of the Red Deer Golf and Country Club. One of the founders of the organization was one of Red Deer’s pioneer physicians and a man who also had an enormous impact in City affairs, Dr. John Collison.

Dr. Collison was born on January 2, 1873, at Dixon’s Corners, Ontario. After completing school, he initially became a school teacher. However, after three years, he decided to launch a new career. He attended McGill University and graduated with a degree in medicine in 1901.

For two years, he worked in a hospital in Ontario, but was soon lured by the prospects of the rapidly developing Canadian West. Consequently, in 1903, he made his way to Alberta. He stopped in Red Deer and was invited to the wedding of William Spurrell and Violet Evans. He later stated that he found the hospitality to be so overwhelming that he decided to make Red Deer his new home.

Initially, he operated his practice out of the Alexandra (later known as the Park) Hotel. However, he soon built a combination office and residence on the south side of 49 Street, east of Gaetz Avenue.

Shortly after his arrival, Dr. Collison met Ella Beatty, whose father had been one of the first surveyors in the Red Deer area in the early 1880’s and whose uncles had been the first settlers south of Red Deer in 1882. John and Ella were married in 1904.

In January 1909, Dr. Collison was appointed the medical officer of health for the Town of Red Deer, a post which paid $30 per month. In 1912, he decided to specialize in diseases of the eye, ear, nose and throat. He took on a partner, Dr. C.W. Sanders, who was an old classmate from the McGill School of Medicine. Dr. Collison then went to Europe for two years to take post-graduate courses in his new specialities.

In 1914, he returned to Red Deer. He remodelled his old home on 49 Street into larger offices and a medical lab. He and his family then moved to a new home in the Waskasoo subdivision, north of 55 Street.

Dr. Collision was very athletic. He particularly enjoyed golf. In the years immediately after the end of the First World War (1919), he became a founding member of the first Red Deer Golf Club. He served on the executive committee and rose to the position of vice-president.

In the early 1920s, when the old Golf Club was being reorganized and a new golf course developed on the north side of Red Deer, Collison acted as provisional president of the new Golf and Country Club. However, he did not assume the position of the first president as he was elected in December 1921 as mayor of the City of Red Deer.

They were extremely challenging years. With a severe post-war depression, the City’s finances were in terrible shape. Taxes were raised dramatically to cover the increasing deficits and debt. Since people could not afford the higher rates, the result was only increasing tax arrears.

Finally, the banks refused to advance the City any more loans. The City was, in effect, bankrupt.

Dr. Collison and Council adopted emergency measures. A pay-as-you-go policy was adopted. All expenditures were cut to an absolute minimum. Dr. Collison deflected some criticism for the new policy by refusing to accept any of his salary.

Slowly and painfully, the financial corner was turned. The public showed their support for the severe austerity by returning Dr. Collison as mayor in the next four elections.

As conditions improved, Dr. Collison agreed to assume the position of president of the Golf and Country Club in 1924.

In 1927, with his wife’s health beginning to fail, Dr. Collison sold his practice to Dr. Charles Bunn and moved to Vancouver. Two years later, he fell ill himself with cancer. He passed away in May 1930 at the age of 57. His wife passed away six months later. They were survived by one son, David, who had followed in his father’s footsteps as a physician.

Michael Dawe is a Red Deer Historian and his column appears on Wednesdays.