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DAWE: Dr. DeLong and the early days of Red Deer

One of the most interesting individuals from Red Deer’s early days, but a man who unfortunately is not well remembered anymore, is one of Red Deer’s pioneer physicians, Dr. Ernest W. DeLong.
Dr. E.W. DeLong with his snow devil snow machine. (Photo by Red Deer Archives)

One of the most interesting individuals from Red Deer’s early days, but a man who unfortunately is not well remembered anymore, is one of Red Deer’s pioneer physicians, Dr. Ernest W. DeLong.

Ernest William DeLong was born on May 24th, 1877 in Gananoque, Ontario, the son of Rev. Albert Morice DeLong, a Methodist minister. After completing his schooling in Gananoque, he went to Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, where he obtained a medical degree. He completed his internship at the Kingston General Hospital.

While in Kingston, he met Maud Philp and a romance blossomed. In the spring of 1904, she moved to High River, Alberta, where her sister and brother-in-law were living. Ernest followed shortly thereafter. Ernest and Maud were married on January 17, 1905 in High River.

Dr. DeLong commenced a medical practice at Cayley, Alberta, but soon moved to Calgary to practice medicine there. In March 1906, Ernest and Maud’s only son, Albert was born.

Unfortunately, Albert had poor health. Consequently, Dr. DeLong sold his practice in 1910 and the family moved briefly to Vancouver.

In 1912, the DeLongs moved once again, this time to Red Deer. They built an attractive bungalow in the Fairview subdivision, overlooking what is now the Red Deer Golf Course. In addition to practicing medicine, Dr. DeLong dabbled in real estate, selling lots in Fairview. He also had dreams of helping to bring a meat packing plant to Red Deer, but this venture was unsuccessful.

When the First World War broke out, Dr. Delong tried to enlist but was turned down because he was severely asthmatic. In January 1916, he went into partnership with Dr. Richard Parsons. When Dr. Parsons enlisted in the spring of that year and went overseas, Dr. DeLong took over the practice and the family moved into the Parsons house on Mann (49th) Street.

When Dr. Parsons returned at the end of the War, the DeLongs moved to a new house on Douglas (55th) Street, across from the current site of Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church.

The terrible Spanish ‘flu epidemic struck in the late fall of 1918. Dr. DeLong, like all other physicians, found himself swamped with urgent calls. In order to get around the snowy country roads better, he teamed up with a local mechanic, Jack Archer, and turned a small Ford car into an early form of snowmobile. Dr. Delong dubbed the invention, the “Go Devil”.

The auto sleigh, as it was often described, attracted a great deal of attention. It was written up in the Ford magazine in 1919.

Dr. DeLong’s sense of invention and innovation was not just limited to mechanics. He also was quite daring in his medical practice. In one instance, he operated on a young sixteen-year-old boy, with cancer of the jaw. Dr. DeLong had a butcher in the basement of the Red Deer Hospital kill a lamb and quickly send a portion of its jaw to the operating theatre. An attempt was then made to use the lamb’s jaw as a replacement for the diseased portion of the young man’s jaw. Unfortunately, the experiment was a failure.

Dr. DeLong was known for his wit and sense of fun. He particularly liked to dress up for Halloween. It is not recorded what his patients thought when they saw him in one of his costumes.

In 1925, Dr. DeLong decided to sell his medical practice to Dr. Percy Backus. He moved briefly to Vancouver and then to Los Angeles, California. Dr. DeLong later returned to Alberta and started a new practice in Wetaskiwin. However, his health was failing by this time and he was soon back in California.

Dr. DeLong passed away on November 20, 1936 at Pasadena, California. His wife Maud passed away in 1956 and their son Albert passed away in 1960.

Michael Dawe is a Red Deer historian. His column appears on Wednesdays.