Dawe, Gross honoured

The Red Deer’s likable guru of Central Alberta history, Michael Dawe, who is one of 11 Western Canadians to receive the Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation.

The Red Deer’s likable guru of Central Alberta history, Michael Dawe, who is one of 11 Western Canadians to receive the Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation.

Dawe’s contribution to this area as an historian is nothing short of awesome. His recollections have kept alive memories that one never tires of hearing.

This historian’s roots grow deep in Central Alberta soil.

His devotion, respect, passion and love for Red Deer and surrounding area bring out his genius in painting historical pictures one cannot help but step back and admire when he shares the stories of years gone by in his writings and speaking engagements.

Dawe was saluted on Tuesday in Calgary with the veterans’ commendation for his numerous contributions in preserving war history at the local level and in public education.

He’s authored books and articles about Alberta’s and Canada’s participation in war, and gives presentations to local nursing homes, schools and at the Red Deer and District Museum.

But most important, he’s a frequent guest speaker at the Royal Canadian Legion’s annual Vimy Banquet.

There, he recounts events touching many hearts in the audience, who witnessed the horrors of war and watched their pals die in the name of freedom.

Members of the Dawe family, and their friends, have been involved in the First and Second World Wars.

He says he wants people to understand the sacrifices those soldiers made.

A soldier himself in this community when it comes to volunteering on committees and fundraising projects, Dawe says: “I never had to have the volunteer experience where I’m literally risking my life, and those people did.”

The commendation is a well-deserved honour for Dawe.

To Stettler’s “Mr. Bluebird Man” Elmer Gross, who has built more than 4,000 nesting boxes for the species, which is struggling to survive.

The 81-year-old became hooked on the birds, which inspired the late, great yodelling cowboy Wilf Carter to sing “there’s a bluebird on my windowsill, there’s a rainbow in the sky,” the moment he saw his first one in his yard after retiring to Stettler from the Hanna area in the early 1980s.

“First time I saw them, I fell in love. . . . Once you have a bluebird in your yard, it’s like having a pet,” said Gross.

These gentle and genial birds touched the senior’s heart so much, he set his mind to a major project — building nesting boxes out of scrap wood he recycled from the Stettler landfill.

So how much recycled wood does it take to build around 4,000 nesting boxes? Gross figures enough to build a three-bedroom house.

Gross was recently honoured by the Ellis Bird Farm at Prentiss with the Blue Feather Award for his 25-year commitment to ensuring adequate housing for the bluebirds.

The species’ breeding populations have diminished significantly because of harsh weather the last two springs.

Gross, who monitors 400 bluebird boxes (it used to be 950 before he decided it was time to ease off a bit) said he used to find 25 breeding pairs in boxes.

Last year, he found a scant two. This year, he found only three.

But Mother Nature can be quirky. The good times and the bad times in the natural world are cyclical, as long as humans keep their hands off that fragile environment.

Gross can take solace in the fact that when the bluebirds do rebound, he played a significant role.

Rick Zemanek is an Advocate editor.

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