There were many interesting people among the earliest settlers in Red Deer. However, Howard Douglas is an example of one very interesting individual from Red Deer’s past, who has largely been forgotten, even though he once had a street named after him. Howard Douglas was born in Halton County, Ontario.
He married Maud Alice Johnston in 1872. In 1882, he decided to explore the prospects of the Western Canadian frontier. He got a job in Winnipeg with a construction company, working on the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway across the prairies.
He did very well. Consequently in 1883, he brought his wife and three children westwards to the fledgling hamlet of Calgary. They were present when the first train arrived on August 27, 1883.
They quickly became very active in the community. They helped establish a Methodist Church in a small tent with sawdust floors and plank seats. Once a permanent church was constructed, Maud Douglas became the organist, while Howard joined with Sir James Lougheed as the principal male singers in the choir.
Originally, the Douglas’s made their home in a rail car. Shortly thereafter, they built a small house in the centre of downtown Calgary, even though the townsite had not been completely surveyed yet.
In the fall of 1890, Howard Douglas acquired the quarter section on the north side of the Red Deer River, where the Calgary-Edmonton Railway was planning to build its bridge.
Since Douglas’s new farm extended south to the section line, which soon became Douglas (55) Street, he acquired title to the land on the south bank of the river, on which Rev. Leonard and Caroline Gaetz’s house and farm buildings were located. This boundary anomaly was quickly resolved and the title to all of the land on the south side of the river was transferred to Leonard Gaetz.
The original townsite of Red Deer was created in 1890-1891 on the main quarter section owned by Leonard Gaetz, south of Douglas Street. However, in March 1893, Douglas created a partnership with Augustus Nanton and John Munson, the lawyers for the Calgary-Edmonton Railway Company, along with Leonard Gaetz, in the ownership of his north side property.
In 1894, Leonard Gaetz decided to return to the ministry in Brandon, Manitoba. His second eldest son, Halley Hamilton Gaetz, bought out his father’s and Douglas’s share in the northside land syndicate. H.H. Gaetz then began making plans to subdivide the property, creating what eventually became the Village of North Red Deer in 1911.
Needless to say, Douglas made a great deal of money out of these land deals. In 1897, he decided to move out of the livery and cartage business into the public sector. He was subsequently appointed to be the second superintendent of the Banff National Park.
The family moved from Calgary to a substantial new home in Banff. At one point, they loaned their residence to Sir Wilfrid and Lady Laurier for three months so that the Prime Minister and his wife could enjoy an extended holiday in the mountain park.
Douglas arranged for the purchase and transfer of Michael Pablo’s famous herd of prairie bison from Montana to Alberta. After he was promoted to be the Commissioner of National Parks in Western Canada in 1911, he played a major role in the creation of Jasper, Elk Island, Wainwright and Waterton Lakes National Parks.
After his retirement from the federal civil service, Douglas became the first motion picture censor for the Province of Alberta. He passed away in Edmonton in January 1929.
Meanwhile, Douglas Street in Red Deer was renamed Fifth Street North in 1913 and then 55 Street in 1947.
When the Deer Park subdivision was created on the east side of Red Deer, the name Douglas Street was used again. However, it was named in honour of several Douglas families and not Howard Douglas specifically.
Michael Dawe is a Red Deer historian and his column appears on Wednesdays.