Another New Year is now well upon us. While this is generally a time to speculate as to what the coming year will bring, it is also fun to reflect back 30 some years ago to the New Year of 1992. While there are a great many differences between Red Deer three decades ago and Red Deer today, there are also some surprising similarities.
The winter had generally been mild, with little snow. After a cold snap in early December, temperatures had hovered near, or even slightly above, freezing. There was a strong Chinook during the week of Christmas and New Year’s, with temperatures rising to 6 °c.
The mild temperatures meant that the third annual Polar Bear Swim at Sylvan Lake was a great success. Those participating commented that the above freezing temperatures were a welcome change from the -30 °c. experienced on New Year’s Day in 1991.
While the weather was great, the economy wasn’t. Particularly hard hit was the local oil service industry. Haliburton, Amoco Canada, National Oilwell, Schlumberger, Computalog and Dresser Atlas all announced major lay-offs.
Local unemployment jumped to 10%. There were reports of a huge backlog of Unemployment Insurance Claims. As the recession dragged on, there was a surge in welfare applications to new record levels.
Not surprisingly, the local retail sector was hit hard. Local merchants reported that Christmas sales were down significantly. There was also a lot of lingering anger over the recent implementation of the G.S.T. by the Mulroney federal government.
Despite the bleak outlook, some local businesses continued to invest in the future. The Parkland Mall finished up a major renovation with a new food court and a general improvement to the Mall’s exterior. Red Deer got its first bed and breakfast when the MacIntosh House opened on the east end of Ross Street.
There was also a major proposal to construct Gaetz Plaza on the south side of the City. However, the project was mired in controversy as the developers complained about a perceived lack of support from local municipal officials. Moreover, there was a great deal of debate between the County and the City as to whether the development should remain in the County or be included in an annexation into the City.
The annual City budget deliberations brought the usual intensive media attention and public debate. Although the City’s administration stated that they were proposing one of the tightest City budgets in recent memory, the initial draft budget meant a 5% property tax increase. Many people felt that this was too high, particularly given the poor state of the local economy.
Two weeks of Council meetings and extensive debate followed. There were a number of complaints about chronic understaffing of the local R.C.M.P. detachment, although Inspector Roy Beaton stated that local crime rates had shown a promising decline in the preceding year.
As City Council’s consideration of the budget drew to a close, the amount of the proposed tax increase was reduced to 3.5%. With all of the cutbacks to which Council had agreed, the councillors put some money back into a few City programs and services. The Community Services Division, led by its director Craig Curtis, particularly benefitted with 35 of his requested “add-backs” being approved by Council.
As the month of January drew to a close, there was the exciting news that local figure skater Jamie Sale, and her partner Jason Turner, had done exceptionally well in the Canadian Figure Skating Championships in Moncton, New Brunswick.
Sale and Turner won the gold medal in the junior pairs. Sale also won the bronze medal in the novice ladies singles competition. Commentators across Canada predicted a very bright future for this young teenager from Red Deer.
Michael Dawe is a Red Deer historian. His column appears on Wednesdays.