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DAWE: Pioneer Christmas in Red Deer

The Town of Red Deer looking north from the South Hill near the turn of the last century. (Photo courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Postcards)

As Christmas 2023 approaches, it is interesting reflect back 110 years ago to the pioneer Christmas in our community in 1903.

The year had been a terrific one for Red Deer. The community enjoyed a tremendous economic boom. The Town’s population jumped from a few hundred to over one thousand. The flood of new settlers swamped the three hotels in town. Two new ones, the Royal (later renamed the Windsor) and the Great West were opened on Holt (51st) Avenue, south of the C.P.R. station. Nevertheless, accommodations remained so tight that the Department of Militia set up ten large tents next to the federal government’s Immigration Hall on Ross Street.

With all the newcomers, there was a phenomenal amount of new construction. New houses sprang up across the valley. Several large new brick business blocks were constructed in the downtown core, including a new three storey Opera House and the combination H.H. Gaetz Drugstore and Post Office on Gaetz Avenue South. On the brow of the hill to the southwest, work began on the thirteen-bed Red Deer Memorial Hospital.

There were other important developments. Red Deer acquired its first fire hall on Ross Street East. Contracts were let for the first courthouse building. The Town established a police department. The local ratepayers at a public meeting gave their approval for the installation of a waterworks system for the Town. Long-distance telephone service commenced in the Bell Telephone Exchange, located in the R.W. Grieve drugstore on Ross Street.

The weather was generally exceptionally warm, with very little snow. There were only two brief cold snaps, one in the first half of November and another lasting two days on December 13th and 14th. The weather got so warm that there were reports in the local press of green grass starting to grow in and around Red Deer during Christmas week.

Perhaps because of the unusually balmy weather, Red Deer’s first indoor skating rink was constructed on Morrison (52nd) Street and Nanton (48th) Avenue, west of Central School. The structure, which cost $3000, had an ice surface of 175 by 60 feet on the one side with two sheets of curling ice on the north side of the building.

Meanwhile, the Central Alberta Hockey League was formed on November 13, 1903. The League had eight teams: Carstairs, Didsbury, Olds, Innisfail, Red Deer, Lacombe, Wetaskiwin and Leduc. There were two divisions of four teams each.

On December 22nd, the new Red Deer Rink officially opened with a large skating carnival. Attendees were encouraged to dress up in costume. $15 in prizes were awarded for the various sport and skating competitions.

Meanwhile, the local schoolhouse was the scene of the traditional Christmas concerts. There were special church services held on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

There was a lot of other activity in Red Deer on Christmas Day. The weather was so warm that the local cricketers and tennis players were able to go out in their summer flannels. The Red Deer Community Band played a special concert on the Town Square. The local hotels hosted Christmas Day banquets with enormous quantities of food.

On Christmas Day evening, there was a hockey game at the new rink between Red Deer and Lacombe. Unfortunately, Red Deer got trounced in the contest by a score of 5 to 2. On Boxing Day, Red Deer’s first indoor curling match was held in the northside of the new rink.

With all the splendid weather as well as the wonderful sense of prosperity and good times, the community of Red Deer was truly able to exclaim “A Merry Christmas to All and a Very Happy, Prosperous New Year”.

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

Byron Hackett

About the Author: Byron Hackett

I have been apart of the Red Deer Advocate Black Press Media team since 2017, starting as a sports reporter.
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