The Dawe family home in the Michener Hill subdivision in Red Deer. This house was designed and built by Robert G. Dawe, a local engineer, in 1911 and has remained in the family ever since. (Contributed photo)

The Dawe family home in the Michener Hill subdivision in Red Deer. This house was designed and built by Robert G. Dawe, a local engineer, in 1911 and has remained in the family ever since. (Contributed photo)

Michael Dawe: 65 years of Red Deer history

As a major milestone birthday looms, I thought that it might be interesting to write not just about old Red Deer history, but history that I remember in my 65 years of living here.

I was born on March 7, 1956, in the old 1904/1912 wing of the Red Deer General Hospital. My Mother talked about the old fir floors in the maternity ward – the mothers were given special slippers to avoid getting slivers. The attending physician was Dr. Jack Staples, a very fine G.P. who was part of the Parsons Clinic.

My father had lived in Red Deer since 1910, coming here as a baby. My grandfather was an engineer/surveyor. My paternal grandmother was a music teacher, soloist and church organist. My grandparents built a large brick house on the north side of Michener Hill. That was where I, along with my older brother and younger sister, were raised. It has remained in the family ever since. I still live literally next door to the old family home.

My mother’s family, the Hodgkinsons, had come to Red Deer in 1905. My great- great grandfather and my great grandfather both took out homesteads at Pine Lake, while at the same time purchasing a half-section farm at Willowdale, southeast of Red Deer. Almost all family holidays, such as Christmas and Thanksgiving, were spent out on the Pine Lake farm, owned, by then, by my maternal grandparents.

My parents were school teachers. Hence, I grew up thinking that normal meal-time conversation was listening to who lived where and who married whom, as well as having my grammar corrected.

I was not baptized in a church. The old Gaetz Memorial United Church had burned down not long before I was born. Hence, I was baptized in the living room of the family home.

Red Deer only had a population of 12,760, but it was increasing rapidly. In fact, at the time, Red Deer was considered to be the fastest growing city in Canada. While it meant that 40 Ave., at the end of our street, was a gravel road, and pretty much the edge of town, all kinds of new houses and neighbourhoods were springing up, particularly to the south and east.

There were large numbers of young families with the great post-war baby boom at its height. There was a new school and/or a school addition built in Red Deer every single year. The city was stretched to keep up with recreational facilities. Every neighbourhood had a playground, often with a ball diamond, and an outdoor skating/hockey rink in winter. There was only one indoor rink space, the old Red Deer Arena.

There was a small outdoor swimming pool on 49 St., with notoriously cold water. There was great excitement in 1962 when the Recreation Centre was built by the Fairgrounds. It had a heated indoor pool, and other recreation amenities. Two years later, an outdoor Olympic-sized pool was constructed on the south side of the Rec Centre.

Businesses and offices were all in the Downtown, which I thought was an appropriate name since it was located in a valley. There were some neighbourhood corner stores, and two small strip malls, one in Eastview and one in West Park. In the Downtown, Eaton’s was the big national department store, followed by the Hudson’s Bay in 1961. The latter store had the excitement of Red Deer’s first escalator.

Despite its rapid growth, Red Deer was still a safe small town where people seemed to know everyone else. Kids had a free hand to “roam,” as parents rarely worried about their safety from strangers. One time my younger sister wandered off. However, before long a neighbour took her in and phoned my mother to let her know where she was.

Red Deer historian Michael Dawe’s column appears Wednesdays.

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