Michael Dawe: Canada Day festivities have been interfered with before

Because of the restrictions imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual Canada Day celebrations are going to be quite different from those organized in the past.

Instead of large public gatherings, the entertainment and other festivities will be broadcast virtually.

The evening fireworks will still be staged, although at the Westerner Park grounds instead of Bower Ponds. There will also be a Gord Bamford concert, with attendees watching from their cars.

This is not the first time there have been disruptions to Canada Day (originally called Dominion Day) festivities in Red Deer.

The year 1887 was the 20th anniversary of Confederation. The fledgling settlement of Red Deer was a mere five years old.

While there were only a few settlers in the area, there was a strong urge for people to get together to socialize and to help build a sense of community.

Moreover, Rev. Leonard Gaetz, who settled with his family in what is now downtown Red Deer in 1884, had the honour of being one of the featured speakers at the Confederation celebrations in Halifax, N.S., on July 1, 1867.

One would have expected that he would have been key to organizing Dominion Day events in Red Deer.

However, 1887 was also the Golden (50th) Jubilee of the coronation of Queen Victoria. Hence, on June 21, 1887, the fledgling community gathered for a large celebratory picnic at the ranch of George Wilbert Smith (current site of West Park).

A number of games were organized for the children. A huge meal was served at noon. The afternoon featured patriotic speeches, including a very stirring address by Gaetz on loyalty to Queen and country.

With all the energies spent on the jubilee celebrations, Dominion Day passed with virtually no notice.

In 1891, the townsite of Red Deer was created on the newly constructed Calgary-Edmonton Railway. Big plans were made for a July 1 celebration.

However, the community learned that Poplar Grove (Innisfail) had also planned a big Dominion Day event. Hence, Red Deer postponed its festivities until July 10.

The spring of 1892 brought some of the best weather the frontier community had ever experienced. Nevertheless, unfortunately, other events again interfered with plans for a big Dominion Day celebration.

On June 26, 1892, Red Deer’s first church building, the Methodist, was officially dedicated. Virtually everyone in the village (approximately 200 souls) turned out for the two special church services held on that Sunday.

Shortly thereafter, two large picnics were organized for Dominion Day, one at Lacombe and the other at Pine Lake. Rev. Leonard Gaetz agreed to be one of the featured speakers at the Lacombe event. Once again, not much happened in Red Deer itself on July 1.

Things improved for Dominion Day celebrations as the 1890s progressed. July 1 became a community sports day.

There were foot races, broad and high jump competitions and pole vaults. For those who liked a friendly wager, there were also horse races held on a track west of the Calgary-Edmonton Railway yards. The day was capped with a large social gathering and dance in the Wilkins Hall on Ross Street.

However, loyalty to the Crown again took precedence in 1897. On June 22, 1897, the community gathered to celebrate the Diamond (60th) Jubilee of Queen Victoria.

Little attention was then given to Dominion Day, although a large cricket match between Red Deer and Pine Lake was organized for July 3.

After the turn of the century, Red Deer’s new fairgrounds, Alexandra Park (named in honour of Queen Alexandra), were created on the southeast side of the town (south of 45th Street and east of 48 Avenue).

This became the location for the annual community Dominion Day sports events for many years thereafter.

Historian Michael Dawe’s column appears Wednesdays.

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