Today is St. Patrick’s Day. It is an occasion celebrated by millions of people, regardless of whether they are Irish or not. One of the most faithful celebrants of the day in early Red Deer was Fred Anquetil.
Frederick Anquetil was born on March 27, 1884, but not in Ireland, but rather on Alderney in the Channel Islands. He emigrated to Canada in 1906 and homesteaded in the Leslieville area west of Red Deer.
It was not a great experience. He spent the brutal winter of 1906-07 in a tent. At one point, the snowfall was so heavy that Anquetil and his partner, Arnold Brookes, could not find their tent as it was buried under the drifts.
In order to make some cash, Anquetil worked for a neighbour, making $1 per day and “lots and lots of porridge.” Anquetil slept in a homemade cot, nestled in the eves, above the kitchen.
Most of the work on the homestead involved breaking land with four bulls. Anquetil later wrote that he broke more harness than land. He also spoke of the clouds of mosquitoes and bulldog flies, so thick that blood was often streaming down his face.
Not surprisingly, Anquetil decided to give up the homestead and briefly went back to Britain. However, he was soon back in Red Deer. He briefly went into partnership with Sam Wilson in the Alberta Meat Market.
Anquetil got a job as a constable with the Red Deer Police Department. He also worked as the sanitary inspector and manager of the farmer’s market. During the tight budget years at the start of the First World War, city council found that instead of laying Anquetil off for the winter, as directed, the Board of Health had kept him on. Council was forced, however, to temper its anger by the fact that Red Deer recorded some of the lowest health and sanitation problems of any city in Alberta.
In 1916, Anquetil decided to enlist in the 187 Battalion. He then transferred to the 37 Forestry Company where he attained the rank of sergeant. In December 1917, near St. Quentin, France, he was injured when an anti-aircraft shell exploded next to him. The incident gave him a case of shell shock (PTSD). He also remained very hard of hearing for the rest of his life.
Once back in Red Deer in the spring of 1918, Anquetil was rehired as a night constable and the sanitary inspector. However, he was soon stricken with the dreaded Spanish flu, from which he eventually recovered.
Anquetil, with his wife Agnes and daughter Gretchen, then took up a farm in the Burnt Lake area. Again, the farming venture was not a success. In 1924, he decided to move back into Red Deer. Anquetil and Agnes became active in the Horticultural Society and won many awards for their garden.
In 1926, Anquetil got a new job as the manager of the Legion in Red Deer. He began an annual tradition of painting the public fountain on Ross Street green for St. Patrick’s Day. The fountain was a large cast iron affair with an outlet for people, a small step-up for children, a large street side trough for horses and a small overflow basin for dogs. It is unclear how Anquetil managed to get the paint to stick in the years when the weather was very cold.
Anquetil loved practical jokes. Often when he painted the fountain green, he would add some of the paint to the door handles of the nearby businesses. He made sure that the paint would still be wet when people arrived for work on St. Patrick’s Day morning.
In 1938, the beautiful old fountain was removed and replaced with a small porcelain one. The original was sent to the city yards for storage. After most people forgot what the large piece of green iron was, it was disposed of for scrap.
Anquetil remained as manager of the Legion until 1947 when he retired. In 1949, he and his wife Agnes moved to Calgary.
Anquetil passed away in July 1969 at the age of 85 and was buried in the Field of Honour in the Burnsland Cemetery. Agnes passed away in January 1979 at the age of 90.
Anquetel Street and Anquetel Close in the Anders Park subdivision were named in honour of Fred Anquetil, although unfortunately, a mistake was made in the spelling of the name.
Red Deer historian Michael Dawe’s column appears Wednesdays.