Red Deer Exhibition Parade proceeding east down Ross Street, 1908. (Red Deer Archives P7003)

Michael Dawe: Red Deer’s love affair with parades goes back 120 years

This morning, another Westerner Days Fair & Exposition kicks off with a grand parade through the downtown area.

Parades are part of a tradition in our community stretching back 120 years. However, annual fair parades have only been regularly held for 65 years.

The first recorded parade in Red Deer took place in May 1899 to celebrate the recapture of Pretoria during the South African (Boer) War.

There was a drum and fife band, along with a piper playing the bagpipes. The local boys’ brigade followed, pulling carts.

There was a special procession of men and women, riding on bicycles, which had recently been introduced into the community and were considered quite a novelty.

By the turn of the last century, there were annual parades connected with the Dominion Day (July 1) celebrations.

Again, there were bands, decorated carts and wagons, novelty entries, floats from local businesses, and fine horses.

Red Deer was still quite small and the parades would be considered very modest by today’s standards. Nevertheless, the local newspapers referred to the parades as the biggest and best ever.

One reporter even referred to a parade as “calithumpian,” or “the superlative of superlatives.”

There were other parades connected with special events. One celebrated the coronation of King George V in 1911.

Another preceded Red Deer’s first professional baseball game in May 1912. This later parade included a long procession of cars belonging to members of Red Deer’s newly formed automobile club.

Whenever the circus came to town, there was almost always a parade of the animals and the performers through the downtown streets to the fairgrounds.

The first parade connected with the Red Deer Exhibition occurred in July 1908, with the start of a summer fair (prior to 1907, the fairs had been fall events).

Fair parades were hit and miss events for the next several years. Usually, the Red Deer Citizen’s Band, the forerunner of the Royals, was a key attraction.

During the First World War, the military was involved. In 1919, there was a large parade to launch the Victory Fair, which celebrated the end of the First World War.

In 1920, the Orange Lodge organized the parade as their provincial convention was held in Red Deer at fair time.

In most years, the fair parades were limited to processions of prize-winning livestock past the grandstand after the completion of judging.

There was a grand fair parade through the downtown in 1934 as part of Red Deer’s official celebrations of its golden jubilee.

Using a pioneer theme, there were numerous special floats, decorated cars, horses, wagons, carts, and people in costume, as well as the Red Deer and Innisfail bands. It was considered one of the best parades in Red Deer’s history.

In 1955, there was another grand fair parade to celebrate the golden anniversary of the province of Alberta.

Again, there were a great many entries with a pioneer theme. There was a procession of trainees from RCAF Penhold, along with the air force band.

Red Deer’s Chinese community won the prize for the best float, which featured a pagoda scene.

The year 1955 set the pattern for annual fair parades, which continue to this day.

There have been some changes. In 1959, children from the city’s playground program entered the parade for the first time as a special component of the event.

After a few years, the children’s section was moved to the front, so that the youngsters would have a chance to see the rest of the parade.

By the 1960s and 1970s, Red Deer’s annual exhibition parade was really hitting its stride. There were at times more than 20 bands entered, providing a real panorama of music to the event.

Floats became grander and more elaborate. Tens of thousands of people from both the city and surrounding districts lined the streets to watch the spectacle.

As the decades past, the event seemed to get ever “bigger and better.”

Over the years, there have been noisy parades and quiet ones. There have been parades basking under brilliant sunshine and parades drenched by rain.

Whatever happens, there are always big crowds and a big celebration of summer in the wonderful community in which we live.

Red Deer historian Michael Dawe’s column appears Wednesdays.

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