The hand-carved sandstone grave marker to Isabella and Isaac Gaetz in the Red Deer Cemetery. (Photo courtesy of www.findagrave.com)

Michael Dawe: Two Red Deer settlers enjoyed a real-life love story

Valentine’s Day will soon be upon us. It is a time of year when a great many love stories will be recounted.

One of the most interesting love stories in Red Deer’s history goes back more than 125 years. It involves Isaac Gaetz and his wife Isabella Wentzell Gaetz, affectionately known to many of the first settlers in Red Deer as Uncle Isaac and Aunt Belle.

They were two of the most loving and caring people to live in the community.

Isaac Gaetz was born in Jeddore, N.S., in 1839, the fourth son of Leonard (Senior) and Catherine Ritcey Gaetz.

In addition to running his small mixed farm, he became very active with the Methodist Church. He became a lay minister and spent a considerable amount of time working for the church in Nova Scotia.

In 1868, he married Isabella Wentzell of Bridgewater, N.S., who was 32 years old at the time. It became a true, life-long partnership. Also, when they got married, Isaac’s widowed mother, Catherine, came to live with them.

Isaac and Belle loved children. Unfortunately, they did not have any of their own. However, after Isaac’s sister Elizabeth Martin became widowed, she and her two sons, Arthur and Everitt, came to live with Isaac, Belle and Grandmother Gaetz. Isaac and Belle also took in a number of foster children.

Not surprisingly, Isaac and Belle took a strong interest in Sunday schools.

They not only were Sunday school teachers, but they also helped to establish Sunday schools in other communities.

In 1886, after Isaac’s mother died, Isaac and Belle decided to move to Red Deer, where a number of the family, such as Isaac’s brother and sister-in-law, Rev. Leonard and Caroline Gaetz, sister-in-law Catherine and her son John Jost Gaetz, and nephew Heck Gaetz were already living.

Isaac and Belle were accompanied on their trip West by another nephew, George Wilbert Smith.

Isaac and Belle initially took out a homestead along the Delburne Road (Secondary Highway 595), just north of where the Centrium and Westerner Grounds are now located.

However, they soon decided to build a log house along the west side of Waskasoo Creek (just north of what is now 43rd Street), as that was closer to the Calgary-Edmonton Trail and their large number of nephews and nieces at Leonard and Caroline Gaetz’s home at the north end of what is now Gaetz Avenue.

Isaac quickly became active in building up the local Methodist congregation, as his younger brother Leonard was too busy with his farm and large family to take up the work.

Isaac was so successful over the winter of 1886-1887, that he was able to have a student missionary, William Vrooman, assigned to Red Deer for the summer of 1887.

Isaac also helped to establish the Red Deer Public School District in 1887. He helped to build the first log schoolhouse on the west side of West Park. He literally spilt blood on the project, as he badly gashed his shin with an axe while cutting logs.

Once the schoolhouse was finished, it was frequently used for church services. Isaac and Belle soon established the first regular Sunday school there.

When Rev. Vrooman, who had acted as the first schoolteacher, left the community, Isaac, Belle and Leonard prevailed upon their nephew George Wilbert Smith to take over the teaching duties.

Many of the first pupils of the first Red Deer school later wrote about the kindness and hospitality of Uncle Isaac and Aunt Belle.

They knew they could always stop by the log house — to warm up, have a drink of well water or milk, and likely be treated to a small snack.

Isaac and Belle were also very vigilant to make sure no children got into trouble while playing along the banks of the nearby Waskasoo Creek.

On Oct. 26, 1893, Belle died after she contracted typhoid fever. Isaac died one month later on Nov. 26, 1893, from what was described as inflammation of the lungs. Many said he actually passed away from a broken heart.

When Janet McLelland died just before Belle on Oct. 18, 1893, John Jost Gaetz agreed she could be buried on a beautiful site overlooking the valley from the East Hill.

The Gaetz family subsequently decided to bury both Belle and Isaac next to Janet McLelland, instead of in plots in the existing village cemetery on the north side of 43rd Street (under what is now Taylor Drive).

Thus, beginnings of the Red Deer Methodist (later Red Deer Municipal) cemetery were established.

A beautiful large grave marker, lovingly hand-carved from sandstone from the Red Deer River, was placed at Isaac and Belle’s gravesite. The marker remains to this day.

Red Deer historian Michael Dawe’s column appears Wednesdays.

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