Michael Dawe: With the war now behind it, 100 years ago, Red Deer savoured Christmas

Michael Dawe: With the war now behind it, 100 years ago, Red Deer savoured Christmas

Another Christmas will soon be upon us. However, it is interesting to reflect back 100 years to the Christmas of 1919, as it was a very different one than what we are experiencing today.

Christmas is generally a time to celebrate “peace on Earth, goodwill to all men.”

While the First World War officially ended Nov. 11, 1918, Christmas that year was not fully one of peace.

While some veterans had been able to return home before the end of 1918, most were still overseas. It took a long time and a lot of paperwork to arrange transport back to Canada and discharge from the military.

Moreover, despite the official end of the war Nov. 11, there were a number of Canadians (including some from central Alberta) who were still fighting in the Murmansk/Archangel area of northern Russia and at Vladivostok in Siberia. Those men did not make it home to central Alberta until the early summer of 1919.

Hence, the Christmas of 1919 was in many respects, the first true peacetime Christmas in central Alberta.

Tragically, the war had left the economy in a phenomenal mess. The worst inflation ever recorded in Canadian history struck, fuelled by the massive spending during the war.

Once the inflation bubble burst, the economy plunged into a deep depression. A great many businesses went bankrupt, or else quietly closed their doors. Local unemployment soared to almost 25 per cent.

The state of the unemployed was made worse by the fact many were veterans who had come back from overseas with injuries to their bodies and/or their minds, or else were suffering from chronic illnesses acquired while they were still on active service.

Local farmers struggled, not only because of the poor economy, but also because of poor harvests. Winter came early, with heavy snows starting Oct. 8.

Temperatures soon plunged to some of the lowest levels recorded since the brutal winter of 1906-07. The poor weather deepened the feelings of misery and hardship.

Nevertheless, people looked forward to the coming of Christmas and the new year with the hope things would start to get better.

At the very least, people hoped there would be a bit of relief from all of the problems.

Stores began their Christmas sales in the latter part of November, a bit earlier than had been usual at the time.

Great bargains were offered in the hopes of increasing sales and enticing local farmers to make the trip over snow-plugged roads to get to town.

Local community groups and schools organized concerts and Christmas tree celebrations for the children.

These Christmas trees involved decorating the trees with many presents and then giving one to each of the children in attendance.

As was the tradition, Santa Claus was given the honour of passing out the gifts and treats.

The Red Deer High School also used one of the days leading up to Christmas for what was referred to as commencement ceremonies. Medals and awards were given to students for their academic and sports accomplishments. For many, it was the first time in years that their fathers got to watch them receive their recognitions.

An old students’ reunion was later held at the high school. This allowed those who had come home for the holidays to get together with their former classmates. There was a large turnout.

A supper was served, followed by a big dance in the school assembly hall. The Bones, noted local musicians, and the veterans’ orchestra provided the music. The dance went on until 2 a.m.

Christmas Day fell on a Thursday. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day featured the traditional church services. However, other than those gatherings, most people stayed close to home. It was the first time in a long time family and close friends had been able to get together for a holiday celebration.

Boxing Day had traditionally been the day for a community hockey game or curling bonspiel.

In 1919, the latter event was preferred because of the long spell of cold weather and the fact Red Deer lacked an indoor hockey/skating rink.

The curling club staged a huge dance at the Red Deer armouries Dec. 26. Three hundred and forty tickets were sold, an impressive number when one remembers Red Deer had a population of 2,800 at the time.

The dance also earned a profit of $200, a welcome bit of cash in the otherwise tough economic conditions.

Red Deer historian Michael Dawe’s column appears Wednesdays.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, which causes COVID-19, emerge from the surface of cells isolated from a patient in the U.S. and cultured in a lab in a 2020 electron microscope image. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-HO, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories
Alberta adds 463 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday

The central zone has 818 active cases

Red Deer teacher Janelle Van Tetering had her students write letters to attach to Blankets of Hope, which will be donated to the Mustard Seed. (Contributed photo)
Red Deer teacher, students donate ‘Blankets of Hope’ to those in need

A Red Deer teacher and her students are giving warm blankets and… Continue reading

RCMP have charged a Sylvan Lake man for allegedly defrauding five people of more than $100,000.
Advocate file photo
20-year-old woman killed in collision: Blackfalds RCMP

A 20-year-old woman was killed in a collision on Saturday, says Blackfalds… Continue reading

Patrick Malkin, co-owner of The Granary Kitchen, says he wants the provincial government to lift COVID-19 restrictions that shutdown in-person dining. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer restaurant owner ‘frustrated’ in-person dining restrictions are still in place

Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced the restrictions won’t yet be eased this past Thursday

As of Friday, Alberta has under 10,000 active COVID-19 cases. (Image courtesy CDC)
Alberta identifies 573 new COVID-19 cases, 13 deaths on Saturday

There are currently 9,727 active cases of the virus in the province

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

Toronto Maple Leafs' Alexander Kerfoot, centre, tries to get the puck past Calgary Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom, right, as Noah Hanifin looks on during first period NHL hockey action in Calgary, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Morgan Reilly’s three assists lifts Maple Leafs to 3-2 win over Flames

Leafs 3 Flames 2 CALGARY — Morgan Reilly’s three assists helped the… Continue reading

Green Bay Packers' Adrian Amos (31) reacts after intercepting a pass intended for Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Mike Evans during the second half of the NFC championship NFL football game in Green Bay, Wis., Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Road warriors: Bucs win 31-26 at Green Bay, reach Super Bowl

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ road… Continue reading

People arrive to be tested for COVID-19 at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, January 24, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Too soon to know if Canada’s COVID-19 case decline will continue, Tam says

MONTREAL — It’s still too soon to know whether the recent downward… Continue reading

Flowers are seen at the front door of Dr. Denis Vincent's dental practice in North Vancouver, B.C. on March 31, 2020, after he died of COVID-19. The British Columbia Dental Association has written a letter to Premier John Horgan urging him to include dentists in a priority group for the COVID-19 vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Dentists, teachers disappointed they won’t be prioritized for vaccine in B.C.

VANCOUVER — Dentists and teachers are among the groups that are disappointed… Continue reading

Indiana Pacers guard Justin Holiday (8) shoots over Toronto Raptors forward DeAndre' Bembry (95) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Anunoby’s hot hand helps short-handed Raptors beat Pacers

Raptors 107 Pacers 102 INDIANAPOLIS — OG Anunoby scored a season-high 30… Continue reading

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

OTTAWA — Under fluorescent lights, Wendy Muckle surveys the supervised consumption site… Continue reading

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) headquarters Connaught Building is pictured in Ottawa on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020. nbsp; THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Taxpayers’ watchdog sees complaints spike, raising worries about pandemic tax season

OTTAWA — Canada’s taxpayers’ ombudsperson says his office has seen a steep… Continue reading

Most Read