Those kinder, gentler years

Harley Hay and Michael Dawe do a huge favour to those of us who were born in Red Deer during the 1950s and remember a kinder, gentler and smaller Red Deer.

Harley Hay and Michael Dawe do a huge favour to those of us who were born in Red Deer during the 1950s and remember a kinder, gentler and smaller Red Deer.

Harley’s personal trips down memory lane are always a way for us to connect with our home town because his reference points are so clear to anybody who became a charter member of Club Baby Boomer all those years ago, while Michael is well-armed with overwhelming photo evidence and an accurate description of the people, buildings and landmarks that form the backbone of our attachment to Red Deer’s past.

Those of you who also know Dawe through Facebook are aware of how much extra archival material he releases to his Facebook contacts every week, along with a concise synopsis of the people, places or things in the photos.

I have mixed feelings about Facebook, but his tireless efforts to remind us of our past here in Red Deer and area is one of the strongest arguments in favour of the new social media.

On the other hand, Harley tackles Red Deer’s past from a different angle of personal experience and his articles are based on a very familiar time and place.

Harley paints a crystal-clear mental picture of an earlier Red Deer that bounces around from his early childhood to his early adulthood and I can always relate to his personal vignettes from our city of yesteryear.

His recent description of the old Comp High School really resonated with me when he described the interior of the school, along with major icons of the school like vice-principal Evans.

When I think back on Evans, I remember him from a teenager’s point of view as a very intimidating man but, as a well-seasoned adult, I now remember that the man had a very good sense of humour hidden under that no-nonsense exterior.

However, I still preferred a visit with Michael’s kindly Uncle Wellington Dawe, who was principal of the school during my time.

I don’t want to steer down a memory path already blazed better and more effectively by Harley, but both of these guys really make me think about our mutual hometown in a very fond and nostalgic way.

I think about little things like the sound of church bells here in Red Deer that always seemed like such a friendly way to give any town a certain warmth and character, even those of us who are not regular church-goers.

I think about a Red Deer that shut down on Wednesday afternoons because the pace was slower and businesses picked a slow retail time in the middle of the week to regroup and prepare for the busier Thursday late night (open to 9 p.m.) and weekend trade.

Nobody was open on Sunday and somehow we managed to get everything done during the other available hours.

I think about an Advocate feature called Magistrate’s Court that included the misadventures of local citizens in the paper.

The list of offenders reported in the paper typically included illegal liquor possession and driving infractions largely committed by kids, including many who I knew from classes at the Comp.

This was a pre-Young Offenders Act era when 16-year-olds went to adult court, so there was little room to hide bad behaviour from your parents. Bear in mind that parents from that era very rarely took their kid’s side in these situations.

They were infinitely more realistic about their kids.

However, Red Deer was not exactly Mayberry at the time because we did have violent crimes, albeit with nowhere near the frequency of our current city stats.

In fact, the biggest and saddest change in this city may be its level of increased serious crime risk.

Red Deer from the old days was a place where you could feel safe on every street every minute of the day or night.

That kinder and gentler Red Deer is firmly entrenched in the vivid memories delivered via people like Harley and Michael.

I thank them for reconnecting us fellow native sons and daughters with our favourite vision of Red Deer.

Jim Sutherland is a local freelance columnist.

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