Red Deer Salvation Army started off with a simple open-air ceremony on July 6, 1912, and a century later it’s still going strong.
The international church, which looks after the less fortunate in a variety of ways, launched a branch in Red Deer during a time when the population was only 3,000 people.
Major M. McLean of Winnipeg, plus ensign-ranked Alice Pearce, were on hand for the celebrations that would later move indoors at the Orange Hall, which had been located on 3rd Street North, now 53rd Street. At the time, the Salvation Army was 30 years old in Canada, initially opening in the Toronto and London areas.
Major Larry Bridger, who has run the Red Deer Salvation Army for the last year, said the intent of the charity’s pioneers was to open up churchs across the country to spread the gospel of Christianity.
“People stood in the rain for the (opening ceremony) and then they moved inside to the hall where they had their first meeting,” said Bridger.
The Salvation Army has been in several locations in the downtown. In 1977, it moved to its fifth and present location on 54th Street.
No matter its location, the Salvation Army has maintained a strong presence in the community.
Bridger said the charity developed an office of family services about 40 to 50 years ago.
Since that time, a number of programs have been developed, ranging from free clothing and furniture to emergency transportation and Christmas food hampers.
Thrift stores opened — one in Red Deer which is run by a regional office in Calgary. The one in Innisfail is managed by Red Deer’s Salvation Army.
For a time, the Salvation Army offered certain services, including a rehabilitation centre for alcoholics, but they were eventually closedn.
Funding became an issue in the case of the rehab centre, Bridger said.
“A soup kitchen that was running for about 10 years was discontinued because there were other agencies in the community providing the same services,” Bridger said.
Bridger said the Salvation Army is continuing to look for new ways to help the community, including a fellowship program where seniors can fellowship and have a meal.
Red Deer Salvation Army is also gearing up to hold 100th anniversary celebrations Oct. 12-14.
On the Friday night will be a special dinner for the church congregation, former church members and other guests.
At the end of August, tickets will go on sale at the Black Knight Inn ticket office for the Saturday night concert featuring the Salvation Army Canadian Staff band from Toronto. The concert will start at 7 p.m. Cost is $20.
This is Salvation Army’s elite brass band of about 33 members that’s travelled around the world to play, Bridger said.
“We’re hoping that the public will want to go to this,” he said.
“Whoever likes brass music will not be disappointed.”
During the Sunday morning worship service, Commissioner Brian Peddle, leader of the Salvation Army in Canada and Bermuda, and his wife, Commissioner Rosalie Peddle, will be present.
“It’s not often that our national leader gets to Red Deer and I’m not sure when was the last time,” said Bridger, now in his 35th year with the Salvation Army.
“This is the first time I’ve been involved in a 100th celebration — it’s a very significant event.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently sent written congratulations to the Salvation Army.