Sure, the CPR pedestrian bridge, opened in 1909 as a rail conduit, is old. But the grand span has got nothing on the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce.
On Friday, the local business advocacy organization held a celebratory barbecue on the bridge to mark year 120 of being in Red Deer.
The group that today boasts some 900 members started in 1894 with nine.
Those young business people who had come to the fledging townsite bordering the south bank of the Red Deer River gathered at the offices of the Red Deer Review newspaper on St. Patrick’s Day 1894 to establish the Red Deer Board of Trade.
A forerunner to the Chamber, the Board of Trade’s early projects centred around incorporating little Red Deer as a village and ensuring decent roads led to and from the community. Members also focused on luring new industry, securing crucial services and getting Sylvan and Pine lakes stocked with “useful” fish.
In the early 1900s, with membership on the board restricted to men 21 and older who were of good moral character, it attempted to have Red Deer named the provincial capital and printed flattering promotional material depicting high-rise office towers and street cars in the downtown along with steamboats on the Red Deer River.
There were rough economic and organizational times before and after the board became the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce in 1953, but the organization grew significantly with the city in the 1970s and 80s.
Today, it is one of the most active chambers in the whole country in terms of policy development and advocacy.
For Dom Mancuso, a past president of the Red Deer cadre and current chair of the Alberta Chambers of Commerce, what makes Red Deer’s body unique is its advocacy work on behalf of the agricultural community.
In 2003, the Chamber submitted a policy resolution calling for an end to the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly on grain sales and marketing. It continued to push its position and met with the federal agriculture minister up until 2011, when legislation ended the policy.
“We’ve got a very strong agricultural policy community at the chamber and that’s kind of unique to us,” said Mancuso, “I guess being smaller you kind of know who your neighbours are, as corny as that sounds.”
While acknowledging that the chamber could always use more farmers as actual members, Mancuso said the organization’s nature is to be grassroots and the Chamber’s employees make it a point to network and understand the issues of others.
One of those employees is executive director Tim Creedon. In the position since 2008, he has seen the Chamber develop or strengthen partnerships with the city, the county, and Red Deer College — in forming Central Alberta: Access Prosperity — and Westerner Park, which is a partner in the Chamber’s Agri-Trade Equipment Expo.
“That level of involvement and those partnerships make us completely unique across the province,” said Creedon.
He said moving forward the Chamber is working on a rebranding process to refresh its presentation to membership and the city as a whole, the organization’s red deer logo merely one thing that will take on a new look in the near future.