Shirley Hocken remembers when neighbours raised chickens as well as children in what was formerly the Village of North Red Deer.
“There were mini acreages everywhere. There was a chicken farm down there, a little dairy place over here . . . and Mr. Harding had a huge peony garden,” said Hocken, recalling long-gone sights during Saturday’s centennial celebration for what’s now Riverside Meadows.
While many things have changed in the 60-odd years since Hocken’s early childhood in North Red Deer — convenience stores, restaurants and streets of houses and apartments have replaced acreages — the sense of neighbourliness has continued. And that’s definitely worth celebrating, said Alberta’s Culture Minister Lindsay Blackett.
The minister attended the 200-person gathering in front of the North Cottage School on 60th Avenue with his wife and two children because he said he wanted to honour the sense of spirit and continuity that have made Alberta great.
“If you don’t respect your heritage and know where you came from, how are you going to figure out where you’re going?” Blackett added.
Red Deer MLAs Mary Anne Jablonski and Cal Dallas, and Red Deer Mayor Morris Flewwelling also attended to pass along their best wishes.
“From the time it was a little village, people here cared enough to make things happen,” said Jablonski, who noted Riverside Meadows has one of the most active community associations in the city.
“A hundred years later, there are the same kind of people.”
Community leaders helped restore the century-old North Cottage School and also the CP Rail-turned pedestrian bridge that spans the Red Deer River, said Flewwelling.
“It’s a special privilege to be here because this is a special community.”
Red Deer North was incorporated as a village in 1911 — but not without difficulties, said historian Michael Dawe, who noted there was some government hold-ups with the paperwork.
From the beginning, the village council “was known for being lively, to put it mildly,” said Dawe. In fact, before radio and television, people used to cross the River in Red Deer just to watch fireworks fly during Red Deer North council meetings, he added. “It was such good entertainment.”
During one meeting, a councillor opposed to closing with God Save the King was threatened with being thrown into the river, said Dawe.
By then, a lumber mill was operating in the community, as well as a large Roman Catholic Church and St. Joseph’s Convent, which featured the area’s first dormitory school. By the time the Village of North Red Deer merged with Red Deer in 1947, it had attracted a large number of diverse people, including a large community of French Canadians, and was known for being tolerant and accepting.
Rachelle Dookhoo still considers it a friendly neighbourhood. The 22-year-old, who moved to Riverside Meadows two years ago, likes it because “it isn’t too big or too small and it’s quite a quiet community.”
Most people attending the celebration had been residents for much longer, including Linda Bridger. The 61-year-old grew up in North Red Deer, where her parents, Marg and Jack Read, were beekeepers who resided along “Golf Course Road,” or what’s now Kerry Wood Drive.
Although Bridger lived in Edmonton for several decades after she married, she believes there’s no place like Riverside Meadows. “It’s my home.”
Teachers Elsie Fraser, (formerly Jones), and Margaret Moroz came back to reminisce about teaching at the old school in the mid ’50s through early ’60s. Students were different then, said Moroz. “They were a lot easier to handle.”
But even today’s students are great, said Yvonne Prins, who currently teaches at the historic school. “It’s a fantastic school, with a real sense of community, and I love the kids.”
The celebration continued throughout the afternoon with food, music and other entertainment.