Michener Centre leaves big footprint in Red Deer

In 1990s a plan was drawn up for land around Michener Centre to become an accessible neighbourhood to seamlessly blend the developmentally disabled into the larger community.

In 1990s a plan was drawn up for land around Michener Centre to become an accessible neighbourhood to seamlessly blend the developmentally disabled into the larger community.

Had it become a reality, the neighbourhood would have been another example of progressive approaches in Red Deer to assist people with developmental disabilities that started with the Provincial Training School that later became known as Michener Centre.

Gail Surkan, 66, mayor of Red Deer from 1992 to 2004, remembered it was an interesting plan and a challenging way to approach land use.

Barrier-free infrastructure was to address mobility challenges and roads and sidewalks were to form loops so if someone wandered, they would circle back to where they started.

Recreation and educational facilities would also encourage other citizens to visit and move in.

“At the time, conceptually, it was a very imaginative way to think about what a community might look like that had a very diverse citizenship in it including people with all kinds of disabilities or different capabilities. In many ways I think it’s too bad that things changed and it never really got any traction. It had some real possibilities,” said Surkan, who was first elected as a city councillor in 1986, later running for mayor.

Not only was the plan shelved, the Michener Centre Board was also disbanded in favour of a regional board to address all services for developmentally disabled in the area.

Surkan said at times it was frustrating not knowing what would eventually happen to Michener property, which is provincial land, as the number of residents declined and would eventually no longer be needed.

“More than once there was a long-term physical plan developed for the area. One would get developed and it would seem to fall into disuse and another one would get developed with perhaps a different perspective.”

Over the years city administrators also put in place a process for the growth of community group homes. Red Deer was always unique because of its acquaintance with the developmentally disabled, she said.

“(Michener) brought a community of citizens into Red Deer that became just an integral part of our community and we grew very accustomed to seeing them on the streets, and in transit (buses), and at our events, and in our sports arenas and I think that added positively to our sense of diversity and our appreciation and understanding of what it was like to have people of all levels in our community,” Surkan said.

Both Surkan and Morris Flewwelling, Red Deer mayor from 2004 to 2013, agreed that Michener Centre made Red Deer one of a kind.

He recalled how his children were “a little stunned” the first time they visited Roland Michener Recreation Centre pool, but it turned into an opportunity to explain developmental disabilities to them.

“David called them the crooked people and he grew up knowing the crooked people all his life,” said Flewwelling, 72.

As much as Michener was part of Red Deer’s identity, and did attract workers from different countries, the city has always had a diverse economic foundation, he said.

“We had many strings in our bow and Michener was one of those in its heyday. It hasn’t been for some time.”

But Flewwelling said closing Michener’s older buildings, which the province has planned for this year, will still impact staff and their families and those who benefit from the economic spinoff from maintaining its buildings and serving its residents.

Red Deer historian Michael Dawe, said at one time probably one out of every four people in Red Deer either worked at Michener or was a resident there.

Growing up in the Michener Hill neighbourhood, Dawe, 58, often saw people wearing white medical shoes and the string of vehicles entering or leaving the grounds at shift change.

At its peak in the late 1960s, Michener had more than 2,300 residents. Today the number of residents is about 210.

“Michener Centre was pretty self-sufficient for a long time. They even had their sick bay. They ran their own power plant, their own fire department. A lot of their infrastructure was done by them,” Dawe said.

“For a long time you could get a job there. You would never get rich on it. But it was stable job and it came with a pension.”

And as residents began to move out of Michener, many stayed in Red Deer, he said.

“They stayed some place where it was familiar, so they are living in group homes or maybe living independently. For a lot of them, (Red Deer) was their life-long home. Familiarity builds a certain level of security and builds a feeling of comfort.”

Surkan said long-time Red Deerians remember Michener as a huge employer with “a big physical footprint, a big impact, a big voice.”

“For those who come now, it’s a very small institution really with very few people. Though there’s a big physical chunk of land there, there really isn’t a high profile of the institution itself. Maybe that’s a part of healthy evolution,” Surkan said.

szielinski@bprda.wpengine.com

Coming Tuesday: The final story in the series looks at what might become of the Michener lands one day.

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

Just Posted

Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)
Red Deer reports 25th COVID-19 death

415 new cases identified provincially Saturday

Erika Fetterly, owner of EFP Studios, recently launched the Let Them Have A Voice campaign. (Contributed photo)
Central Alberta photographer’s campaign aims to give youths a voice

An Innisfail photographer is giving a platform to young central Albertans so… Continue reading

More than 120,000 Albertans have signed up to get the COVID-19 vaccine in the first two days of appointment bookings. (Photo courtesy Alberta Health Services Twitter)
Alberta Health Services apologizes after seniors struggle to book vaccine appointments

The CEO and president of Alberta Health Services is apologizing after seniors… Continue reading

Red Deer’s Kyle Moore, 26, will be a houseguest on Season 9 of Big Brother Canada. (Photo courtesy Big Brother Canada)
Red Deer man will be a houseguest on Big Brother Canada

A Red Deer man will be a houseguest on the upcoming season… Continue reading

Red Deer Public Schools says that in the absence of additional funds from the provincial government, there was no consideration of using alternate classroom sites in the district. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Red Deer Public Schools launches online engagement process

Red Deer Public schools is seeking community input to help ensure a… Continue reading

An arrest by Red Deer RCMP is facing online scrutiny. No charges have been laid and the incident is still under investigation. (Screenshot of YouTube video)
Red Deer RCMP investigating violent arrest caught on video

Police say officer ‘acted within the scope of his duties’

Ottawa Senators goaltender Matt Murray (30) stands in his crease as Calgary Flames left wing Andrew Mangiapane (88), left to right, defenceman Rasmus Andersson (4), Matthew Tkachuk (19), Mikael Backlund (11) and Mark Giordano (5) celebrate a goal during second period NHL action in Ottawa on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Calgary Flames beat Ottawa 6-3 to end Senators’ three-game win streak

Flames 6 Senators 3 OTTAWA — The Calgary Flames used a balanced… Continue reading

Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews (34) falls on his knees as he skates around Ottawa Senators defenceman Artem Zub (2) during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Thursday, February 18, 2021. The Maple Leafs will be without star centre Auston Matthews when they take on the Edmonton Oilers Saturday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Toronto star Auston Matthews won’t play as Leafs face Oilers

EDMONTON — The Maple Leafs will be without star centre Auston Matthews… Continue reading

Crosses are displayed in memory of the elderly who died from COVID-19 at the Camilla Care Community facility during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on November 19, 2020. The number of people who would have died from a COVID-19 infection is likely to be much higher than recorded because of death certificates don't always list the virus as the cause of a fatality, experts say. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Death certificates don’t accurately reflect the toll of the pandemic, experts say

The number of people who would have died from a COVID-19 infection… Continue reading

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. A single dose of Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine is barely enough to cover the average pinky nail but is made up of more than 280 components and requires at least three manufacturing plants to produce. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
From science to syringe: COVID-19 vaccines are miracles of science and supply chains

OTTAWA — A single dose of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine is barely enough… Continue reading

Wetaskiwin RCMP say a Maskwacis man died after he was struck by a vehicle. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Clare’s Law in Saskatchewan used handful of times; Mounties review their role

REGINA — A first-of-its-kind law in Canada meant to warn those at… Continue reading

The Magpie river in Quebec is shown in a handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Boreal River MANDATORY CREDIT
Quebec river granted legal rights as part of global ‘personhood’ movement

MONTREAL — With its kilometres of rapids and deep blue waters winding… Continue reading

Thorough sanding of a table top is usually the first step to renewing a finish. Wax contaminants can sometimes still remain on a surface like this after sanding. Cleaning with rubbing alcohol and a rag gets rid of these contaminants without leaving a residue behind. (Photo by Steve Maxwell)
Houseworks: Fixing wood finishes

Q: How can I stop polyurethane from beading up on a mahogany… Continue reading

Most Read