With French farmers north of the river and English settlers south of it, Canada’s ‘two solitudes’ were once all-too evident in Red Deer.
While it’s not widely known today, Red Deer was once a microcosm of this country’s cultural and linguistic divide, said city resident Mark Collings, who’s producing a documentary on the city’s history.
With these historic rivals staring at each other across the Red Deer River, “there must be some drama in there somewhere, just waiting to be drawn out…” he added, with a chuckle.
The Francophone neighbourhoods that sprang up around St. Joseph’s Convent in the late 1800s eventually became “absorbed” into a predominantly English-speaking community — like what happened in many other places in Alberta, said Collings.
But Red Deer retains connections with its Gallic past through a local Francophone association, the all-French Ecole La Prairie School, and highly popular French Immersion programming in public and Catholic schools.
Collings, of Hwy2.TV, is making a one-hour documentary about Red Deer along with camera operator/director Marcelo Vilhena, a student in Red Deer College’s Motion Picture Arts Program.
The filmmakers are planning to interview local historian Michael Dawe, Ian Warwick of Sunnybrook Farm, Jim Robertson of the Kerry Wood Nature Centre, and other city residents about little known but “fascinating” aspects of Red Deer’s past.
Collings hopes to complete the documentary in 2017, and make it available for possible airing on PBS, Shaw TV or the CBC.
But he will also be providing shorter local history lessons to the public starting this fall.
Collings is completing a series of filmed vignettes about destination points along the city’s walking tours. He will be adding them to an interactive map he is creating at www.reddeercrossings.
By going to the website and clicking on each charted destination point along the walking tour map, people who are taking self-guided tours of Red Deer will be able to see one-to-two-minute films about various landmarks — including historic businesses, Ghost sculptures, downtown hotels, the former railway station, war memorials and old military sites.
Collings estimates about 10 vignettes per walking tour will be on the site by September.
The idea is to “flesh-out” the historic factsheet for local residents as well as tourists, said Collings, who took filmmaking at Algonquin College in Ottawa.
Having previously made a documentary about Hull, Que.’s gangster-ridden past, Collings believes this city has its share of colourful characters — such as Rev. Leonard Gaetz, who pulled a fast one when he gave some of this own land to the railway, altering the course of Red Deer’s history and his own financial profitability.
“We want to connect people to the city by exploring some of the stories. We want to engage people in their environment,” said Collings, who has applied for various grants to make the longer documentary.
He said he’s already received a letter of support for the projects from the City of Red Deer.