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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Feature Article


Written By: Michael Dawe
Published By: Red Deer Express
Article Used with permission. © Copyright Michael Dawe, 2005

The turn of the last century was a period of tremendous growth and change for the Canadian prairies. Thousands upon thousands of new settlers flooded in from across the globe to take out homesteads or to start new businesses in what was widely known as "The Last Best West".

During the election of 1904, the federal government of Sir Wilfrid Laurier recognized the impact of this incredible wave of new immigration and the increasing importance of the West to the nation. Therefore, Laurier promised to give full provincial status to Alberta and Saskatchewan if re-elected.

He was victorious and in early 1905, steps began to pass what were referred to as the "autonomy" bills for the new provinces. The legislation was approved in early summer with the formal declarations of the two provinces to take place at the beginning of September.

With all the boundless optimism engendered by the great boom, the citizens of Red Deer decided that the community should become the new capital city of Alberta. Although, Red Deer had only 1500 residents, many were sure that the population would be in the tens of thousands in the not too distant future.

Several pointed out that the capital cities of many American states were not the largest urban centres, but rather were communities with other important attributes. Red Deer, they argued, was in the centre of the settled part of Alberta and was literally mid-point between the two largest cities, Calgary and Edmonton. It was therefore ideally located to become the new capital of Alberta.

As early as February 1905, a delegation consisting of three prominent citizens, John T. Moore, George Wilbert Smith and George W. Greene, went down to Ottawa to make the pitch for Red Deer to be named the capital.

The community was only slightly fazed when Edmonton was named the provisional capital city. Many felt that the distant authorities in Ottawa did not properly understand the situation in Alberta and their error would soon be corrected once the new province elected its own legislature. Hopes rose even more when John T. Moore, one of the strongest backers of Red Deer’s bid and one of the province’s most eloquent speakers, was elected as Red Deer’s first M.L.A.

The formal pitch was made in April 1906, shortly after the new legislature began sitting. The Lieutenant Governor, Premier Rutherford and all the new M.L.A.’s were invited down to Red Deer to view the community and to learn of the Town’s many attractions.

In order to help the cause, Mayor Edward Michener offered the donation of ten acres of land on the edge of Michener Hill as a site for the legislature building. The adjacent landowner, Henry Jamieson, with the support of Town Council, offered another forty acres for the legislature grounds and provincial government office buildings.

The dignitaries arrived in Red Deer on April 17th. They were toured around the community so that they could see first hand Red Deer’s many beauty spots and other civic attractions. In the evening, a lavish banquet was held in the Arlington Hotel, at the time the community’s finest establishment.

After an incredible meal and extensive entertainments, the speeches began on how wonderful Red Deer was and how it would be perfect as the capital city. Those speeches went on until quarter to five in the morning.

The next day, or more accurately, later on in the morning, the dignitaries were roused out of bed and taken to a new park in front of the C.P.R. Station. The Lieutenant Governor, the Premier and each of the M.L.A.’s each planted a ceremonial spruce tree to commemorate the creation of province of Alberta and to help honour Red Deer’s importance to the new province.

The dignitaries then boarded the train, while still extolling the many charms of Red Deer and the wonderful time they had enjoyed during their visit. However, once back in Edmonton, the overwhelming majority voted to make that city the permanent capital of the province. John T. Moore failed to even get a seconder for his motion to have Red Deer considered as the site.

Red Deer’s grand bid had ended in failure.

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