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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Feature Article


Written By: Michael Dawe
Published By: Red Deer Advocate Centennial Book
Article Used with permission. © Copyright Michael Dawe and the Red Deer Advocate, 2007

Red Deer grew quickly during early boom

Red Deer has enjoyed a number of remarkable boom years over the past century.

Still, it is hard to equal the wonderful growth and heady sense of optimism that the community enjoyed in 1912.

The great boom had been building for some time. After a brief lull during the recession of 1908-1910, tens of thousands of new settlers began pouring into Alberta to secure homesteads, to build new homes and to establish new businesses.

To use the slogan of the federal government at the time, they were rushing in to take advantage of "The Last Best West."

Red Deer had been designated as a major divisional point on the Calgary-Edmonton branch of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

As such, the town became the major staging area and distribution point for prospective homesteaders headed for either the West Country or the fertile prairies of East Central Alberta.

A tremendous boost to the Red Deer economy came with the construction of not one, but two railroads, the Alberta Central and the Canadian Northern Western.

Both lines were headed for the rich Brazeau coalfields at Nordegg.

The Alberta Central also had plans to build eastwards to Moose Jaw and the Hudson Bay.

As Red Deer prospered, even more people flooded into the community.

Not surprisingly, many of the new e jobs and opportunities were in the construction industry.

The statistics help to tell the story.

The value of building permits leapt from $77,005 in 1910 to $389,040 in 1912, an increase of more than 500 percent.

The local brickyards, Piper’s and Red Deer, dramatically increased their production as did Cement Builders Ltd., makers of cement tile, shingles and interlocking building blocks.

The Great West Lumber mill in North Red Deer cut less than two million board feet in 1909.

In 1912, the demand for fresh lumber was so strong that the mill cut more than three million board feet.

Several new businesses and industries started in the community during 1912.

The Freytag Tannery was built in North Red Deer.

Red Deer Holdings started a tree and flower nursery as well as a foundry.

The Laurentia Milk Co. constructed a milk-processing plant on Blowers (51st) Street.

That Jersey cow was so famous that the Red Deer Board of Trade held a special banquet in her honour on Oct. 16, 1912.

Red Deer’s public services were greatly expanded.

Large additions were built onto both the town hall and Memorial Hospital.

The magnificent Alberta Ladies College building was constructed on the brow of the east Hill. St. Joseph Convent had a large addition built on its west side.

Two new elementary schools were constructed, one in the Village of North Red Deer and the other on the south side of the Town of Red Deer.

Red Deer’s fairgrounds were greatly expanded with new exhibits, buildings, barns and a large grandstand.

All those improvements were completed in less than two months.

The great boom resulted in a very hot real estate market.

The local assessment doubled in two years. Several people began to think of themselves as millionaires, at least on paper. More than a dozen new subdivisions were placed on the market by developers and real estate promoters.

Some of these subdivisions were beyond Red Deer’s current (2007) city boundaries.

As Red Deer grew and prospered, unfortunately the crime rate also went up. In 191, the Red Deer Police Department only reported 35 criminal cases. In 1912, the number jumped to 250.

Most involved the illegal sale and possession of liquor, illicit gambling and petty theft.

Red Deer’s population soared from 2,000 in 1911 to almost 3,000 in 1912. That did no include all those who lived in the Village of North Red Deer and in Red Deer West (now West Park). With such large increases in population, plans were made to have Red Deer incorporated as a city.

After all, if Red Deer had only 323 residents in 1901, and nearly 3,000 in 1913, many felt it was not unreasonable that the population would reach 20,000 or 30,000 by 1923.

On March 25, 1913, Red Deer was formally incorporated as a city.

By that time, the great boom was rapidly losing steam. A great bust started in 1914 with the outbreak of the First World War. Red Deer remained a small prairie town of 2,800 for the next 25 years.

This article was written by Michael Dawe for the Red Deer Advocate’s Centennial Book. The Heritage Community Foundation would like to thank Michael Dawe and the Red Deer Advocate for permission to reprint these materials online. Please visit the Red Deer Advocate online.The images in the article are part of the collection of the Red Deer Archives. Please visit them online.

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