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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Feature Article

RED DEER BECOMES ALBERTA'S FOURTH-LARGEST CITY: 1966

Written By: Michael Dawe
Published By: Red Deer Advocate Centennial Book
Article Used with permission. © Copyright Michael Dawe and the Red Deer Advocate, 2007
2007-01-01

Red Deer becomes Alberta\

On Feb. 1, 1966, Red Deer was officially declared the fourth-largest city in Alberta.

The 1966 civic census put Red Deer’s population at 25,752, while Medicine Hat was officially recorded as having a population of 25,376.

There was a lot of civic pride at having reached this new milestone.

It reflected the astonishing growth that Red Deer had experienced in the 20 years since the end of the Second World War.

Red Deer had soared from just over 4,000 residents in 1946, a growth rate of 637 per cent.

In the late 1950s, Red Deer had been considered the fastest-growing city in all of Canada.

The evidence of the incredible growth was everywhere.

There were large new residential subdivisions, mainly in the south and east with Grandview, Mountview and Sunnybrook, but also in Fairview and Oriole Park on the north side and in West Park.

The downtown changed dramatically.

Many of the old brick buildings from the pre-First World War boom had been torn down and replaced, with new business and office blocks.

Eaton’s department store, the retail giant on Gaetz Avenue, had been joined by another large retail chain, the Hudson’s Bay Co., which built a sparkling new store on the corner of 49th Street and 49th Avenue.

Red Deer was maintaining its status as the regional shopping hub.

New industries had sprung up in both the Riverside Industrial Park and the Golden West Industrial Parks.

These included meat-packing plants and a new trailer manufacturing plant on 67th Street.

With the wonderful growth and prosperity, an amazing number of young baby-boom families had moved to Red Deer.

From 1951 to 1966, there was a new school built in Red Deer every year except one. In some years, two or more schools were built.

While the Nazarene College had sold its campus on the southside of town, Red Deer Junior College had commenced operations in temporary quarters at the Lindsay Thurber High School. Plans were well under way to build a permanent college complex south of West Park.

The Provincial Training School (renamed Alberta School Hospital in 1965) and the adjoining Deerhome Institution had been greatly expanded.

By the mid-1960s, an estimated one out of every five people in Red Deer worked or lived at these two institutions for the care of the mentally handicapped.

The Red Deer General Hospital was increasingly the major regional health care centre for Central Alberta.

The new Dr. Richard Parsons Auxiliary Hospital, along with two new nursing homes, provided badly needed chronic and rehabilitative care.

The ever-expanding Twilight Homes provided some leading-edge advancements in housing seniors.

However, the attainment of bragging rights as Alberta’s fourth largest city came as this great boom was finally coming to an end.

The biggest blow to the local economy came with the decision of the federal government not to have jet training at the Penhold Air Base.

Although the North American Air Defence radar installation, which had been built in the early 1960s, remained operational and a RCMP training centre temporarily replaced the flying school, the Penhold base was steadily reduced to a fraction of its former size.

Transforming part of the Penhold base into a municipal airport by the city provided some, but not a lot of economic boost to the community.

The amount of residential construction in Red Deer dropped by 50 per cent.

The total value of new construction dropped by more than $4 million in two years.

The local brewery closed. The Polymer Corp., which had announced plans in the late 1950s to build a multi-million-dollar synthetic rubber plant northeast of the city, sold off the 400-hectare site it had purchased for the project.

Plans were also dropped for a $4million hotel and shopping centre complex in the downtown area.

After many bright boom years, Red Deer was starting to slow down.

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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