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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Feature Article

NEW CITY HALL BUILDING CONSTRUCTED DOWNTOWN: 1963

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

New City Hall building constructed downtown

On March 25, 1963, as part of the elaborate celebrations of Red Deer’s 50th anniversary of its incorporation as a city, the cornerstone was dedicated for a new City Hall.

It was a milestone in a long and often controversial push to get a new municipal building for the community.

When Red Deer was first incorporated as a town in 1901, space for a council chamber was leased on the second floor of the sandstone Greene Block on the southwest corner of Ross Street and Gaetz Avenue.

Shortly thereafter, town council bought the block south of Ross Street and east of McKenzie (49th) Avenue as a civic square.

There was a small brick house on this block which was used as council chamber, police cell, rudimentary fire hall as well as the residence for fire chief Horace Meeres and his large family.

Needless to say, this arrangement did not work out very well.

In the summer of 1906, town council built a two-storey brick building in the middle of the civic square for used as a fire hall and town council chamber.

As Red Deer grew very rapidly, this new building soon became inadequate.

In 1909, a single-storey addition was constructed on the east side for a town office, police station and prisoner cells.

Three years later, a second storey was built onto the annex, with another two-storey addition being constructed on the east side.

Red Deer’s great boom came to an end shortly after it became a city in 1913.

For the next three decades, Red Deer did not grow much.

The only change to the City Hall building was the inclusion of the public library in a room on the east end.

After the Second World War, however, Red Deer began to grow rapidly again. By the late 1950s, Red Deer was the fastest-growing city in Canada. The old City Hall became increasingly inadequate.

While the building had space for roughly 20 employees, soon double that number were working in it.

In 1961, the adjacent armoury was purchased from the Department of National Defence and the fire department moved into it.

However, this provided only brief relief to the crowded conditions in City Hall.

City council decided to press ahead with plans for a new building.

In September 1961, after an extensive architectural competition, the firm Secord and Herzog, of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., was hired to design an impressive new City Hall on the east side of the civic square.

A bylaw authorizing the borrowing the $750,000 estimated to build the new City Hall was put to a vote in the 1961 municipal elections.

While a majority of voters approved the project, the two-thirds majority needed to approve the necessary borrowing was not achieved.

Newly elected Mayor Ernest Newman and city council were determined to press ahead.

There was some discussion about building or leasing an ancillary building for municipal offices on 51st Street, but the majority of council did not like the idea.

Instead, an alternate funding plan was developed including the use of funds from municipal reserves and securing grants from the federal and provincial governments under a winter-works program.

City council was also able to borrow $475,000 by taking advantage of new provincial legislation that a plebiscite could be avoided if five per cent of the electors did not petition for such a vote.

On the day after the regular 1962 civic election, disaster struck.

Tenders on the City Hall building came in at $200,000 more than the estimated $750,000 cost.

Extensive cost cutting on the project was implemented, bringing the total cost down to about $871,000.

Other revenues were also found with the sale of a proposed library site and the old city yards and by borrowing an additional $150,000.

With all these measures, sod turning was completed on Nov. 21, 1962.

In order to secure additional money for the project, construction was spread over two winters, thereby securing even more government grants.

The new building opened with great fanfare on Feb. 20, 1964.

The Red Deer Advocate described it as "one of the finest local government headquarters to be found in any medium-sized city in Canada."

The new City Hall building was also described as a fitting symbol of the phenomenal growth that Red Deer had experienced in its 50 years as a city.

It demonstrated the faith that that growth and prosperity would continue in the future.

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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