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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Feature Article

SIGNS OF A COMING RECESSION WERE EVERYWHERE: 1970

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

Signs of a coming recession were everywhere

The soaring 1960s had been a wonderful decade for Red Deer. The population of the city jumped from 18,000 to nearly 27,000.

The great transition of the community from a quiet prairie town to a modern urban centre had continued to surge ahead throughout the early and mid-l960s.

However, as the decade drew to a close, the tremendous boom began to lose steam.

There were many factors behind the growing slowdown.

The agricultural sector was hard hit with such things as a rapid decline in the international price for wheat.

The Penhold Air Base, which had contributed a great deal to the local economy, was steadily downsized.

Even the local oil and gas industry, which had been the biggest contributor to the great boom, was hit by economic doldrums.

Signs of the growing recession were everywhere. Unemployment rates shot up.

The annual value of building permits, which had exceeded $10 million per year in the early 1960s, barely budged over $6 million per year by the end of the decade.

Big projects, such as a planned $4 million hotel and shopping centre complex in the downtown area, were quietly shelved.

The greatest indication came in the official population statistics. In 1970, the number of residents in Red Deer actually dropped to 26,907 from 26,924.

It was the first decline recorded since the great bust following the First World War .

Even during the Great Depression of the 1930s, Red Deer’s population had managed a slight rise, albeit by a few dozen people.

The blow to civic esteem was immense. The Red Deer Advocate editorialized that Red Deer was “suffering from a lack of confidence" and ’screeching and squabbling has all too often been mistaken for effective hard work."

Adding to the general sense of gloom was the FLQ crisis in October, 1970.

For the first time in peace time, martial law was imposed in Canada to deal with kidnappings by a separatist group in Quebec and the subsequent killing of Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte.

Not everything was bleak. The editor of the Advocate wrote that Red Deer was ’still a beautiful little city, still (with) great potential and still a

marvelous place to live."

Adding to the sense that better times were ahead was the construction of Red Deer’s first indoor mall, the Parkland Mall, on the brow of the North Hill.

A project of the A.D. Gelmon Corp., it cost $4.5 million to construct.

It contained 40 indoor stores, with the anchor tenants being the Woolco Department Store as well as such chains as Safeway and Super City Drugs.

It had parking spaces for an impressive 1,400 cars.

The new mall was a tremendous success.

The managers estimated that 25,000 people turned out for the official opening on Nov. 3.

That may have been a bit of an exaggeration since that was only slightly less than the total population of the city.

Nevertheless, the merchants reported literally thousands of opening day sales.

The downtown merchants felt a threat.

Newspaper ads were taken out proclaiming that "Everything’s happening downtown."

There was mention that there were five department stores downtown as well as five hotels, eight restaurants, three theatres and numerous specialty shops and services.

Competition between the mall and downtown also became political.

For many years, Red Deer had a shopping bylaw under which stores were open late on Thursday evening, but closed on Wednesday afternoons.

The Parkland Mall put pressure on the city to rescind the bylaw and bring in much freer shopping hours.

The matter was put to a plebiscite, with the voting taking place the day after the mall officially opened.

The mood of the public became very clear: 64 per cent of voters cast ballots to scrap the early-closing bylaw.

The mall merchants indicated immediately that they were prepared to be open as many as three evenings a week.

Thursday and Friday late shopping became a permanent fixture, but the Saturday night late shopping did not last.

The mall also had a major impact on retail sales m Red Deer.

The estimated value jumped 10 per cent to more than $100 million, a particularly impressive statistic when one remembers that a major recession was still on.

Red Deer’s position as the retail and commercial centre for Central Alberta had become even stronger.

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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