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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

Dawe Centre an innovative community project

On Nov. 4, 1977, the G.H. Dawe Community Centre officially opened. A huge crowd, estimated at more than 1,100, turned out for the event.

It was an indication of how important this highly innovative facility was for Red Deer, particularly for residents on the north side of the city.

It also reflected the co-operative commitment to the community that the centre represented.

In early pioneer days, schools were usually the community centres.

The schoolhouses were used not only as classrooms, but also for all kinds of community events such as church services, dances, concerts and public meetings.

With the advent of school consolidation and the shift to urban schools, this use of schools as community centres began to decline markedly.

However, by the 1960s, the pendulum began to swing back.

Both school boards and municipal governments found themselves hard pressed to keep up with rapid growth, particularly in new neighbourhoods.

Looking for mutual solutions to common problems seemed to be an increasingly good idea.

Red Deer had a long tradition of co-operation between the city and the school boards.

For many years, there had been joint usage of schoolyards as playgrounds and sports fields.

When the Memorial Centre was created in 1951, it had joint support from the city and the Red Deer School Division.

One of the greatest growth areas for Red Deer in the 1960s and 1970s had been North Red Deer. While 15 per cent of city residents had lived there in the early 1950s, by the early 1970s, more than a quarter lived in the northside subdivisions and the percentage was rising rapidly.

While the northside population had increased dramatically, the recreational facilities had not.

Consequently, in July 1971, representatives of the public and separate school boards, the regional planning commission and senior city administrators got together to discuss facility planning for North Red Deer.

A tentative proposal was made to consider integrated facilities involving both school boards and the city.

A parcel of land was acquired on the south side of 67th Street, west of 59th Avenue.

The site was roughly divided into three for each organization’s schoo1/recreation facility.

A series of public meetings were held to solicit public input into the plans.

A consensus emerged that the schools should be designed so that the community could use them both day and night.

There was also a growing agreement that instead of three distinct building, an integrated complex should be built with combined school, library, recreational and community facilities.

Meanwhile, the provincial government began to lend its support.

In 1975, a new policy document called Share It was issued, which backed the concepts of joint educational and recreational facilities with significant community involvement.

In May 1976, a joint-use agreement was signed by the two school districts and the city.

It was the first time in Alberta, and probably in Canada, that three such public bodies had agreed to construct and operate a joint education and community complex.

In 1976-77, the first phase of the complex, the public school board’s "community-core" school was built.

Construction was hampered somewhat by the heavy clay conditions of the site and the enormous construction boom going on in the city, which made workers and construction supplies hard to get at times.

Finally, m the fall of 1977, the building was more or less ready for occupancy. The school board decided to name the building the G. H. Dawe Community Centre in honour of the recently retired public school superintendent who had been an enthusiastic promoter of the initiative and of community education in general.

In 1980, phase two was completed with a public swimming pool. In 198182 the separate school board constructed St. Patrick’s Community School

An arena and mall were also added to the complex as well as a library for both school and public use.

Red Deer now had a wonderful multi-use facility that lived up to the tenets of co-operation and genuine community involvement and support.

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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