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Heritage Community Foundation Presents
Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Feature Article


Written By: Michael Dawe
Published By: Red Deer Express
Article Used with permission. © Copyright Michael Dawe, 2003

One of the true pioneers and community builders of Red Deer was George Wilbert Smith. Born in Selma, Hants County, Nova Scotia in April 1855, he started work in the retail business when he turned fifteen. However, when he turned eighteen, he decided to go back to school and eventually earned a first class teacher’s certificate. He then taught school for nine years.

In 1886, he decided to move to Red Deer where his uncle and aunt, Leonard and Caroline Gaetz and a number of other family members had already settled. He took out a homestead in the Waskasoo district, south of Red Deer. He began importing cattle to establish a cattle operation.

In the summer of 1887, G.W. Smith helped to form the Red Deer Public School district and literally helped to construct the first log school house. He also briefly became a member of the first board of trustees. In 1888, when the district was desperate for a certified school teacher, he reluctantly took time from his developing his farm and taught for one term.

In the summer of 1888, Wilbert Smith got married to his cousin, Carrie Addison Gaetz. At the end of the school year, he went back to farming and ranching. In 1891, with the creation of the townsite of Red Deer on the newly constructed Calgary-Edmonton Railway, he started a butcher shop, which he ran for twelve years. He also started a cattle buying business. He was the first to ship dressed beef from Red Deer by rail.

In 1896, he and his brother-in-law, Ray Gaetz, bought a general store. They soon branched out into farm implement sales as well as flour and feed. In 1905, they sold off the general store. However, they started a hardware business, Smith and Gaetz, in a large brick business block they had constructed on the northwest corner of Gaetz Avenue and Ross Street, later known as the Central Block.

Meanwhile, they bought a large tract of land from the Hudson Bay Company much of which they subdivided as West Park. Yet another firm, the Smith Land Company was formed in 1911 to handle the real estate and land development interests. G.W. Smith also became a part owner of the Western General Electric Company, as well as three construction related businesses manufacturing bricks, lumber and cement.

G.W. Smith became very active in public affairs. He was a charter member of the Board of Trade and served as president. He was president of the Agricultural Society and a trustee on the hospital board. He was elected once more to the Public School Board, becoming chairman in 1906-1907.

In 1913, G.W. Smith was elected to City Council. In 1917 and 1918, he was elected mayor by acclamation. Although he was a life-long Liberal, in 1921 he decided to enter provincial politics as a candidate for the new farmers’ party, the United Farmers of Alberta. He was to serve as Red Deer’s M.L.A. for the next ten years.

George Wilbert Smith died, while still a M.L.A., in August 1931. Carrie, his wife, passed away in 1945. They were survived by four daughters and four sons.

In 1963, the new school in the Sunnybrook subdivision was named George Willbert Smith Elementary in honour of this founder of Red Deer’s public school system and community builder.

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