This year marks the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II ascending to the throne.
This is only the second time in history that such a royal milestone has been reached. The other occasion took place in June 1897 when Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth’s great-great-grandmother, became the first British monarch to celebrate 60 years on the throne.
The first Diamond Jubilee was an extraordinary event. Queen Victoria was not only the longest serving British monarch in history. She had also been on the throne for so long that she had become the symbol of the vast British Empire.
Moreover, she looked ‘regal’, which added to her stature as a royal and imperial ‘icon’.
The image of Queen Victoria was so dominant that she came to epitomize the era.
The strict sense of morality of the times was viewed as a society-wide reflection of the Queen’s own strict morals and beliefs. However, both characterizations were not entirely accurate.
Thus, the celebration of the Diamond Jubilee became not only a celebration of the Queen’s personal milestone as monarch but also a celebration of the Empire and the glorious golden era of the late 1890s.
It is therefore not surprising that Red Deer, as a rapidly emerging community on the prosperous western Canadian frontier, was caught up in the excitement of the Jubilee celebrations.
Red Deer had already marked the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887 with the first major community celebration in Central Alberta’s history.
Almost everyone in the district gathered for a special day of festivities, sports events, patriotic speeches and an enormous community supper.
As the new and even more impressive milestone approached, the community prepared for a new set of celebrations. One of the first activities was the selection of a special North West Mounted Police contingent to go to London for the main Jubilee festivities on June 22 and 23.
There was great excitement when the popular Constable William Jealous was picked from the Red Deer N.W.M.P. detachment as a prospective member of the Jubilee contingent. Unfortunately, this excitement turned to disappointment in May when it was learned that Constable Jealous had failed to make the final cut.
It was also in 1897 that team sports took off in Central Alberta. Local cricket, soccer and baseball teams were organized. Given cricket’s strong British roots, it is fitting that the first regional cricket competition took place on May 24, Queen Victoria’s birthday.
The first local soccer team was also organized in May 1897.
Shortly thereafter, Red Deer’s first baseball team was organized. The first regional soccer and baseball competitions were organized for official Jubilee Day festivities on June 22. However, these events were to be held in Innisfail, not Red Deer, as Innisfail was the largest community in Central Alberta at the time.
There were several days of heavy rain in mid-June. People began to worry that the Jubilee Day celebrations and the sports events might be washed out. However, the weather suddenly cleared on the evening of June 21. The morning of Jubilee Day broke with clear skies and warm temperatures.
While there was a lucky turn in the weather, that luck did not extend to Red Deer’s athletes.
Red Deer’s baseball team was crushed by Innisfail by a score of 17 to 3. The soccer team fared somewhat better, but still lost to Innisfail by a score of 2 to 1.
There were numerous other sporting events at the Jubilee Day celebrations. There were also the ever-popular horse races, where, unofficially, a lot of money changed hands.
In the evening, there was a grand ball at Innisfail’s Archer’s Hall. The venue was elaborately decorated for the event. The hall was packed with both dancers and spectators.
The Jubilee Day finished up with the lighting of a series of Jubilee beacon fires across Central Alberta. It was a bright end to a very memorable day.