By Michael Dawe
Red Deer Express
As the Canada 150 celebrations for the Canada Day long weekend rapidly approach, it is interesting to reflect back 50 years to 1967 when Canada celebrated the centennial of Confederation.
People felt that there was a lot to celebrate.
The modest little country of 1867 with only four provinces had blossomed into a transcontinental nation, stretching geographically to three oceans and now consisting of 10 provinces and two territories.
As to be expected, the Federal Government organized a multitude of special events and attractions for the centennial year. One of the major highlights was Expo ’67, a world’s fair staged in Montreal.
The City of Red Deer began its planning for the centennial year in 1964.
A special civic Centennial Committee was organized to plan and coordinate the year’s activities. While a great many volunteers were involved, two standouts were Edna and Pat Smith who acted as the official centennial coordinators.
The Centennial Committee recommended that the official centennial project for Red Deer should be a permanent library building. Most in the community concurred that a library should be constructed. However, where it was to be built and how much it was to cost became a matter of considerable public debate. Fortunately, the contentious issues were eventually resolved. The Library remained on track to be completed before the end of the centennial year.
Another major centennial year public project was the construction of a new Red Deer College campus on a 200-acre site, south of the West Park subdivision.
While the new college buildings were not completed before the end of 1967, people saw the development of a major educational institution in the community as a fitting commitment to the future as Red Deer and Central Alberta entered their second century.
A third, but not totally expected public project was a major expansion and renovation of the Red Deer General Hospital.
The Provincial Government had previously rejected the pleas of the community for such an undertaking. However, it then changed its mind and gave approval as the centennial year got underway.
While Red Deer had one official major public centennial project and the other slightly less ‘official’ centennial initiatives, a great many individuals and organizations came up with their own centennial projects. The Red Deer Centennial Committee encouraged people and groups to register these various plans.
Before long, more than 300 events, celebrations, projects and initiatives had been recorded.
A grand official City celebration was organized for July 1st.
Large crowds turned out for the festivities at the Red Deer Exhibition Grounds. There was a parade in front of the grandstand followed by musical entertainments and speeches by the attending dignitaries.
A special feature was a fly-past by the group of R.C.A.F. Starfighter planes. Another was the enthusiastic singing of a number of patriotic songs, including O’Canada, led by Mayor Ed Barrett, who was an accomplished singer.
In the afternoon, there was a special recognition luncheon at the Capri Centre for the 114 citizens who had brought national and provincial honours to Red Deer in the preceding year.
Community picnics were another feature of the day, not only within the City itself, but also in the surrounding rural districts.
In the evening, there was a large street dance on Ross Street, fronting on City Hall Park, along with another set of entertainments.
Mayor Barrett gave a strong speech on the purpose and meaning of the Centennial.
He stated that Canadians had become more aware during the centennial year of their great heritage. He encouraged all to discard their usual Canadian characteristic of modesty and to declare, loudly and enthusiastically, “I am a Canadian!”