Remembering the challenging times around Easter, 1921

Easter is a very special holiday.

It has profound religious significance.

However, unlike other holidays and commemorations, its timing changes from year to year. An ancient and complicated formula is used to determine the calendar dates. Consequently, Easter Sunday can be as early as March 22nd or as late as April 25th.

This year, Easter Sunday is on March 27th. That has only happened four times in the past century. That last happened in 2008, but prior to that, one has to go back all the way to 1921.

The year 1921 was a brutal year for Red Deer and Central Alberta.

The community was still reeling from the aftermath of the First World War.

An incredible number of young men had lost their lives in that terrible conflict. Moreover, most of those who managed to return home still suffered from wounds to their bodies and minds.

So many veterans were suffering from what was then known as ‘shell-shock’, now called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.), that the large Alberta Ladies College building on Red Deer’s East Hill had been converted into a ‘soldiers’ sanatorium’ or mental hospital, for their treatment and care.

There was also a major push in the community to officially remember those who had lost their lives during the War.

Ten days before Easter, the War Memorial Committee published a drawing by Lachlan MacLean of the cenotaph that they were recommending. While changes were later made to the exact appearance, this was the first public view of the statue of the Unknown Soldier that has become such a noted landmark on Ross Street.

Paying for the Cenotaph was going to be an enormous challenge. The economy was in a shambles. The economic mainstay of Central Alberta was agriculture. A series of hot dry summers had significantly reduced the crop yields in the region.

Worse, the American government dealt with its post-war agricultural problems by passing a series of high tariffs against Canadian agricultural goods.

Consequently, the prices farmers were able to get for their produce and livestock plunged.

The Red Deer merchants quickly felt the farmers’ pain.

One of Red Deer’s largest retail stores announced it was being forced into receivership. Other businessmen sold their businesses and/or buildings in hopes of getting at least some of the money back from their investments before they too faced bankruptcy.

The Piper’s Brickyard, which had been one of the big employers before the War, particularly struggled. Since the War, there had been very little construction in the community.

Virtually all of the staff had to be laid off. The owners began selling firewood to help create some income for the firm.

The local Board of Trade tried to come up with innovative ideas to boost the local economy. One idea was to get the national Air Board to establish an ‘aerodrome’ or airport at Red Deer to take an early advantage of the technological improvements to the airplane that had occurred during the War.

Other ideas involved getting the municipal, provincial and federal governments to implement public works projects. A huge challenge was that those governments faced enormous debts from the War and on-going deficits.

Hence, they felt they could not afford much in the way of new spending.

One idea which did move ahead was the construction of a new downstream bridge across the Red Deer River to provide ready access to the Joffre/Brookfield districts.

While the East Bridge was completed in 1922, the benefits of the construction and the increased trade into Red Deer were not felt until well into the future.

As Easter weekend finally arrived, the community turned its attention from all of the troubles to the annual religious ceremonies. Local churches not only held Good Friday and Easter Sunday services, but also special Easter concerts and plays as well.

Attendance was excellent as people enjoyed the ancient promise that ultimately a wonderful future lay ahead.

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