NEW DIGS - Red Deer’s new courthouse

The history of Red Deer’s ‘new’ courthouse

Official opening ceremonies for the courthouse took place Oct. 5th, 1984

On March 6th, 1931, the new Red Deer courthouse, on the northeast corner of Ross Street and 49th Ave., opened with a great deal of ceremony and fanfare.

Premier John Brownlee formally opened the front door with a gold key. In his speech, he described the new building as a “Monument and temple of the British tradition of even justice.”

The community was justifiably proud of its new courthouse.

It was the last one in Alberta to be built with classically inspired details. The combination of Flemish bond red-brick walls, Tyndall limestone and a terracotta tile roof gave the building a beautiful exterior.

Moreover, the new court house’s location, on Red Deer’s main street and facing City Hall Park, meant that it was a highly visible landmark for the community.

However, in the years following the Second World War, Red Deer began to grow very rapidly. It became increasingly obvious that something would have to be done to increase the court and legal office space.

Consequently, in 1958, an annex was constructed on the northeast side of the building. Unfortunately, the annex was very utilitarian in appearance with no attempt to match the architectural features of the original building.

Fortunately, when the new Alberta Government Telephone exchange building was constructed shortly thereafter, on a site to the north of the courthouse, the unappealing annex became difficult to see from most angles.

Nevertheless, it soon became obvious that even with the additional space provided by the annex, longer term solutions to providing adequate court and legal facilities would have to be found for the rapidly growing community.

Over the next several years, a number of downtown redevelopment plans were produced, most of which included proposals for a new courthouse building.

In 1965, a series of land sales and swaps between the Provincial Government and the City were carried out. A parking lot, south of City Hall Park and east of the Hudson’s Bay Company store, seemed like a probable site for a new courthouse.

Those rumours were confirmed on Dec. 19th, 1966 when Fred Colbourne, the provincial minister of public works, announced that a million dollar courthouse would be built on the southeast corner of 49th St. and 49th Ave., “Within seven months.”

An intense controversy erupted.

Some people argued that having the court house on the intersection of two busy streets would mean ongoing distractions of traffic noise during court hearings.

Local developers argued that the site would be much better suited for an office and retail high rise instead of a courthouse.

The seven months passed without any progress on the courthouse project. In fact, the site on 49th Ave. remained a parking lot for the nearly 40 years until the City transit terminal was built on it.

Meanwhile, crowding issues were managed by having the provincial court hearings moved into the old Parsons Clinic building, to the east of the courthouse.

Finally, in 1981, things finally began to happen.

The Provincial Government began work on a site facing 48th Ave. east of Red Deer’s City Hall. Ironically, this had been the site for a courthouse that was laid out in the 1913 downtown master plan for Red Deer.

However, the site had been rejected in 1930 as being too “out of sight” to the community, and the land too low and wet to make a good building site.

In August 1981, a $9.1 million tender was let to Richard and B.A. Ryan Ltd.

Work began shortly thereafter. There were some construction delays due to labour disputes and financial problems with some of the sub-contractors. There was also renewed controversy as a concerted attempt was made to save the historic brick Snell house which stood on the northwest corner of the site.

Finally, in November 1983, the move into the new courthouse commenced.

The official opening ceremonies, however, did not take place until Oct. 5th, 1984.

In one final twist of controversy, although the Snell house had been left standing, it was now demolished as some officials felt that it detracted from the appearance of the new courthouse.

A small park, with a memorial to Charles Snell, was created on the site of the house.

By the 1990s, there were widespread complaints that the new courthouse was now too small for the community.