This year marks an important milestone in my family’s history. It was 100 years ago in 1910 that my grandparents, Robert and Helen Moore Dawe, moved to Red Deer. This community has been our home ever since.
Robert George Dawe was born in September 1879 in Coley’s Point, Newfoundland, the son of Captain Eli and Susannah Bradbury Dawe. His father was a noted fishing captain and businessman, who also served as both a Member of the House of Assembly and a cabinet minister in the Whiteway and Bond governments of Newfoundland.
Robert initially chose teaching as a profession and worked on the Labrador Coast. However, he was soon attracted to work as a surveyor and engineer. He earned a civil engineering degree from McGill University. He also worked on the surveys that helped to determine the boundaries between Labrador and Quebec.
Robert then went to work on the construction of the Guelph-Goderich Railway in Ontario. He met Helen Moore, a native of Guelph. She had a very distinguished musical career. She was the accompanist for Edward Johnson, the famous Canadian tenor. She toured eastern Canada and the United States as a soloist for the Mendelssohn Choir.
Robert and Helen were married in 1906. In 1907, they had a son, Robert Wellington. They later had a second son, Reginald, who passed away as a child.
In 1910, Robert got a new job in Red Deer as the resident civil engineer on the construction of the Alberta Central Railway. He arrived in May, but Helen stayed in Guelph as she was expecting their third son, George Harold. In the fall of 1910, Helen, Wellington and baby Harold joined Robert in their new home on Mann (49) Street.
The next year, Robert began work on an impressive two-storey brick house on the north side of Michener Hill. This home is the oldest residence in Red Deer that has been continuously owned by one family.
Robert also bought two lots in 1911 in what is now the Summer Village of Norglenwold at Sylvan Lake. The cabin he built in 1918, using an old bank clock tower from Red Deer, is still used by the family.
In 1911, Robert started an engineering and survey business in partnership with Horace Seymour, who eventually became the first director of town and rural planning for Alberta. Robert later became Red Deer’s first City Engineer.
In 1913, the Dawes had a fourth son, Ellswood. In 1917, they had a fifth son, Augustus, but he passed away as an infant.
Meanwhile, Helen became active in the local musical community. She became the church organist first at Gaetz Memorial Methodist and then at Knox Presbyterian. She became the conductor of the Red Deer Choral Society. She also became a part-time music teacher for the Public School District.
Robert set up a general contracting and engineering business. He designed and constructed several buildings in the community. He also continued to do the engineering work for the City. At one point, the City had financial problems and failed to pay Robert what they owed him. However, they told him that if he sued, he would win, but would not be able to work for the City again in the future.
In 1920, Robert also started a coal and wood business with John Malcolm. A year later, he commenced a contracting business in partnership with Seth Pamely and built cabins and boats at Sylvan Lake. In the mid-1920s, he went to work as a road engineer for the Provincial Department of Highways.
In 1928, Robert waded for a whole day through ice water to help save the City’s electric power plant from a spring flood. A fatal kidney infection set in. He passed away in May 1928.
Helen passed away in April 1942 as a result of a stroke. Ellswood passed away due to a stroke in 1956. Wellington became a teacher and principal at Lindsay Thurber Composite High School. He passed away in 1977. Harold became a teacher, principal at Central School and eventually Red Deer’s first school superintendent. After his “retirement”, he taught at Red Deer College. He passed away in 1999.
Many of Harold’s family continue to live in three adjoining houses in the Michener Hill district of Red Deer.