An old-fashioned Red Deer Christmas

Michael Dawe

Another Christmas will soon be upon us. Since people often like to recall “old-fashioned” traditional Christmases, it is interesting to reflect back to the Christmas of 100 years ago in 1910.

That year had been a pretty good one for Red Deer. The North American economy had been hard hit by the bank crash of October 1907 and the resulting deep recession. Fortunately, there were now many signs that the economy had turned around and a new boom was starting to set in.

The railroads were a major factor in the local economic recovery. The Canadian Pacific Railway had made Red Deer the major divisional rail point on the Calgary-Edmonton line. Large sums of money had been invested in upgrading the yards, constructing new buildings and erecting a new bridge across the Red Deer River.

The crowning glory of the whole project was the impressive two-storey brick rail station. As a reflection of the importance of this new building, it was placed so that it could be clearly seen along the entire length of Ross St., Red Deer’s main thoroughfare.

In August 1910, the nearly completed C.P.R. station was the initial reception point for Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Prime Minister of Canada. One of the scheduled events during the visit was the driving of the first spike for the Alberta Central Railway, which was to run from Red Deer to Rocky Mountain House.

In the fall of 1910 came the exciting news that the Canadian Northern Western, a subsidiary of the Canadian Northern Railway was going to build a line westwards to the new Brazeau coalfields at what later became Nordegg.

All of the railroad construction soon brought a great many new jobs and new investments. The population of the Town began to soar. A blue jean manufacturing plant was built on Blowers (51) St. and construction started on a tannery in North Red Deer.

With new homes and businesses springing up, the Piper and Red Deer brickyards and the Great West Lumber Mill in North Red Deer became incredibly busy.

Thus, the local merchants greeted the start of the Christmas shopping season at the end of November with great anticipation. The stores were festooned with all kinds of decorations including silver Christmas bells, long red braid and evergreen branches. A new type of decoration was “glittering tinsel”.

Toys and Christmas treats were displayed in the store windows. The newspapers quickly filled with ads for Christmas gift ideas. Bearskin coats were offered at $6, ladies kid gloves from $1.25 to $1.50, children’s pinafores from 25¢ to 60¢, unbreakable dolls at $1.75 and train sets from $1.25 to $2.50.

For those who liked technologically advanced and trendy items, magic lanterns could be purchased for 75¢ to $3.25 and silk chiffon motor car veils at $3.50.

As Christmas approached, stores remained open late on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. While business was good, the merchants noticed that there were not as many farmers coming to town to shop. While that was blamed on a lack of snow that made sleighing difficult, it was probably more due to the fact that the agricultural community had not recovered as quickly as the construction and commercial industries.

In the days immediately before Christmas Day, there were a number of Christmas concerts, social gatherings and children’s Christmas parties, often referred to a ‘Christmas Trees’.

Since Christmas fell on a Sunday that year, almost all of the churches concentrated on Christmas Day rather than Christmas Eve services. Thus, on Christmas morning, the churches were full of large numbers of happy families, cheerfully singing the old familiar carols.

As the weather continued to be very mild, many spent Christmas afternoon enjoying the free skating on the Town rink on Nanton (48) Ave. and Morrison (52) St.

Others went from house to house enjoying good cheer and ‘toothsome delicacies’ before settling in for the traditional feast of Christmas goose with all the trimmings.

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