Community visionary Percy Jarvis remembered

Michael Dawe

Michael Dawe

One of the most popular residents of North Red Deer (Riverside Meadows) was Percy Jarvis. A successful businessman and active community volunteer, he served on the council of the Village of North Red Deer for 15 years, including 10 years as mayor.

Percival Beaumont Jarvis, and his twin sister Eva, were born on Jan. 11, 1877 in Toronto, Ontario to Edgar John and Charlotte Beaumont Jarvis. His family were United Empire Loyalists and very prominent in the city. Jarvis St. is named after a relative.

An uncle owned what is now the Rosedale district of Toronto. It was Percy’s father who drew up the first plan for the subdivision. There is an historical plaque in Rosedale in honour of Percy’s parents.

Percy married Laila Culbertson, daughter of John and Francelia Culbertson, of Buffalo, New York. Interestingly, the Culbertsons had been prominent on the other side of the Revolutionary War. Laila later became an active member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Percy and Laila had one daughter, Francelia, who was born on Sept. 27, 1906 in Toronto. The following year, Percy moved out to Alberta. He started a job traveling across Western Canada with the Imperial Oil Company.

Unfortunately, Percy and Laila’s marriage broke up. Laila and Francelia moved to California where they lived with Laila’s parents.

In 1929, Percy moved to Central Alberta where his cousin William ‘Dick’ Jarvis had been living for nearly 30 years. The Jarvis Bay area at Sylvan Lake is named after the Dick Jarvis family.

Percy started a service station in the old Blue Ribbon store at the north end of the old Red Deer traffic bridge. He lived in the back of the building. In 1936, he began operating the Imperial Oil bulk fuel station and later built a garage on 51 Ave.

Percy quickly became very active in community affairs.

In 1931, he was elected to the Village of North Red Deer Council. One of the first acts of the Village Council that year was to become part of the new Red Deer Health Unit.

The Health Unit was the first rural community-based public health organization in Alberta. It took great foresight to become part of such an initiative.

The Great Depression made money very tight and most municipal councils were slashing expenditures, not starting new ones.

In 1934, Percy was elected as mayor. The Village of North Red Deer continued to struggle to keep the budget balanced. Consequently, there was little money to pay “relief” to the unemployed and destitute. Nevertheless, Mayor Jarvis did what he could for those in need and often provided support out of his own pocket.

Percy’s home was a place of hospitality. He loved to cook and often had mulligan stews at the ready for friends and neighbours. He was also renowned for his hearty turkey dinners at Christmas.

In 1946, Percy decided to retire from Council and was replaced as mayor by Jim Green. At this point, serious negotiations commenced to have the Village of North Red Deer amalgamate with the City of Red Deer. The first proposal was defeated in a vote by the villagers, largely because of a ten-mill tax surcharge to cover the cost of connections to the City’s power, water and sewer systems.

On Sept. 26, 1947, a new proposal was put to a plebiscite, with Percy acting as the returning officer. This time, amalgamation with City was ratified by nearly 78% of the voters in the Village.

With the new bridge across the Red Deer River connecting with North Red Deer a block to the east of Jarvis’ service station, Percy decided to close the business and retire.

Percy Jarvis passed away on Nov. 8, 1956 at the age of 79. He was survived by his daughter Francelia, who was married to August Esenwein, a senior executive with Convair/General Dynamics in Fort Worth, Texas and California.

Percy was also survived by two granddaughters, Francelia and Nancy.

Jarvis Ave. and Jarvis Cl. in Red Deer’s Johnstone Crossing subdivision are named in honour of Percy Jarvis and the Jarvis family.