Early networking via ‘The Wigwam Club’

The first decade of the last century was a heady time for Red Deer. The community enjoyed a phenomenal surge of growth. The Town jumped from 323 residents in 1901 to more than 2,500 within 10 years. There was an incredible sense of optimism and prosperity everywhere.

The enormous growth was not without its challenges. One of the hurdles was getting to know the scores of newcomers to the community. This was particularly true for single young men who were keen to start new lives and careers, but did not have a network of family and friends on which to rely.

Consequently, on May 9, 1906, a group of local young businessmen had the new Alberta Legislature pass an act to incorporate the Red Deer Club.

The concept was somewhat similar to the Cypress Club in Medicine Hat, the Edmonton Club and Ranchman’s Club in Calgary. The organization would provide a means for people of like interests to network and socialize with their new neighbours and business acquaintances.

The Clubs in the other Alberta communities had buildings where people could gather for social events or drop by to relax and have a private refreshment and conversation. Within short order, the newly incorporated Red Deer Club began to look for suitable premises.

The property chosen was a large two-storey house, located on the corner of Gaetz Ave. and MacLeod (54) St. immediately north of the St. Luke’s Anglican Church. The house had been originally constructed in the spring of 1899 by Rev. George Love.

Love had been very active in the community, as a lumberman and as part owner of the Red Deer Advocate and founder of the Red Deer News. He also served as mayor in 1904. However, in 1906, he decided to sell his lumber business and his home to George Bawtinheimer.

Bawtinheimer already owned a substantial brick house on the north east corner of Douglas (55) St. and MacKenzie (49) Ave.

Hence, in March 1907, the house was transferred to the Red Deer Club.

For reasons that are unclear, the Club decided to dub the new facility The Wigwam. The premises not only included recreational rooms, but also lodging as many young members found it nearly impossible to find proper accommodations in the existing boarding houses and hotels.

Mr. and Mrs. George Clarke became the managers of the Wigwam. As needed, additional cooks and housekeeping staff were hired. While several boarding house operators and hotelmen claimed that the Wigwam Club could never be financially viable, it managed to do very well.

Not surprisingly, the Club branched into a number of sports and recreational activities. Both a Wigwam hockey team and a Wigwam baseball team were formed.

In the spring of 1910, with Red Deer continuing to grow rapidly, the Club was reorganized. The new Red Deer Social Club took over the old organization’s charter and purchased the Wigwam property.

Plans were announced to create bowling greens and tennis courts on the property, but not much came of these plans. The onset of a sharp recession in 1913 and more significantly, the outbreak of the First World War, in 1914, dealt a fatal blow to the Red Deer Social Club. Money became tight. Most of the members went off to serve in the Great War overseas.

In 1917, following the creation of the Alberta Provincial Police, the Provincial Government purchased the old Club for use as the A.P.P. regional headquarters and barracks. Later in 1929, the property was purchased by George Orme and turned into a funeral home.

The building was used as a funeral home for many decades afterwards, operating under such names as Brown and Johnson and Eventide. After Eventide moved to a new building on 45 Street, the building was purchased by St. Luke’s Anglican Church. It continues to be used as a hall and social services centre by the Church.