Local commemoration of Queen Victoria

Last week, Queen Elizabeth II celebrated the 60 anniversary of her ascension to the throne on Feb. 6, 1952. She is now the second longest reigning monarch in British history, after her great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria, who reigned from 1837 to 1901.

There is a personal link between Queen Elizabeth and Red Deer.

On June 28, 1990, she made a visit to Red Deer to officially open the pediatric ward at the Red Deer Regional Hospital. It was the first and only visit to our community by a reigning monarch.

Queen Victoria, of course, never visited Red Deer. However, one of her sons, Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathern, made a formal visit to the community on Sept. 5, 1912. He was accompanied by the Duchess of Connaught and their daughter, Princess Patricia, after whom the famous Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry regiment is named.

Unfortunately, while Red Deer went to considerable effort and expense to prepare for the Royal visit, heavy rain put a significant damper on the event. The waiting room in the new CPR station was turned into a very cramped impromptu reception hall. Nevertheless, large crowds of citizens enthusiastically stood outside in the rain, hoping for a glimpse of the Royals.

When Queen Victoria marked her Golden (50th) Anniversary on the throne in June 1887, Red Deer organized its first large-scale social event to celebrate. The festivities were held on George Wilbert Smith’s ranch, about 3 km southwest of the current site of Red Deer College.

Fortunately, the weather cooperated beautifully. Virtually every settler in the community turned out. A variety of sports events were held for the children. A huge picnic lunch was held at midday.

Rev. Leonard Gaetz, G.W. Smith’s father-in-law, was the main speaker during the formal ceremonies. Gaetz was well noted for his oration abilities. The Calgary Herald once wrote that when Leonard Gaetz spoke, “His words were worthy of being inscribed with pens of iron onto plates of brass.”

Rev. Gaetz once again proved worthy of the event. The Calgary Tribune described his speech as a “stirring address” that “warmed the hearts of all present with loyalty to their Queen and Country”.

An even larger event was organized on June 22, 1897 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond (60th) Jubilee. The size of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations was a reflection of the fact that Red Deer was now a village of 150 rather than a rural community with only a few dozen settlers.

Ominously, there were four days of heavy rains just before the big event. Calgary was hit with heavy flooding. However, Red Deer remained somewhat drier than the districts farther south. Moreover, on June 22, the weather became sunny again, if somewhat muggy.

The main feature for Jubilee Day was a series of sports contests.

In the baseball game, Innisfail trounced Red Deer by a score of 17 to 3. The soccer match was much closer, but Innisfail still edged out Red Deer by a score of 2 to 1. Red Deer competed against Pine Lake in a cricket match, but no record of the final score was included in the newspaper reports.

On the evening of Jan. 22, 1901, Queen Victoria passed away at the age of 81. Word quickly reached Red Deer by telegraph. The news was not unexpected. The Queen had been reported as being seriously ill since Christmas.

Nevertheless, this was the first time in almost everyone’s memory that a monarch had passed away. Moreover, Queen Victoria had been such an imposing presence for the British Empire and Canada that most felt that her death marked the passing of an era, and not just the death of a Queen.

Formal community commemorations of Queen Victoria’s death took place on the evening of Saturday, Feb. 2, 1901, the same day that the state funeral took place in London. Services were held in St. Luke’s Anglican Church as the Queen was also the official head of the Church of England.

As well, St. Luke’s was the one of the largest and most impressive looking churches in the community and therefore the best place to mark the end of an era.