HEART OF DOWNTOWN- The Old Red Deer Court House on Ross St. c. 1986.

Looking back to the Christmas of 1986

Another Christmas will soon be upon us. Since this is often a time for recounting stories of Christmases past, it is interesting to reflect back 25 years to Christmas in Red Deer in 1986.

It was not a great year for Red Deer and Alberta as a whole. The oil and gas sector was facing serious problems. The agricultural community was also facing significant challenges.

As the economy went into another deep slump, the provincial government began to implement a number of austerity measures. Capital spending was frozen. Plans for a new nursing home in Eckville were dropped. Grants to hospitals and schools were reduced.

Premier Getty promised, however, that the poor and the disadvantaged would not be hurt by the government cutbacks. Although the Red Deer Regional Hospital reported growing waiting lists for surgery, the Government also promised that the impacts on healthcare would be minimized. There was an explicit promise that no rural hospitals would be closed.

There was also the disquieting news that the Red Deer Regional Hospital had just admitted its first known AIDS patient.

There were many signs of the slump in the local business community. The Macleod’s Store closed two weeks before Christmas, after many years of operation in Red Deer. Twenty-two employees were laid off. The Boy Scouts reported that their Christmas tree sales were down significantly from previous years.

Nevertheless, it was not all doom and gloom. I.O.G. Resources reported a promising new oil discovery near Joffre.

The Uptown Theatre officially reopened after a major renovation and the addition of three new theatres within the complex. Featured movies were Crocodile Dundee, Peggy Sue Got Married, Song Of The South and Star Trek IV.

Some of the most exciting news concerned the opening of the new Red Deer College Arts Centre. The project had been shut down in June 1984 when the original contractor, W.W. Construction of Lethbridge, went under. A new contractor, V.K. Mason Ltd. was hired in January 1985. The project was finally completed by the fall of 1986.

The facility officially opened with an arts festival extending from Oct. 17 to Nov. 6. The event was a smashing success. Three of the official opening performances were sold out on the first day of sales. Extra performances were added for a concert by the Nylons and for Central Alberta Theatre’s production of A Dish of Cream.

At the end of November, Red Deer’s first Santa Claus parade was organized, in a large part to help boost the downtown. An estimated crowd of more than 8,000 turned out for the event.

As Christmas drew closer, the local stores advertised the usual Christmas specials. Evening shopping hours were extended. There had been a great deal of controversy in the community when the City had passed a by-law banning Sunday shopping.

However, all the major retailers announced that they had no intentions of being open on Sundays anyways.

The situation changed dramatically on the weekend before Christmas. All the major supermarkets in Red Deer made the unexpected decision to open on Sunday. The controversy over whether stores should be open on Sundays, and whether the actions of the supermarkets were legal, intensified.

There was also a spate of letters to the editor in the local newspapers decrying the loss of ‘the true Spirit of Christmas’ as the wave of Christmas shopping grew.

Generally, the holiday season was warm and dry. There was very little snow in the month of December. Temperatures edged above freezing on Dec. 21. It got really warm on Christmas Day as the thermometers hit 6C and then rose slightly more to 7C on Boxing Day.

With the welcome great weather, people continued to wish each other a very Merry Christmas and best wishes for a Happy (and Better) New Year in 1987.

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