Looking back to the Sylvan Lake summer of 1937

Perhaps because there can literally be snow on the ground seven or eight months of the year, the arrival of summer is enthusiastically welcomed across Central Alberta. One of the favourite pastimes of each summer is to spend some time at one of the lake resorts in the region.

Sylvan Lake, with its close proximity to Red Deer, has been one of the most popular of the summer lake resorts for more than a century. That was certainly true 75 years ago in 1937, when the world was still in the grips of the Great Depression.

Somewhat surprisingly, the prolonged hard times made Sylvan Lake even more popular as a family vacation spot.

There were many pleasant places to camp. The Sylvan Lake Hotel rented rooms at affordable rates. For those who wanted cheaper accommodations, there were a number of small tourist facilities throughout the community. Many cottages could be purchased or rented for very reasonable sums.

Adding to the attractiveness of the community were two excellent dance halls, the Alexander Pavilion and the Varsity Hall, both located on Lakeshore Dr. There were a number of excellent restaurants and numerous ice cream, hamburger and hot dog stands.

There was a large public beach as part of a lakeside provincial park in the town. There were also two piers from which boaters and swimmers could enter the water. The Sylvan Lake Boathouse provided a spot where people could rent small boats or canoes for an outing on the Lake.

The 1937 season got off to a great start on May 13 with the community celebrations of the Coronation of King George VI and his wife, Queen Elizabeth. There was a large parade in the afternoon. In the evening, the Boy Scouts built a large bonfire and launched a rocket display on the main beach. There was also a large dance at the Alexander Pavilion.

The next few weeks brought prolonged hot and dry weather. Both the Alexander Pavilion and Varsity Hall were packed when they opened for the season on the May 24 weekend. Even on weeknights, the beach and tourist spots were busy as many people came out to enjoy the slightly cooler conditions at the Lake.

In early June, the Elks Lodge held its provincial convention at Sylvan Lake. The community bustled with all of the Lodge members and their families. On the July 1 weekend, the Red Deer Kinsmen Club held their charter night at the Sylvan Lake Hotel.

The weather turned even more blistering in the first few days of July. Temperatures soared to more than 35C. Sylvan Lake became packed with refugees from the heat.

One notable event of those dog days of July was a reunion picnic for the people who used to live in the dried out areas of East Central Alberta and Saskatchewan, but who had moved west in hopes of finding farms where they could grow a crop again.

There was great excitement as plans were finalized for an official visit on July 15 of the Governor General of Canada, Lord Tweedsmuir. However, the night before his scheduled arrival, the great drought suddenly broke. The rains became so heavy that the vice-regal visit had to be cancelled.

Fortunately, the rains eased a bit on the July 31 weekend during the annual Wrigley swim competitions, sponsored by the Wrigley chewing gum company. However, due to the prolonged wet weather, the contestants found the Lake to be very cold.

The rest of the summer was generally cool and damp, although not as wet as July. Nevertheless, the tourist operators and local businesses enjoyed a relatively profitable season. A big boost came when the Alberta Government decided to end the provincial sales tax on Aug.10 instead of Sept. 1, because of the intense unpopularity of the tax.