New Year’s 1926 proceeded happier times for Red Deer

Michael Dawe

Every year, during the holiday season, there are frequent greetings of ‘Happy New Year’ and ‘Best Wishes for Prosperous New Year’.

However, one time, when this greeting was particularly heartfelt, was on the eve of 1926.

The preceding decade had been very tough for Red Deer and Central Alberta. The First World War had been a searing experience. The lives of a great many young men in the community had been lost. Many of those who returned faced long-term health problems from wounds to their bodies and their minds.

After the War, the economy went into one of the deepest depressions in history.

Local unemployment soared to more than 25%. Many businesses went bankrupt. The City had trouble meeting its payroll as did the Western General, the local utility company.

School trustees went door-to-door to try and raise enough money from back taxes to cover the salaries of the schoolteachers.

Finally, by the middle of the decade, the situation began to turn around. Cooperatives, such as the Alberta Wheat Pool and the Central Alberta Dairy Pool, were created to improve the economic plight of the farmers.

The Rotary Club and the Elks Lodge were formed to help organize social services and recreational activities that government could no longer afford to provide. For example, both groups created Christmas Cheer programs to help those facing financial difficulties at Christmastime.

The biggest local improvement was the construction of a new arena on Ross Street in the fall of 1925.

The arena was the first public building to be constructed in Red Deer in more than a decade. The funds for the project came from the Rotary Club, Elks Lodge, the Board of Trade and the general public, who bought shares in the non-profit arena company for $10 apiece.

The arena was an immediate success. More than 800 people attended the opening celebrations on Dec.15, 1925, a very large turnout when one remembers that there were only 2,800 people living in the community at the time.

The Red Deer Hockey Club reorganized and immediately began attracting crowds of 500 to 600 per game. The fans were not disappointed. The Red Deer team won all of the first five home games. Their triumphs on ice continued. By the end of the season, they became the first provincial sports champions in Red Deer’s history.

Meanwhile, a new women’s hockey team, the Amazons, was also organized. Before too many years passed, this women’s team was also winning provincial championships.

On one occasion, they even beat the national champs, the Winnipeg Eaton’s, albeit in an exhibition game.

While the local sports teams entered a golden age of success, the cultural community began to thrive as well. After the old Rex Theatre was badly damaged in a fire, the large brick Empress Theatre on 51 St. reopened in early 1926.

The Red Deer Dramatic Club’s production of Tillie of Bloomsbury was a huge success.

There was such a heavy turnout for the play Lighthouse Nan that there was still a long line-up at the door after all the tickets had been sold. Consequently, an additional performance was quickly organized for another evening.

Large crowds turned out for the Hockey Club, Alberta Government Telephone Operators and C.P.R. dances in the Red Deer Armouries (now the Red Deer Children’s Library).

The local Bone Orchestra was a big draw as was the Ladies Imperial Orchestra from Calgary.

In early 1926, the City began negotiations to buy out the Western General. Some people were shocked that the City would be willing to take on a large amount of new debt for the purchase, so soon after the near-bankruptcy of the early 1920s.

However, when City Council submitted the necessary borrowing by-law to the ratepayers for ratification, it received almost unanimous approval. Within six months, the City utility was turning out a substantial profit.

By the end of 1926, the City’s overdraft at the bank was eliminated and the City then began to pay down its other debt.

Red Deer was now on the path of becoming a nationally renowned “economic miracle”.

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