The start of a New Year is often a time for expressions of hope for a great year to come, full of peace, prosperity and happiness. A New Year’s Eve when these wishes were particularly apt occurred 100 years ago as Red Deer entered 1912. The community was enjoying a truly remarkable surge of growth. A heady and well-founded sense of optimism could be found everywhere.
The great boom had been building for some time. After a brief lull during the recession of 1908-1910, tens of thousands of new settlers began pouring into Alberta to secure homesteads, to build new homes and/or to establish new businesses. To use the slogan of the federal government at the time, they were rushing in to take advantage of ‘The Last Best West.’
Red Deer had been designated as a major divisional point on the Calgary-Edmonton branch of the Canadian Pacific Railway. As such, the town became the major staging area and distribution point for prospective homesteaders headed for either the west country or the fertile prairies of east Central Alberta.
A tremendous boost to the Red Deer economy came with the construction of not one but two railroads, the Alberta Central and the Canadian Northern Western. Both lines were headed for the rich Brazeau coalfields at Nordegg.
The Alberta Central also had plans to build eastwards to Moose Jaw and the Hudson Bay.
As Red Deer prospered, even more people flooded into the community. Not surprisingly, many of the new jobs and opportunities were in the construction industry. The statistics help to tell the story.
The value of building permits leapt from $ 77,005 in 1910 to $389,040 in 1912 — an increase of more than 500%.
The local brickyards, Piper’s and Red Deer, dramatically increased their production as did Cement Builders Ltd., makers of cement tile, shingles and inter-locking building blocks. The Great West Lumber mill in North Red Deer cut less than two million board feet in 1909. By 1912, the demand for fresh lumber was so strong that the mill was cutting more than 3.5 million board feet.
As the New Year progressed, several important new businesses and industries were established. The Freytag Tannery was built in North Red Deer. Red Deer Holdings started a tree and flower nursery as well as a foundry.
The Laurentia Milk Company constructed a milk processing plant on Blowers (51) St.
This was a fitting addition to the community as Red Deer also boasted the best milk-producing cow in the British Empire, Rosalind of Old Basing. That Jersey Cow was so famous that the Red Deer Board of Trade held a special banquet in her honour.
Red Deer’s public services were greatly expanded.
A large addition was built onto both the Town Hall and the Memorial Hospital. The magnificent Alberta Ladies College building was constructed on the brow of the East Hill. St. Joseph Convent had a large addition built on its west side.
Two new elementary schools were constructed, one in the Village of North Red Deer and the other on the south side of the Town of Red Deer.
Red Deer’s fairgrounds were greatly expanded with new exhibits buildings, barns and a large grandstand. All those improvements were completed in less than two months.
The great boom resulted in a very hot real estate market. The local assessment doubled in two years. Several people begin to think of themselves as millionaires, at least on paper. More than a dozen new subdivisions were placed on the market by developers and real estate promoters.
With the large increases in population, plans were made to have Red Deer incorporated as a City. After all, if Red Deer had only 323 residents in 1901 and nearly 3,000 in 1912, many felt it was not unreasonable that the population would reach 20,000 or 30,000 by the early 1920s.
It seemed that the wonderful good times would never end.