This year marks the 125th anniversary of the formation of the first three religious congregations in Red Deer.
They are the Methodist (United Church), Presbyterian, and Anglican, all of which were formed in the spring and summer of 1887.
Many people have thought that the first Methodist congregation in Red Deer was established by the Rev. Leonard Gaetz. He had been a prominent Methodist minister in the Maritimes, Quebec and Ontario before moving with his family to Red Deer in 1884. He was the first settler in what is now downtown Red Deer.
He was a very eloquent speaker.
However, Leonard Gaetz was exceptionally busy establishing his farm, raising, with his wife Caroline, their 11 children and managing the local affairs of the Saskatchewan Land and Homestead Company which owned 115,000 acres of land in and around Red Deer.
Leonard Gaetz did conduct some religious services in his own home and at the homes of other settlers.
He could always be counted upon to perform marriages and funerals. However, he just did not have the time to create the foundation for a formal congregation.
Consequently, that task fell to one of his older brothers, Isaac. Isaac had been born in Jeddore, Nova Scotia, in 1839, the fourth son of Leonard Senior and Catherine Ritcey Gaetz.
In 1868, he married Isabella (Belle) Wentzell in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia.
Isaac became a Methodist lay minister and spent a considerable amount of time working for the church in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. He particularly enjoyed his work with Sunday schools.
He and his wife Belle did not have any children. However, they helped raise their nephews Everett Martin and Robert McDuffie. They also took in a number of foster children.
In 1886, Isaac and Belle decided to move to Red Deer where a number of the family, such as his brother Leonard, sister-in-law Catherine, and nephews John Jost Gaetz and Heck Gaetz, were already living. Isaac and Belle traveled west with another nephew, George Wilbert Smith in October, 1886.
Isaac took out a homestead along the Delburne Road, just north of where the Centrium is now located. However, he decided to build a log house along Waskasoo Creek at a spot that was closer to Calgary Edmonton Trail (43 St.) and to his large number of nephews and nieces at Leonard and Caroline Gaetz’s home.
Isaac quickly became active in building up the local Methodist congregation. His work was so successful over the winter of 1886-1887 that he was able to apply to the Methodist Conference, to have a student missionary, William Vrooman, assigned to Red Deer in the summer of 1887.
Isaac also helped to establish the Red Deer Public School District and helped to build the first log schoolhouse on the west side of West Park. Isaac badly gashed his shin with an axe while he was working on the building.
Once the schoolhouse was finished, it was frequently used for church services. Isaac and Belle established the first regular Sunday school using the school building. When Rev. Vrooman, who had acted as the first schoolteacher, left the community, Isaac and Leonard prevailed upon their nephew George Wilbert Smith to take over the teaching duties.
On Oct. 26, 1893, Belle passed away after she contracted typhoid fever. Isaac passed away one month later on Nov. 26, 1893 from what was described as inflammation of the lungs.
When Janet McLelland died just before Belle on Oct. 18, 1893, John Jost Gaetz created a small Methodist cemetery at a beautiful spot on the East Hill overlooking the Red Deer valley. The Gaetz family subsequently decided to bury both Belle and Isaac in the new cemetery, instead of the existing village cemetery on the north side of 43 St. (under what is now Taylor Dr.) A beautiful hand-carved sandstone monument was placed on Isaac and Belle’s gravesite.