Red Deer has just experienced one of the coldest Februaries in a great many years.
After a rather mild, and relatively snowless January, the temperatures turned bitterly cold for almost all of the following month.
While some people have claimed that it was the coldest February on record, there have been other Februaries that have been as cold, or colder, than the one just experienced.
One example of a colder February occurred 83 years ago in 1936.
Times were already very challenging for the community. The Great Depression had struck in the fall of 1929. While economic conditions had improved slightly by 1936, money was still very tight and unemployment was still very high.
Some people took comfort from the fact that the new Social Credit government had been elected in Alberta in 1935. Most people struggled to understand Social Credit philosophy, despite Premier William Aberhart’s best efforts to explain it in simple terms.
However, since the old systems no longer seemed to work, something radically different held out the prospect that maybe things could finally get better.
A big boost to the hopes of a better future came with the Social Credit government’s promise of a $25 per month ‘dividend’ which would be paid to all Albertans.
However, financial realities prevented the government from keeping that promise. In fact, in March 1936, Alberta became the first Canadian province in history to default on its debt.
Fortunately, there were some ‘green shoots’ of local growth with better prospects.
The local co-op movement, which had provided a great deal of economic relief after the hard times of the early 1920s, proposed the construction of an oil refinery in Red Deer.
While the refinery was to be run on a ‘cooperative basis’, the core backing and expertise would come from the Star Refinery Company of Montana.
Unfortunately, the co-op proposal did not pan out. However, the Hydro-Pete Refinery was built in West Park in 1937 by another private company.
A much better proposal came in the winter of 1936 from the Central Alberta Dairy Pool (a cooperative).
It announced the construction of a condensed milk factory on Gaetz Avenue North. The condensery, generally known as the Alpha Milk plant, provided a welcome boost to local employment, both in terms of construction jobs and permanent employment.
Meanwhile, Central Alberta had been experiencing a fairly typical winter.
January was seasonably cold, with temperatures dipping on several days to -30C. However, if January had been brisk, February soon became brutal.
Day time highs were generally only -25 to -30C.
However, by the middle of the month, overnight lows were dropping down to -44C (no wind chill factors included). Any easing of the cold snap only seemed to last for a day or two, with the frigid weather rapidly returning.
Red Deer was not the only place to experience the polar conditions.
The newspapers reported that the deep freeze extended over much of North America. The conditions were so cold for so long that some American cities began to report heating fuel shortages.
Many public meetings and events across Central Alberta were cancelled due to the very cold weather. The Red Deer Public School District reported that school attendance dropped to some of the lowest levels ever recorded.
The railway companies reported real challenges in keeping the trains running. Plugged roads and very cold temperatures kept many farmers at home. Local newspapers reported that it was now the worst winter since 1906-1907.
On Feb. 10th, 1936, Marjorie Marshall, a popular local resident who had played goal for the Amazons women’s hockey team, married local writer and naturalist Edgar ‘Kerry’ Wood. After the couple’s return from their brief honeymoon, Marjorie literally froze her legs during the walk from the C.P.R. train station in downtown Red Deer to the Wood’s home on the brow of the East (Grandview) Hill.
Finally, on Feb. 29th, 1936, the temperatures finally took a major and sustained turn for the better.
There were still some uncomfortably cold days in March, but generally speaking, spring was finally here.