HERITAGE – Janet Pennington

HERITAGE – Janet Pennington

Interest in Red Deer’s history keeps growing

Local officials continue to create ways to explore City’s past

  • Jul. 31, 2013 3:10 p.m.

A rich and varied emphasis on exploring facets of local history continues to unfold in the City.

There are lots of fascinating ways to learn about Red Deer’s past including several newly-developed walking tours. They were officially introduced last month, but officials say their popularity continues to grow as folks tap into the stories of the City’s early days.

Several walking tours were mapped out in the early 1980s, but City staff felt it was high time to revamp those tours and broaden their historical scope.

“It’s part of a retake on our heritage, and trying to promote our heritage and identity,” said Janet Pennington, Heritage Community Development coordinator.

The new tours are part of the Red Deer Revealed line, and they help to tell the story of our community’s vibrant heritage. Red Deerians and visitors alike can choose to go on one or all of the new tours, which will guide them through the City’s downtown core. They include The Ghost Collection Tour, First Impressions of Red Deer and Saturday in the City.

Also included in Red Deer Revealed is a children’s activity map and 58 new heritage signs as well. As Patterson explains, the signs features historic photos also.

“They portray an image of what was.”

Pennington said the search for material to highlight on the tours included counting on members of the community as well. “We didn’t want to rely on just two or three people to pick the sights, we really wanted to get some input.” One means of doing that was dropping by such events as the Mayor’s Garden Party, seniors centres and Canada Day celebrations with large community maps.

People could mark things on the maps that had special historical significance to them.

“We didn’t want the tours to be just a series of old buildings, we wanted some sort of themes as well.” The focus initially was on the downtown, but committee members are looking at planning more tours of historic spots throughout the City as well. There are plenty of areas to delve into, from unique manufacturing initiatives to a range of social aspects across time, too.

“These will be walking, driving or biking tours as well.”

Of course, the bronze ghost series of statues continues to attract lots of attention, and stirs up plenty of questions about the specific stories they represent.

Pennington said it’s a challenge to keep up with demand when it comes to copies of The Ghost Collection Tour brochures. The collection includes 10 life-sized bronze statues placed in and around the downtown core.

It all started with the popular statue of ‘Reverend Leonard Gaetz’ near the intersection of Ross. St. and Gaetz Ave. The statue was unveiled in 1994.

‘Choices’ followed in 1995. This was followed by ‘Francis Wright Galbraith’ in 1996, ‘Francis the Pig’ in 1998, ‘Sound the Alarm’ and ‘Reaching out’ in 1999, ‘Let the Music Play’ in 2003, ‘Hazel Braithwaite’ in 2004, ‘Doris & Mickey’ in 2004 and ‘Waiting for Gordon’ in 2012.

Francis the Pig, the famous ‘ham on the lam’, was relocated to Rotary Recreation park just east of the new spray park. He was located on Little Gaetz Ave. south of 52nd St. prior to extensive redevelopment work done in the area.

The legend of Francis began in July 1990 when he escaped from a local abattoir.

For nearly five months the fugitive roamed the parklands of Red Deer, eluding predators and several attempts to catch him. This freedom-loving pig was finally captured in early 1991. Unfortunately, shortly afterward, Francis succumbed to injuries he received in the attempt.

Francis captured the imagination of the nation and won many fans.

And as Patterson said, it’s stories like this that enrich the community because of the sense of story and folklore that surround them as well.

She said the tours have not only been a hit with folks visiting the City, but those who were born and raised here enjoy them because they often bring back a world of memories of how it used to be.

Patterson recalls leading a community history tour, which should have only taken about 45 minutes. “Sometimes people want so much information, the last one was two and one-half hours long. We kept saying do you want us to stop and they said ‘No’. So it was lots of fun.”

For more information, check out www.reddeer.ca/heritage. For more about the City’s public art and bronze ghost collection, contact 403-309-4775.