Next week marks an important anniversary in our community’s history.
It was 100 years ago, on Aug. 10 to 12, 1910, that Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Prime Minister of Canada, made an extended visit to Red Deer. It was one of the most exciting official visits by a national political figure that Red Deer has ever experienced.
The visit was part of a two-month long tour of Western Canada. The prairies were the fastest growing part of the country. Since Laurier was acutely aware of the increasing importance of the region to the nation as a whole, he wanted to make an extensive visit to view the progress first hand. He also wanted to learn more about the issues and problems of the West.
News that Laurier would be including Red Deer as a major stop on his tour was received in early June. Committees were quickly struck to make the necessary plans. The local citizens not only wanted to suitably welcome the Prime Minister to the community; they also wanted to ensure the recognition of Red Deer as one of the centres of growth and prosperity in the West.
Laurier was scheduled to arrive in Red Deer on the afternoon of Wednesday Aug. 10 on a train from Edmonton. While brief stops were planned for Wetaskiwin, Ponoka and Lacombe on the way, Laurier was not scheduled to leave Red Deer until the morning of Aug. 12. Consequently, several Central Alberta communities agreed to join with Red Deer in organizing a major public meeting in the new Waskasoo Park next to Piper’s Mountain on Waskasoo Creek.
As part of the preparations, a very impressive archway was constructed at the intersection of Gaetz Ave. and Ross St. It had four large towers. It was covered in flags, bunting, sheaves of grain, and local produce. There were large signs with slogans of welcome and boosting Red Deer. The local Western General Electric power company donated several hundred bulbs so that the edifice could be lit up at night.
Huge crowds greeted Laurier’s arrival on the afternoon of Aug. 10. The official party, which included Laurier, Alberta Premier Arthur Sifton, several MPs, MLAs and local elected officials, made their way to the Civic Square on Ross St. for lengthy speeches of welcome.
Special time was also given to the provincial president of the United Farmers of Alberta, James Bower of Red Deer, so that he could present the concerns and viewpoints of the farmers. So important was the speech to Bower that although he started to have a heart attack, he refused to be taken to hospital until after he had finished making his presentation to the prime minister.
After the civic reception, everyone headed to a spot on the South Hill for the driving of the first spike for the Alberta Central Railway. The ACR was a very ambitious venture and was part of a plan to help make Red Deer a major rail hub in Western Canada.
A sudden thunderstorm cut short the large public meeting the next day in Waskasoo Park. All those who were able quickly relocated to the Lyric Theatre on Ross St. where the speeches by the dignitaries continued. Unfortunately, the theatre owners had put heavy coats of shellac on the wooden seats the day before. Many of the attendees consequently left large portions of their clothing behind when they went to leave.
The visit wrapped up on the Thursday evening with an elaborate reception on the lawn of H.H. Gaetz’s large residence on Douglas (55) St.
Laurier departed early Friday morning after spending a second night in the Ellis mansion on the corner of Douglas St. and Poplar (46) Ave.
Despite the two thunderstorms and the other glitches, everyone agreed that the visit had been a wonderful success and that Red Deer had successfully asserted its rightful place on the new economic and political map of Canada.
Laurier also took many of the policy ideas presented to him in Red Deer and elsewhere during his Western tour and included them in his party’s platform in the 1911 federal election. Although the result was that Laurier and his Liberals won all but one seat in Alberta, (with a similar result in Saskatchewan), they were defeated nationally by Sir Robert Borden’s Conservatives.