A history of local history books

A new book almost always attracts a lot of attention. Despite all the enormous advances in technology, there remains a fascination with the printed word, particularly if there are lots and lots of photographs as well.

One thing that is often overlooked, when discussing local history books, is the fact that there is a long history of historical publications on Red Deer and Central Alberta.

The first systematic recording of Red Deer’s rich history began in the mid-1930s. Fifty years had passed since settlement started in Central Alberta. The young pioneers were becoming senior citizens and felt the urge to start writing down their remarkable stories of starting a new life on the western Canadian frontier.

There was another strong impetus to the nostalgia. The 1930s were hard times and most people struggled to make ends meet. Consequently, remembering the heady boom times of the settlement era gave a welcome break from the current troubles. In other words, if there was not much to celebrate in the present, at least one could celebrate the past.

In January 1934, the Red Deer and Central Alberta Old Timers Association was formed. A large Golden Jubilee celebration was organized in July in conjunction with the annual Red Deer Fair. The term ‘Golden Jubilee’ was used for the festivities since 50 years had passed since Rev. Leonard and Caroline Gaetz had established the first farm in what is now downtown Red Deer.

The Red Deer Advocate marked the historic occasion by publishing a special 48-page souvenir edition. This special issue included extensive write-ups about the growth and development of Red Deer and area. Several old photographs were included as a visual reminder of the ‘good old days.’

Francis W. Galbraith, the publisher of the Red Deer Advocate and first mayor of the City of Red Deer, had started writing a series of reminiscences as a retirement project. After he passed away in March 1934, the newspaper decided to reprint his columns in a booklet entitled Fifty Years of Newspaper Work.

The first full-fledged history book on Red Deer was The Park Country, which was written by Annie L. Gaetz in 1948. She relied on her extensive network of family and friends for the material as well as many of her own personal remembrances. The Quota Club, Red Deer’s first all-woman service club, sponsored the publication.

Kerry Wood, Red Deer’s noted naturalist and author, began writing a number of historical books in the years following the Second World War. Two of those books, The Map Maker and The Great Chief won Governor General’s medals for juvenile literature. Others, such as A Corner of Canada, provided a generally humorous look at Red Deer’s past.

In 1967, Wellington Dawe’s master’s thesis on the history of Red Deer was reprinted as a book by the local Kiwanis Club. The Canadian centennial also saw the start of a number of history books on the local rural communities.

In 1977, Ted Meeres had a series of historical newspaper columns he had written published in the book The Homesteads That Nurtured a City.

In 1981, Georgean Parker wrote Proud Beginnings: A Pictorial History of Red Deer. In 1988, Windsor Publications, published Red Deer, An Illustrated History which was written by Michael Dawe and George Yackulic. This book was re-edited and republished in 1996.

In 2013, in order to help celebrate the centennial of the incorporation of the City, the City of Red Deer has published Red Deer: The Memorable City.

Copies of this newest book, which contains large numbers of previously unpublished historical photographs, officially goes on sale at 11 a.m. on Dec. 9th at the Red Deer Public Library.