After a long and rather miserable winter, Central Alberta is finally enjoying a nice warm spring. Springtime brings not only warmer weather, but also the start of the season for many outdoor sports.
One of those popular sports is tennis and it has some very deep roots in Central Alberta.
The first record of tennis being played in Red Deer occurred in July 1898 when it was reported that there were now two tennis courts in the community. Red Deer at the time had around 200 residents.
Tennis continued to grow in popularity after the turn of the last century as Red Deer grew from a fledgling village to a thriving town. A Red Deer Lawn Tennis Club was organized.
Among the biggest supporters of the new Club were Henry and Anna Stent. The Stents had a well-tended acreage in North Red Deer, which they named Woodlands. Tennis courts were created on the Stent’s lawn.
Meanwhile, Red Deer’s Town Council decided to create Civic Square, on the south side of Ross Street, east of McKenzie (49th) Ave.
Tennis courts were placed on the east side of the Square, next to the new Fire Hall. Water was supplied from the Fire Hall to help keep those courts green in the warm summer weather.
The importance of tennis to the community was demonstrated when Town Council considered potential sites for a municipal Farmers’ Market. Council decided to avoid placing the Market where it would displace or interfere with the new tennis courts.
Eventually, as the popularity of the sport continued to grow, the tennis courts were moved next to Red Deer’s Land Titles Office/Court House, which was located on the west side of McKenzie (49th) Ave. and south of Ross Street.
As the Red Deer Tennis Club strengthened, matches were held with clubs from nearby communities. Usually those games involved teams from larger centres such as Innisfail and Lacombe, but also from rural communities such as Pine Lake and Alix, which had sizeable numbers of residents from Great Britain.
Soon, players from Red Deer were travelling to Calgary and Edmonton to take part in tournaments in those communities.
As the Red Deer Club became larger and the number of matches grew, membership fees were raised. By 1912, the fees had risen to $3 per season for ‘gentlemen’ and $1.50 for ‘ladies’.
By the time of the First World War, memberships were $5 for men and $3 for women, although a special rate of $1 was set for soldiers and veterans.
Unfortunately, the War resulted in the size of the Tennis Club decreasing, as men went overseas to serve in the trenches. However, the Club managed not to fold. After the end of the War, the Tennis Club became a founding member of the new Red Deer Athletic Association.
The post-war years were tough years financially for the community.
There were complaints that the courts on the west side of 49th Ave. were falling into a state of significant disrepair. Consequently, in 1925, with the help of Red Deer City council, the Tennis Club created new courts on land leased from the Provincial Government, on the north side of Ross Street and east of 47th Ave.
The Tennis Club flourished in the late 1920s and 1930s.
A Central Alberta Tennis League was formed with clubs from such places as Red Deer, Sylvan Lake, Lacombe, Ponoka, Innisfail and Penhold.
However, the Second World War brought a lull in activity.
After the War, two shale courts were created in Red Deer on the north side of 55th St.
However, they were only used for a few years.
In 1961, new tennis courts were built on the top of the City’s water reservoir, next to the new water tower. In 1969, tennis courts were constructed west of the Recreation Centre. This site was enlarged when Red Deer hosted the 1977 Alberta Summer Games.
In 1990, the Recreation Centre site was rebuilt and upgraded. In 1998, the service building was re-developed. In 2009, a tennis dome was erected to the south, which has subsequently allowed the playing of tennis all year round.
(Sincere thanks to Marg Hicks for her research which greatly helped in the writing of this article).