A look back at Red Deer in 1946

Another New Year is now underway.

However, with the Alberta economy under serious threat with the enormous decline in energy prices, many people are looking to the coming year with trepidation and even fear. Another year, which started with a great deal of uncertainly, occurred 70 years ago in 1946.

Actually, there was much to be happy about in the community. The Second World War had finally come to an end in 1945. Young veterans were streaming home to reunite with their families and loved ones, and to start new lives.

However, a great global war had ceased less than three decades earlier when the First World War finally ended in November 1918. The aftermath of that terrible conflict had brought several years of economic distress and suffering for veterans and civilians alike.

People hoped that the governments were much better prepared this time, but there was always a nagging doubt that things could still go awry.

While many proclaimed that long-term peace had now been achieved, the First World War had also been referred to as the ‘War to End All Wars’.

The great Nazi and fascist armies had been crushed, but many wondered if that menace would soon be replaced by a bigger threat of world-wide communist aggression.

While there were justified worries about the longevity of peace, there were worries as to how quickly a wartime economy could be changed back to peacetime one. One immediate crisis involved housing the large numbers of returning veterans and their new families.

During the hard times between the First and the Second World Wars, there had been very little new construction. For a great many years, the population of the City had stagnated at around 2,800. Now, it was quickly beginning to soar to more than 4,000. Moreover, many existing buildings had become quite run-down during the Depression years.

In order to provide quick interim housing, the old barracks buildings at the large A-20 Army Camp, north of 55 St. were turned into suites. Some open areas to the south were used by the Department of Veterans Affairs to start the construction of small new houses.

The old A-20 Camp was not only used as a housing centre. Part of the facility was also turned into the Canadian Vocational Training Centre No. 8. That meant that veterans would have an opportunity to secure vocational instruction and in turn, increase the numbers of much-needed tradesmen.

Local efforts at new construction and development, however, were hampered by on-going shortages of essential materials.

Moreover, while the continuation of wartime rationing helped to prevent the surge of inflation that had devastated the economy immediately after the First World War, it also increased the difficulties for people to purchase the things they needed for new homes and businesses.

The challenges of the transitional economy are evident with the experiences of Burns Chisholm, who started the City’s first in-town bus service in 1946.

Buying a new vehicle was impossible, so he purchased a 1941 Woodie station wagon. He was able to modify it into a reasonable 10 passenger vehicle. However, the station wagon was almost always in need of repair. Chisholm soon found that all of his profits were going to pay his garage and mechanics’ bills. Hence, within a year, he was forced to sell his business to Dan Donaghy of North Red Deer.

On-going shortages of steel created enormous challenges for the installation of natural gas service in Red Deer by Northwestern Utilities. With all of the delays, it was not until the late summer of 1947 that the enormous project was finally concluded.

The ceremonial gas flare, which was lit in City Hall Park on Aug. 22, 1947, was a symbol of the new era of modern heating and comfort in the community.

However, it also coincided with the discovery of a huge oilfield at Leduc during the spring and summer of 1947. The oil and gas industry, that has been so crucial to Alberta’s prosperity, had finally come of age.

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