A look back at the summer of 1912

The summer of 1912 was a truly exciting time for Central Alberta. The community was enjoying one of its greatest booms in its history. Two new railroads, the Alberta Central and the Canadian Northern Western, were being constructed west from Red Deer towards the Brazeau coalfields. The population of Red Deer more than doubled in three years.

Despite the frenzy of new business activity and new construction, people still felt the need to take some vacation time during the all-too-brief prairie summer. Many were drawn to Sylvan Lake, which was both close to Red Deer and a spot on the new A.C.R. and C.N.W.R. rail lines.

For those not wishing to use the still infrequent train service, there was a regular stagecoach from Red Deer. Moreover, many people used a new and very popular form of transportation, the automobile.

The fledgling resort community soon boasted two hotels, the Sylvan Lake and the Alexander. There were a number of seasonal boarding houses. Several restaurants were built. There was a new dance hall and a billiard parlour. For those who had a need to keep in touch with their businesses back home, there was a new long distance telephone service, provided by the Western General Telephone Company.

New homes and cottages sprang up throughout the town site. Several new cottages were also built in lower and upper camps, on the east and west sides of the hamlet. Some were constructed in the new lakeside subdivisions such as Northey’s Point and Whitewold Beach.

For those wishing a much cheaper vacation, there were a number of great spots to pitch a tent and enjoy some summer camping. One particularly favoured spot was on the west side of town where there was a strong set of springs to provide a ready supply of good, clean water.

For those enjoying the lake itself, Edward Michener and Stan Carscallen, the two major developers of the new lakeside subdivisions, brought one of the first motorized boats to the lake. So did Joe McClusky, who later built the first public boathouse.

Almost everyone else used the traditional rowboats and canoes. There was however, a large houseboat, ‘The Australia’, that proved popular with a number of young people, who wanted to be out on the water as much as possible.

Not everyone confined themselves to rest and recreation. Alberta College sponsored a summer school at Sylvan Lake. Classes were offered in the mornings until 12:30. Afternoons were occupied with the swimming, boating, fishing and a number of beachside games. In the evenings, starting at 8 p.m., there were lectures on a wide variety of subjects of interest.

Unfortunately, much of the early part of summer was blighted by cool, wet weather. Many people found it difficult to make it to the lake over the muddy roads. Train service was spotty. The frequent rainstorms made camping quite uncomfortable.

Sam Lee, a very popular local restaurateur, decided to lift everyone’s spirits by holding a large free banquet one Tuesday evening in early August. A large crowd turned out to enjoy the feast of chicken, ham, numerous vegetable dishes, salads and a wide variety of desserts. For refreshment, there was tea and coffee, but also beer, cider and the occasional glass of scotch.

By mid-August, the weather finally turned more seasonably warm and dry. More and more people trekked out to Sylvan Lake, if only for the day. Some noteworthy V.I.P.’s came out for a brief holiday, including Lady Ileene Campbell, daughter of the Earl of Huntingdon, and her two sons, Colin and Geordie.

Sylvan Lake was well on its way to becoming one of the most popular of Alberta’s summer resorts.

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