An old tradition marks the start of the Christmas season

On Nov. 22 the Red Deer Salvation Army held its official kick-off event for the annual Christmas Kettle Campaign. It is one of the most noticeable signs that the Christmas season is upon us. It is also a tradition that exemplifies a true Christmas spirit of generosity, good will and helping others in their times of need.

The Christmas fund-raising kettles started in 1891 in San Francisco. Captain Joseph McFee of the Salvation Army was looking for a way to raise funds for Christmas dinners for up to 1,000 of the most needy in the community.

He decided to use an idea he had seen in his sailing days in Liverpool, England. A large iron pot was set up, where the ships docked, so that people could throw in a coin or two to help the needy.

The concept worked extremely well. Captain McFee soon had enough money for his Christmas dinners. The idea of Christmas kettles consequently spread across North America, providing the Salvation Army with funds for its many good works.

It was in July 1912 that the Salvation Army formally “opened fire against sin and the devil” in Red Deer. It progressively built a presence in the community. In 1918, it was able to move from a series of rented facilities to a permanent citadel in the old Red Deer Steam Laundry on Blowers (51) St.

During the First World War, and in the harsh economic times that followed, the Salvation Army did what it could to relieve distress and need. Harvest festivals were held each fall to collect food for the needy. There were also clothing drives to help the poor, particularly in the cold weather months.

The Salvation Army’s first major fundraising drive in Red Deer was the Red Shield Appeal, which it launched in 1919. Because of the excellent reputation that the Salvation Army had earned during the First World War, the Salvationists were joined by several prominent citizens as they canvassed door-to-door.

In 1939, the Second World War broke out. A large military training camp was established north of 55 St. Once again, the Salvation Army provided tremendous assistance, both to the ‘home front’ community and to those overseas.

Unlike the situation following the First World War, Red Deer entered a period of prolonged growth and prosperity after the end of the Second World War. The work of the Salvation Army grew as well. Assistance was provided to those in need, particularly those who were looking for employment but lacked a place to live and/or enough money to support themselves.

As time went on, the Salvation Army expanded the services it provided to the community. In 1966, the Salvation Army opened a thrift store in the old Pentecostal Tabernacle at 4832 51 St. The store both provided an affordable source of clothing, as well as a source of revenue for the Army to support its other programs.

In 1967, the Salvation Army opened the Harbour Light Centre, in order to provide housing and support for alcoholics. Later a full-fledged alcohol and drug rehabilitation program was established, as well as a halfway house for those who had recently been released from prison.

In 1975, the Salvation Army purchased the Hamilton Block/old Wiltshire Bakery at 5211 Gaetz Ave. This building provided space for the thrift store and a family resource centre. There was also social housing upstairs.

In 1977, the Salvation Army had grown to the extent that a large new Citadel was built on 54 St. In 1997, an additional 3,800 sq. ft. was constructed onto the building in order to accommodate all the services and programs that the Army now provided.

Over the past 25 years, the Salvation Army has undergone many changes as old programs were dropped and new ones instituted. In 1998-1999, the Hamilton Block was sold and the proceeds applied to the cost of the addition to the Citadel. The Thrift Store was moved to leased space in Bower Plaza on Gaetz Avenue south.

Despite all the changes, one thing that has never faltered in 100 years is the Salvation Army’s faithful commitment to serving the community and assisting all those in need.

Those wishing to help the Salvation Army with its annual Christmas Kettle appeal are encouraged to phone 403-346-2251 to volunteer. There are kettles throughout the City for those wishing to make donations.