Celebrating Canada Day in City’s early days

The nation has been busy again this year celebrating Canada Day on July 1st. The holiday is primarily the observation of the 147 anniversary of Confederation. However, for many, it is also the celebration of the start of summer.

While the holiday has always been important in Red Deer, and across the country, the way that it is celebrated and even the name of the day has changed over the decades.

One hundred years ago, in 1914, the holiday was known as Dominion Day. Instead of the multicultural festivities that currently occur at Bower Ponds, in 1914, the main feature of the holiday was the community sports events held at the old Fairgrounds.

One of the notable new initiatives in 1914 was a petition from the retail store clerks to have every Wednesday afternoon in July and August made into a half-day holiday.

Perhaps because the first Wednesday in July 1914 was Dominion Day, the local merchants were surprisingly receptive to the idea. Hence, the tradition of half-day retail and banking holidays on Wednesdays in Red Deer began.

Another impetus to the change was the rejuvenation of the Red Deer Farmers’ Market every Thursday.

The Market brought to Red Deer a steadily increasing number of vendors and customers from across Central Alberta. Any potential losses in business from a Wednesday afternoon holiday were now more than offset by the big boost in sales on Thursdays.

The Red Deer Retail Merchants’ Association threw its full support behind the Dominion Day festivities. There was a brisk competition in the days leading up to the holiday to see who could mount the best display in their store windows.

A committee created by the Merchants’ Association judged the various displays. Daniel Smith was awarded the first prize. However, the Committee was split as to whether Gaetz Cornett Drug and Bookstore or Smith and Gaetz Hardware should be awarded the runner-up honours.

Dominion Day celebrations started in the early morning of July 1st with an 8km (five mile) race. Unfortunately, this inaugural event was somewhat of a dud, with few runners entering the contest.

Moreover, the local newspapers complained that the pace of the race was quite slow.

The next event also had glitches.

Crowds were supposed to gather at the Public School grounds on Nanton (48) Ave. to hear the formal patriotic speeches and presentations.

However, the move from the Fairgrounds to the new site next to the school was not well communicated. Hence, a number of people were noticed wandering up and down the streets looking for where the speeches were taking place.

Hon. A.G. MacKay from Edmonton gave the keynote speech. While he spent a lot of time extolling the greatness of Canada and Alberta, he also gave a spirited pitch to have women given the right to vote in provincial elections. He must have been persuasive, as he got a prolonged ovation from the crowd when he finished.

A very large crowd of more than 1,500 gathered at the Fairgrounds for the afternoon events. While there was the disappointment over the Calgary C.P.R. Club defeating the Red Deer United Football (soccer) team four to one to claim the Citizens’ Cup, the Red Deer baseball team won all their games handily.

The Red Deer Citizens’ Band (a forerunner of the Red Deer Royals) provided concerts throughout the day that were very popular.

The evening finished off with a spectacular fireworks display, although a sudden wind caused some of the rockets to shoot off in unintended directions.

Meanwhile, there were news reports that on June 28th, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was assassinated by Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Although few people had heard of the Archduke, the young assassin Princip, or Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the incident quickly escalated into threats, ultimatums and then hostilities across Europe.

Within a few weeks, the First World War broke out. The community of Red Deer was forever changed by this terrible global conflict.