The pioneer settlements of Central Alberta were generally known for their strong sense of community. Stories abound of neighbours going to great lengths to help each other out. Nevertheless, there were also instances of conflicts, misunderstandings, intolerance and, at times, tragedy.
One tragic story of early Red Deer involves a young British immigrant, Charles Kyme Wright.
Charles Wright was born on Sept. 5th, 1872 at Skirbeck near Boston in Lincolnshire, England. His grandfather, Charles Wright Sr., was a prominent member of the community and a justice of the peace.
Wright’s father, also named Charles, was a successful iron merchant. Unfortunately, Charles’ mother appears to have passed away while relatively young. His father, along with his two younger brothers and four sisters, lived at the grandfather’s home, along with his father’s sisters.
When he reached his late teens, Charles worked with his father in the iron business. However, he was bright, young and ambitious. Consequently, in 1898 he decided to emigrate to Alberta and try new opportunities.
He took out a homestead in what is now the Shady Nook district, west of the Red Deer River, where the townsite of Mintlaw was later located.
He obviously came with some money because he bought the adjacent quarter so that he would have a full half-section of land to farm.
Interestingly, when making his homestead application, Charles was asked if he had any other occupation than farmer. He did not write down that he was a trained ironworker and businessman, but rather that he was, “A professor of music – pianoforte.”
Gradually, Charles built up his farm.
However, he saw increasing opportunities in the rapidly growing Town of Red Deer. He decided to shift from farming to real estate sales and investments.
Charles Wright proved to be a shrewd businessman. He bought quality properties. He became the landlord for the Town Police Department. He bought commercial properties throughout the downtown. He also struck a deal with Madame Roze-Ordons whereby she operated his home on Ross Street as a boarding house with him as one of the boarders.
Wright continued his passion for music.
He was soon in great demand as a talented pianist and accompanist at various musical events and concerts. He became very active in the choir at St. Luke’s Anglican Church. He also became a key member of the Sons of England. Overall, he became widely respected as a generous, good-hearted and sensitive individual.
In the summer of 1910, Charles’ father came out to visit him and they had a pleasant time together, particularly at Sylvan Lake where the younger Charles had a sailboat. At the beginning of December, one of Charles’ younger brothers, Gordon, married Ada Wilson in Bangkok, Thailand. Unfortunately, neither Charles nor his father were able to attend.
Tragically, things quickly began to turn sour.
Charles became the subject of extensive comments from his neighbours, business associates and acquaintances about the fact that, unlike his younger brother, he was not yet married.
He had become quite hard of hearing and became convinced that a lot of conversations and laughter around him centred on this matter.
Finally, on the morning of Dec. 15th, 1910, he went to his office and store on Mann Street. He typed letters to his father and brother in England, as well as to his banker. He wrote, “There is a cruel and wicked slander and I cannot stand it much more.” He then committed suicide with his gun.
The community was genuinely shocked by what had happened. There was a large crowd at his funeral. The local newspapers openly acknowledged the widespread “jollies” about Wright and that this had contributed to his suicide. However, the papers claimed that Wright had misunderstood, “The purport of the remarks” and wrongly taken, “An insinuation [that} was never intended.”
The subsequent coroner’s inquest reached the verdict that he had committed suicide while suffering from a fit of ‘temporary insanity’. He is buried in the Red Deer Cemetery, with a beautiful headstone provided by his father.