Christmas celebrations – one century ago

Another Christmas will soon be upon us.

Since people often like to recall ‘old-fashioned’ traditional Christmases, it is interesting to reflect back to the Christmas of 100 years ago in 1912.

There have been few Christmases that were greeted with as much good cheer and festivity as that particular Christmas. Red Deer was enjoying one of the strongest bursts of growth and prosperity in its history. Huge numbers of new settlers were flooding into the district.

With all the new businesses and houses being built, the construction industry soared. The statistics help to tell the story. The value of building permits leapt from $ 77,005 in 1910 to $389,040 in 1912, an increase of more than 500%.

The local brickyards, Piper’s and Red Deer, dramatically increased their production, as did Cement Builders Ltd., makers of cement tile, shingles and inter-locking building blocks.

The Great West Lumber mill in North Red Deer cut less than two million board ft. in 1909. By 1912, the demand for fresh lumber had risen so strongly that the mill was cutting more than 3.5 million board ft.

So many impressive new homes, stores, office blocks and public buildings were being constructed that a listing in the local newspapers of all the building projects in Red Deer in 1912 took up nearly two full pages.

One of the most impressive of the new structures was the large new brick Alberta Ladies College that was being constructed on the brow of the East Hill.

With all the young families flooding into the community, two new elementary schools were constructed; one in the Village of North Red Deer and the other on the south side of the Town of Red Deer.

St. Joseph Convent had a large addition built on its west side. The residents of Red Deer West (West Park) lobbied for a new school in that district, as there were already an estimated 75 children of school age living there.

New businesses in the community included the Laurentia Milk Company which constructed a milk processing plant on Blowers (51) St.; the Freytag Tannery, which was built in North Red Deer and the impressive new Empress Theatre which offered stage productions, concerts and ‘high quality’ movies.

Red Deer Holdings started a tree and flower nursery, as well as a foundry.

The local merchants started their annual Christmas sales in the latter part of November instead of the usual first week of December.

As the month progressed, many implemented late night shopping hours, including Saturday evening. All businesses continued to remain closed on Sundays.

There were a wide variety of potential gifts advertised. Men’s silk ties were offered at 75¢ to $2. Kids’ skates could be purchased for $1 to $3.50.

Quality beaver coats cost $17.50. Those wanting the latest in technology could buy Victrola gramophones for $20 or more. For those preparing Christmas treats, Japanese oranges were 95¢ a box, apples were $3.95 a barrel and varieties of cheeses were 20¢ to 50¢ per pound.

The big pre-Christmas event was the annual firemen’s concert at the Town Hall. The space was filled to overflowing. People raved about the quality of singers and the orchestra organized by Father Henri Voisin.

In the days immediately before Christmas Day, there were a number of Christmas concerts, social gatherings and children’s Christmas parties, often referred to as ‘Christmas Trees’.

Christmas fell on a Wednesday that year. The local churches held the traditional Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services. As usual, they were full of large numbers of happy families, cheerfully singing the old familiar carols.

As the Christmas holidays were very mild, with daytime temperatures at or above the freezing mark, many people enjoyed skating at the outdoor rink, east of the fire hall.

With the clear moonlit nights, the enjoyment extended well into the evenings.

Many also went from house to house enjoying good cheer and ‘toothsome delicacies’ before settling in for the traditional feasts of Christmas goose, hams and more fruits and pastries than most would eat in several weeks.

The year of 1912 had seen a very Merry Christmas with all indications of a very happy and prosperous New Year.