On Oct. 12 to 14, 2012, the Salvation Army officially marked its centennial in Red Deer. It was a wonderful celebration of 100 years of remarkable service to the community.
The earliest contact with the Salvation Army occurred in August 1895 when General William Booth, its founder, made a brief visit to Red Deer. There were less than 150 residents in the hamlet at the time. Consequently, no attempt was made to establish any on-going operations.
After the turn of the last century, Red Deer began to grow rapidly. In May 1905, the Red Deer Land Titles Office recorded the largest number of homestead entries in Canada. As the boom strengthened, the Salvation Army began laying the foundations for a permanent presence in the community.
On Saturday, July 6, 1912, the Salvation Army “opened fire against sin and the devil” with an open-air service. Despite a steady downpour of rain, a good-sized crowd turned out to hear the speeches and testimonials. The crowd then moved to the nearby Orange Hall where the inaugural services continued.
The new local corps was commanded by Ensign Alice Pearce and Lieutenant Florence Peacock. Meetings and services were held in such places as the Oddfellows’ Hall and the Lyric Theatre as well as the Orange Hall.
In 1914, the Salvation Army was hit with two cataclysms. First, on May 29, 1914, the Empress of Ireland sank in the worst maritime disaster in Canadian history. A great many senior Salvation Army officers and virtually the entire Canadian Staff Band drowned in the tragedy.
On Aug. 4, 1914, the First World War broke out. Hundreds enlisted for service overseas, including many of the local Salvationists. Finances became tight and most public fundraising was devoted to the war effort. Nevertheless, the Salvation Army distinguished itself with its charitable work both to those serving overseas and their families at home.
During the war years, the Salvation Army occupied a number of leased premises including the old Royal Theatre and the Humber Block, both on Gaetz Ave. In 1918, the Salvation Army was able to establish a permanent citadel when it purchased the Red Deer Steam Laundry building on the north west corner of Blowers (51) St. and MacKenzie (49) Ave.
Now that it had a permanent home, the Salvation Army moved ahead. It was also bolstered by the tremendous goodwill it had earned during the War.
When the first Red Shield Appeal was launched in 1919, several prominent citizens went out with the Salvationists as they canvassed door-to-door. Moreover, in 1921, the Alberta Government passed legislation to allow rural municipalities to make annual donations to the Salvation Army. Many did so, often with the understanding that there wouldn’t be any canvassing conducted at the same time.
The period between the First and the Second World Wars was generally marked by hard economic times. The Salvation Army did what it could to help relieve the distress. Major harvest festivals were held each fall to collect food for the needy There were also clothing drives to make sure that families had adequate clothing, particularly in the cold weather months.
Meanwhile, the Salvation Army continued its religious work, as well as its charitable activities. At times, as many as four services were held each weekend. In order to boost interest and enthusiasm, talks and presentations were organized using officers who had served with special projects in Canada and overseas.
The Salvation Army bands from Calgary and Edmonton were always a popular attraction. Crowds were often so large that the local Rex Theatre was hard pressed to accommodate all those who turned up for the performances.
Frequently, the Salvation Army bands performed outdoors, on the corner of Gaetz Ave. and Ross St., or in what is now City Hall Park. These outdoor concerts and revival services were usually well attended, even in inclement weather.
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.
(To be continued).