Early history of the Farmers’ Market

On May 17, the annual Red Deer Public Market will reopen for another season.

Once again, thousands of people will flock to the Market to take in the incredible diversity of food, merchandise, sights, sounds and aromas. The Market has easily become the largest weekly public event in the warm weather months and is now one of the largest and most successful public markets in all of Canada.

While the current Public Market commenced in the early 1970s when it was founded by Dennis Moffat on the old Red Deer Exhibition Grounds, many people have forgotten that Red Deer also had a pioneer farmers’ market at the turn of the last century.

Red Deer’s Town council made the first plans for a regular public farmers’ market within a year of the community being incorporated as a town.

Unfortunately, there was an unexpected snag. The Town agreed to purchase the block, on the south side of Ross St. and east of MacKenzie (49) Ave. for the new municipal buildings and a market square. However, Robert Harper, the 22-year-old lawyer handling the purchase, died suddenly of a heart attack.

After his passing, some of the legal transfer documents could not be found.

Hence it was not until Nov. 26, 1906, that Town council finally passed By-Law 120 being “A by-law to establish a Public Market and Public Weigh Scales in the Town of Red Deer, and for the fixing of the fees for weighing upon such scales.”

The site of the Market was set on the large open public square, immediately west of the newly constructed Fire Hall/Town Offices (the current site of City Hall Park). Market Day was set for every Thursday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. all year round “Except when the said day may be a statutory holiday.”

In cold and/or inclement weather, the Market was moved to the Town Rink, on the corner of Morrison (52) St. and Nanton (48) Ave.

The fee for participating vendors was 25¢ per day. Only producers were allowed to be vendors. What could be sold was limited in order to reduce potential competition with permanent grocery stores and meat markets.

The Market thrived in its first years.

However, in late 1913, a deep recession set in. The Public Market suffered from the challenging economic times. Hence in April 1914, a proposal was made to reorganize and rejuvenate the Market.

The United Farmers of Alberta locals were the main proponents of reviving the Market. Support also came from Red Deer City council, the North Red Deer Village Council, the Red Deer Board of Trade, and the Women’s Institute of Red Deer.

A large public meeting was held on April 25, 1914. The new Market proposal was enthusiastically endorsed by those in attendance.

There was an agreement that the first Public Market would be held on Thursday, May 7th, and on every Thursday thereafter. A nine-person Market Committee was established with three representatives from City council, three from the Board of Trade and three from the Women’s Institute.

City council agreed to pay a rent of $15 per month for the use of the Red Deer Curling Rink as a venue. The City also agreed to appoint and pay a small salary for a market superintendent.

The new Market proved to be a tremendous success.

The fact that the First World War had broken out in the summer of 1914 did not seem to hurt the Market. In fact, the weekly event was so popular that City council agreed to keep the Market open through the winter months, using some extra space available at the Curling Rink.

As the War progressed, however, problems emerged as the market managers kept enlisting for service overseas. Another big problem was a lack of an available health inspector to ensure the cleanliness and safety of the meat and dairy products offered for sale.

These labour shortages led to a hiatus in the Market in the late spring of 1916. The Market revived a bit in 1917, but on a much more limited scale.

A very harsh depression set in during the years following the end of the First World War. Since the City was virtually bankrupt, City council decided it could not afford to either hire a market superintendent, or pay any sort of grant towards the Market’s operations.

Consequently, there was no regular public Farmers’ Market in Red Deer for 50 years until Dennis Moffat established a new one in the early 1970s. Thus, the tremendously successful Public Market that we know today was launched.