History of the Red Deer Garden Club

On Aug. 20th the Red Deer Garden Club will be holding its annual flower and garden show at the Festival Hall (east side of the Memorial Centre) from 2 to 7:30 p.m.

This has been one of the most pleasant of the annual events in the community since the first one was held in 1911.

Red Deer has long been famous for its gardens and parks, an attribute than can, in part, be credited to the many years of hard work by the Red Deer Horticultural Society/Red Deer Garden Club.

The organization played a key role in the development of Red Deer’s first civic downtown master plan in 1913.

Red Deer’s City Hall Park, a jewel of the community, is one of the legacies of that early master plan.

By the 1920s, Red Deer became so renowned as a horticultural centre that the City officially adopted The Garden City as its civic motto, a name that continued to be used for several decades.

While the community has generally excelled with its beautiful parks and gardens, some of the truest tests of the local gardening talents came in the hard years of the 1930s.

The multi-year drought made it difficult to grow much of anything.

The economic hard times also made it difficult for both the City and the private residents to invest much money in their flowers and gardens.

Nevertheless, the commitment of the community was such that people continued to do their best despite the many challenges.

The year 1936 was a particularly challenging year. The onset of summer brought the worst heat wave ever recorded in Canada.

In the first week of July, temperatures in Saskatchewan hit a record breaking 43.9C (111F).

By the middle of the month, temperatures were frequently around 40C.

Across Canada, there were more than 780 heat-related deaths.

Central Alberta suffered, although not as badly as other parts of the country. Nevertheless, there were several days with temperatures exceeding 30C. On the hottest day in Red Deer, the thermometers registered 35.5C (96F).

As often happens during heat waves, there was very little rain.

There was only one day in early July when there was a noticeable shower. For the first three weeks of August, there were only two.

The flower and vegetable gardens of Red Deer suffered enormously from the severe conditions. The local newspaper liked to run stories about the state of the gardens in the days leading up to the annual Horticultural Society show.

Even though the reporters tried to put the best spin on what they saw, they frequently had to admit that almost every lawn was burnt and brown.

Only in a few shady spots, such as the northsides of buildings, was much growth evident.

Nevertheless, the annual flower and garden show took place as scheduled on Aug. 20th at the St. Luke’s Parish Hall on Gaetz Avenue North.

The number of entries were down noticeably, but the newspaper reporter still wrote that, “The quality was exceptionally high for such an unfavorable season.”

The showings of gladioli and sweet peas were particularly praised as being, “Worthy to rank with those of any city in the west.”

To help boost the displays at the show, there were special non-competition exhibits from such places as the Dominion Experimental Station in Lacombe and the Provincial Training School on the East Hill in Red Deer. Taylor and Sons, who ran a nursery and seed business in Edmonton, also provided a display.

The judges were almost all from out of town, except for the head gardener at the P.T.S. who was a provincial government employee and, therefore, considered to be sufficiently neutral in his opinions. Numerous prizes and trophies were presented at the end of the show by Mayor W.P. Code.

The day’s events concluded with a jitney dance with the local Harold Bone Orchestra providing the music (jitney dances were very popular in the 1920s and 1930s. They involved a small payment per dance on the floor – usually a nickel. Jitney was a slang expression for a nickel)