This year marks the 150th anniversary of Confederation – the amalgamation of the four provinces (colonies) of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia into the new nation of Canada.
There are many events planned throughout the year, but the real celebrations will, quite naturally, be taking place on July 1st.
Given the current popularity of Canada Day festivities, and not just with special anniversary years such as 2017, one would presume that July 1st celebrations would have been major events in Red Deer for as long as this community has existed.
Moreover, Leonard Gaetz, who settled with his family in what is now downtown Red Deer in the early 1880s, had the honour of being one of the featured speakers at the Confederation celebrations in Halifax on July 1st, 1867. One would have expected that he would have helped to organize annual Dominion Day events (as they were then called) once he was well established in his new home in Red Deer.
However, circumstances often arose that created challenges to having special celebrations on July 1st in Red Deer.
The year 1887 was the 20th anniversary of Confederation. It was also the Golden Jubilee (50th anniversary) of the coronation of Queen Victoria. Hence, on June 21st, 1887, the fledgling community gathered for a large celebratory picnic at the ranch of George Wilbert Smith (current site of West Park).
A number of games were organized for the children. A huge meal was served at noon. The afternoon featured patriotic speeches including a very stirring address by Rev. Leonard Gaetz on loyalty to Queen and country.
With all the energies spent on the Jubilee celebrations, Dominion Day passed with virtually no notice.
In 1891, the townsite of Red Deer was created on the newly constructed Calgary-Edmonton Railway. Big plans were made for a July 1st celebration, but the community learned that Poplar Grove (Innisfail) had also planned a big Dominion Day event. Hence Red Deer postponed its festivities until July 10th.
The spring of 1892 brought some of the best weather the frontier community had ever experienced. However, once again, other events interfered with plans for a big Dominion Day celebration.
On June 26th, 1892, Red Deer’s first church building, the Methodist, was officially dedicated. Virtually everyone in the village (approximately 200 souls) turned out for the two special church services held on that Sunday.
Shortly thereafter, two large picnics were organized, one at Lacombe and the other at Pine Lake.
Rev. Leonard Gaetz agreed to be one of the featured speakers at the Lacombe event. Once again, not much happened in Red Deer itself on July 1st.
Things improved for Dominion Day celebrations as the 1890s progressed. July 1st became a community sports day. There were foot races, broad and high jump competitions and pole vaults. For those who liked a friendly wager, there were also horse races held on a track west of the C and E Railway yards. The day was capped with a large social gathering and dance in the Wilkins Hall on Ross Street.
However, loyalty to the Crown again took precedence in 1897. On June 22nd, 1897, the community gathered to celebrate the Diamond (60th) Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Little attention was then given to Dominion Day, although a large cricket match between Red Deer and Pine Lake was organized for July 3rd.
After the turn of the century, Red Deer’s new fairgrounds, Alexandra Park (named in honour of Queen Alexandra), were created on the southeast side of the town (south of 45 St. and east of 48 Ave.) This became the location for the annual community Dominion Day sports events for many years thereafter.