Looking back to the Christmas of 1907

Another Christmas is rapidly approaching. Although last winter seemed to be an excessively long and snowy one, Red Deer has enjoyed quite a good year.

There is a lot of nervousness about the recent plunge in international oil prices. However, any economic impact of this setback has not really been noticeable in Central Alberta yet.

It is interesting to reflect back more than 100 years ago to the Christmas of 1907. The winter of 1906-1907 had been one of the worst in Alberta’s history.

The agricultural community, which was the economic backbone of Central Alberta, had been hard hit. Many ranchers had lost their cattle to the cold. Many farmers had harvested mediocre crops at best.

The onset of the winter of 1907-1908 had also been miserable. There was a killing frost on Aug. 21st. A heavy snowstorm hit on Sept. 9th, flattening the local crops. Meanwhile, prices for what the local farmers had been able to produce dropped sharply.

A sudden economic recession set in, set off by a major banking crisis in the financial markets of New York.

Credit became very tight. That was critical for a frontier economy which has heavily reliant on loans to get businesses, farms and ranches going.

Evidence of the economic distress quickly became evident. The Red Deer Mill and Elevator Company, which had been backed financially by the local Board of Trade, Town Council and the savings of many local residents, went bankrupt.

Town Council found that it was unable to collect more than one third of the property taxes. The Town was already carrying a huge debt load, incurred when the first sanitary sewer system had been installed.

A bond issue, which was to cover the consequent shortfall in operating and capital expenditures, failed to attract any investors.

In order to raise some much needed revenue, the Town took a number of citizens to court for not paying their dog taxes. Forty-three owners were delinquent. However, there was a shortage of summons forms in the Town Office. Consequently, only 13 delinquent dog owners were charged.

All cases were dismissed after nearly everyone agreed to pay the dog taxes they owed. However, many people complained bitterly that the Town Clerk had served both as the prosecutor and the judge in the cases.

Fortunately, there were a couple of events to brighten things up a bit. The Canadian Pacific Railway decided to make Red Deer a divisional point on its C&E Line. This meant that eventually, a new rail bridge, roundhouse and train station were to be built in the community.

Red Deer Public school board constructed a beautiful, new, three-storey brick schoolhouse on the Central school grounds. This impressive building was eventually nicknamed The Castle, because of its appearance.

The premier and many other dignitaries were invited to the grand opening ceremonies. The mayor and Town council were pointedly not invited, because of a snub the Town had given the school trustees the year before.

As Christmas approached, the social season warmed up.

The newly formed Red Deer Choral Society held a very successful concert at the Opera House on Gaetz Avenue. The Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian Sunday Schools held popular events, nicknamed ‘Christmas Trees’ for the young members of the respective Sunday schools.

Christmas Day turned out to be a beautiful and bright winter’s day.

The local churches held special Christmas services, complete with the lusty singing to traditional hymns and carols. In the afternoon, many in the community turned out to watch the Wigwam hockey team edge out the local firefighters, 4 to 3.

The local newspaper published a special Christmas Day edition with an editorial in favour of an elected Canadian Senate and the traditional message, ‘Merry Christmas to Everybody’ and ‘Many Happy Returns’.