Every once in a while, Central Alberta is blessed with long, warm and dry falls. Once instance occurred 87 years ago in the fall of 1928, when Red Deer was a small prairie town of around 2,800 people.
The year had been a rewarding one for the local farmers.
Crops were good. The long fall ensured a complete harvest. With the creation of the Alberta Wheat Pool and other farmer-owned cooperatives in the mid-1920s, agricultural prices had stabilized and then improved.
After nearly a decade of tough times, prosperity had finally begun to return for the farmers.
Since Red Deer was basically an agricultural service centre, better economic times for the farmers meant better times for the townspeople as well. One of the first signs of the improved economy was the construction of grain elevators by such enterprises as the Alberta Wheat Pool and the National Grain Elevator Co.
Moreover, the Alberta Pacific Grain Company built Red Deer’s first radio station on the brow of the Hospital Hill.
One of the key aims of radio station CKLC was to broadcast up-to-the minute grain prices and other marketing information to farmers.
However, a range of musical programs, news flashes, weather and road reports and religious shows were also included. One special feature was the broadcast of Sunday evening musical concerts from the Sylvan Lake Hotel.
The new construction projects were not limited to new grain elevators and a radio station.
With more money in the community, people began to purchase more cars. Ole Boode built a new Chrysler and DeSoto dealership on Gaetz Avenue.
Reg Whyte built a Ford dealership and garage on the corner of Gaetz Avenue and 49 St.
The Windsor Garage (McLaughlin-Buick) on 51 Avenue, which had been destroyed in a major fire in 1927, was rebuilt.
There were other major improvements to the downtown business district. With construction on the upswing, the Manning-Sutherland Company built a new lumberyard.
Drs. Dodd and Snell built a large brick addition onto the sandstone building on the corner of Ross Street and Gaetz Avenue. H.H. Humber built an impressive new jewelry store on Ross Street.
The biggest boost to Red Deer’s retail sector came with the decision by the T. Eaton’s Company to open a store in the community.
Eaton’s had commenced a major expansion into western Canada in the mid-1920s.
With Red Deer showing some promising new growth, it became a logical location to open a new department store.
At first, Eaton’s contemplated building a new store or else extensively renovating the large brick Central Block on the north-west corner of Ross Street and Gaetz Avenue.
However, eventually, Eaton’s decided it was better to buy out an existing retail business. Hence, it bought out W.E. Lord’s store on Gaetz Avenue.
Eaton’s created several departments in their new store – men’s, women’s and children’s clothing, boots and shoes, hardware, sporting goods and groceries.
Moreover, a mail order office was opened to enhance Eaton’s incredibly popular catalogue business.
The private sector was not the only one to enjoy the return to prosperity.
The Public School District urgently needed to build a new high school. The old one was so decrepit that had large wooden buttresses were needed to keep the brick walls up.
The ratepayers had defeated a bid to build a new high school in 1924 on the grounds that the proposal was too expensive. Now the voters were willing to back the construction of a large new school, complete with an auditorium.
The biggest boost was enjoyed by the City of Red Deer.
It successfully signed a long term contract with Calgary Power to supply hydroelectric power to the City instead of relying on the old, inefficient Western General Electric steam plant on the south bank of the Red Deer River. Almost immediately, the City was able to both cut utility rates and property taxes, using the huge increase in revenues from the municipally-owned electric light and power department.