Red Deer Red Cross celebrates a century

This fall marks the centennial of one of the most important organizations in our community. It was 100 years ago, in September 1914 that the Red Cross was first organized in Red Deer.

The origins of the Red Cross, as an international organization, go back more than 150 years ago. In 1863, Henri Dunant helped to found a volunteer commission that evolved into the International Committee of the Red Cross. The aim was to provide independent and neutral support for the victims of war, regardless of which side they had been on.

In 1896, Dr. George Sterling Ryerson founded the first overseas branch of the British Red Cross in Canada. In May 1909, the federal government incorporated the Canadian Red Cross as the official organization, “To provide volunteer aid in Canada in accordance with the Geneva Convention.”

On Aug. 4th, 1914, Great Britain and, by extension, all of the British Empire declared war on Germany and its allies. Not surprisingly, within a month, work began on forming a Red Cross committee in Red Deer.

An inaugural meeting was held at Red Deer’s City Hall on Sept. 3rd, 1914. Ina Emma Greene was elected the first president, with Isabel Quigg selected as the first treasurer and Marion Hacking becoming the first secretary. One of the first matters of discussion was whether the local Red Cross should assist ‘the poor of the town’, as well as the men who had volunteered for active service and their families.

However, since the local Salvation Army and the Women’s Institutes were supporting those in distress, the Red Cross decided to concentrate on help to those connected with the military. Membership fees were set at 25 cents, but members were encouraged to donate more if they were willing and able to do so. In less than a week, more than $100 was raised. Several times that amount was collected in the following weeks.

In the interests of speed and efficiency, the Red Cross Committee was made a sub-committee of an existing organization, the I.O.D.E. (Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire). However, in November 1914, the Alberta Division of the Canadian Red Cross Society wrote to Red Deer’s City council asking for its assistance in creating a local branch of the Society. Council replied that the existing arrangements were working well and declined the request.

Meanwhile, several rural communities and small towns created their own branches or auxiliaries. Moreover, tremendous support was given to the Red Deer Red Cross Committee by such organizations as the local Women’s Institutes, Waskasoo Ladies Aid, Soldiers’ Wives Club and the Local Council of Women, as well as numerous local church groups and schools.

Bandages and medicines were collected for the overseas military hospitals as well as for the Red Deer Hospital and the Soldiers’ Sanatorium on the east hill. The most important activity, however, was the assemblage of care packages for those serving overseas. These packages consisted of special food items, warm clothing and other necessities not likely to be provided by the military.

The matter of local organization came to a head on Feb. 9th, 1917, at a meeting held at the City Hall. The provincial division of the Canadian Red Cross Society once again asked that a formal Red Deer branch be created. After some hot debate and consequent compromising, a resolution was finally passed unanimously that a Red Deer branch be created, with the core members of the executive being drawn from the I.O.D.E.

For a few years following the end of the First World War, the Red Cross continued its work of supporting the Red Deer Hospital and assisting those in need in the community. However, gradually, the Red Deer and other local Red Cross branches fell dormant.

This situation quickly changed in October 1939, shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War. Again, the Red Cross provided invaluable support for those on active service, particularly for those who were interned in prisoner-of-war camps.