Reflecting on the Christmas season of 1974

Another Christmas is now upon us. As we reflect once more on the true meaning of Christmas and consider what the New Year might bring, it is interesting to look back 40 years to the Christmas of 1974 and consider what things were like in Red Deer back then.

That year had become one of the most dramatic years in Red Deer’s history. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (O.P.E.C.) had decided to flex its economic muscle and impose major increases in the price of oil.

At the same time, several Arab oil-producing nations, incensed over western support of Israel in the Yom Kippur War, instituted an embargo on shipments of crude oil to the west in October 1973.

The combined result of the O.P.E.C. moves and the Arab embargo was a nearly quadrupling of oil prices. Consequently, there was tremendous economic disruption across North America. News broadcasts were full of scenes of long lineups of cars at gas stations, as people frantically tried to purchase fuel.

However, while there was great economic distress throughout North America and across Europe, oil-producing regions such as Alberta experienced a sudden avalanche of wealth. Red Deer had been suffering from the economic doldrums in the early 1970s. The population of the City dropped slightly in the 1970 census. The growth rate in 1972 was a mere ½ of 1%.

Now, one of the great economic booms in Red Deer and Alberta’s history came roaring onto the scene. The local media was full of reports of plans for new subdivisions, particularly on the east and north sides of the City. New businesses were springing up everywhere.

With a combination of dramatically increased oil and gas prices and increased royalty rates, the Alberta government found itself awash in cash. That made it possible to make all kinds of promises of new projects and facilities ahead of the forthcoming provincial election in early 1975.

Moreover, the federal government started to take measures to deal with the impact of the huge energy prices increases across the nation. The Alberta government quite rightly asserted that natural resources were the property of the province. The federal government was starting to intrude into the provincial sphere.

Also, bashing Ottawa was a popular move on the eve of a provincial election. The popularity of the Progressive Conservative government, which had only been elected in 1971 and was now facing its first re-election bid, soared. Hundreds flocked to watch Premier Peter Lougheed get re-nominated at a meeting in Calgary in early December.

Meanwhile, the retail businesses of Red Deer experienced the strongest Christmas sales season in history. The large Parkland Mall, on Red Deer’s North Hill, was packed with holiday shoppers from across Central Alberta. The traditional downtown merchants, such as the Bay and Eaton’s, who had worried about the impact of the opening of the mall, enjoyed wonderful Christmas sales as well.

The weather had been pretty good for most of the fall, but two bad winter storms hit just before Christmas. There were high winds with lots of snow and ice. There were large numbers of traffic accidents, including some that were fatal. The highways turned so slick that RCMP constables found it difficult to stand on the pavement.

Fortunately, good weather returned on Christmas Eve.

On Christmas Day, temperature soared to nearly 7C. While a lot of snow melted with the warm chinook winds, people still enjoyed a beautiful white Christmas with all the good cheer and happiness associated with Christmas and the annual holiday season.