Remembering the autumn of 1953

Red Deer has enjoyed a pretty good year this year.

So far, there has been a warm and pleasant fall. The economy is doing well. The media is reporting that one of the best crops in years is being harvested.

Red Deer was also enjoying good times 60 years ago in the fall of 1953. A large oil field was discovered northeast of the City in the Joffre area. The subsequent boost to the local economy was substantial.

Both Imperial Oil and Gulf Oil announced the opening of major central offices in Red Deer. Other smaller companies either started or expanded operations in the community.

The amount of new construction soared.

In 1952, the City recorded slightly more than $2 million in building permits. With the onset of the strong new oil and gas boom, the value of permits in 1953 nearly doubled to almost $4 million.

One of the biggest projects announced in 1953 was the proposal by the provincial government to the build a large new facility for care of mentally disabled adults on the old J.J. Gaetz farm on the northeastern edge of the City. This facility was later named Deerhome.

In 1953, the population of Red Deer leapt to more than 8,000. So many young families were moving to the community that both the public and the separate school districts had trouble accommodating all the new students.

New schools and/or additions to new schools were constructed every year during the 1950s. Nevertheless, all the classrooms were filled to overflowing.

The City had problems keeping up with the supply of new parks and recreational facilities. However, a new arena was built on the Red Deer Fairgrounds.

The Red Deer Curling Club began construction of a new curling rink next to the arena after reaching an agreement with the City to share the artificial ice plant.

A real public relations coup occurred on July 13, 1953 when the Curling Club was able to have Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent turn the first sod for the new facility.

The City also had problems keeping up with the demands for new utilities services and street construction. The year of 1953 was a wet one. Hence many of the unpaved streets became muddy morasses.

Because the sanitary sewers often backed up into basements during rainstorms, the City also had to develop plans for an extensive and expensive new storm sewer system.

Nevertheless, October 1953 saw many local successes and noteworthy events. The local Kiwanis Club recorded its best-ever fundraising apple sale with more than two boxcar loads of apples being sold.

Several local churches cooperated in organizing a special family Thanksgiving service at the new 2-11 Drive-in Theatre on the north end of town. Several hundred people attended.

The municipal elections were hotly contested.

Former mayor Harvey Halliday successfully competed with the young City councillor Alec Sim to replace outgoing mayor Paul Crawford.

There were also plebiscites on a proposal to move the Cenotaph from its existing location in the middle of Ross Street, as well as plans to rezone two pieces of parkland, one to commercial use and the other to residential.

The voters did agree to turn the parkland east of the Gaetz United Church into a site for a proposed strip mall and to turn another portion of the park at the foot of Michener Hill into an extension of the Woodlea subdivision.

However, the proposals to move the Cenotaph to either a new site in front of the Memorial Centre, or to the centre of City Hall Park, were defeated. The voters felt it was better to leave the Cenotaph where it was in the middle of Red Deer’s busiest commercial thoroughfare so that it would be constant reminder of the sacrifices made by the residents of Red Deer and district during the First and Second World Wars.

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