The date of Aug. 10th, 1910 was a momentous day in Red Deer’s history. It was the day that Sir Wilfrid Laurier, the Prime Minister of Canada, came to visit.
This was not the first visit to Red Deer by a prime minister. Sir MacKenzie Bowell came to Red Deer on Sept. 1st, 1894 with the federal Minister of the Interior and the Commissioner of the North West Mounted Police. They stopped by the village in order to inspect the new NWMP barracks on Gaetz Avenue.
The 1910 visit was not the first time that Laurier had come to Red Deer.
He visited Red Deer on Sept. 30th, 1894, while he was still the federal Leader of the Opposition. He came again on Aug. 30th, 1905, stopping briefly on his way to Edmonton with Governor General Earl Grey to officially proclaim the creation of the Province of Alberta on Sept. 1st.
The 1910 visit, however, was the first time that a sitting prime minister made a multi-day visit to the community.
Moreover, the visit to Red Deer was billed as a major stop during a two-month long tour of western Canada. Laurier was keenly aware of the growing importance of Red Deer and western Canada to the growth and prosperity of the nation.
He wanted to see the region for himself and to hear the issues and concerns of the residents in person.
Of particular importance to Laurier was the fact that Red Deer was the home of James Bower, the powerful president of the United Farmers of Alberta and thereby a prominent leader in the Canadian farm movement.
Red Deer was determined to make the most of Laurier’s visit.
An enormous archway of welcome, with four large towers, was constructed at the intersection of Gaetz Avenue and Ross Street.
The structure and adjacent street were fitted up with hundreds of incandescent lights to ensure an impressive appearance at night as well as during the day.
Laurier arrived in mid-afternoon on Wednesday, Aug. 10th.
The official party and assembled dignitaries then made their way to the City Square (City Hall Park) for the welcoming ceremonies and speeches.
Special time was given to James Bower for his presentation to the Prime Minister on the concerns and viewpoints of western farmers.
The speech was so important to Bower that although he started to have a heart attack, he refused to be taken to the hospital until he had finished his remarks to Laurier.
After the civic reception, everyone headed to a spot on the South Hill for the driving of the first spike for the Alberta Central Railway.
The A.C.R. was a very ambitious local venture and was part of a plan to make Red Deer a major rail hub in Western Canada.
A large public meeting was held on Thursday in what is now Rotary Park (south of 43 St.)
A huge crowd turned out to hear Laurier speak.
A sudden thunderstorm cut short the outdoor event. Those who were able relocated to the Lyric Theatre on Ross Street for a continuation of the speeches. Unfortunately, the theatre owners had put heavy coats of new shellac on the wooden seats. Many of the attendees consequently left large portions of clothing behind when they got up to leave.
The visit wrapped up on Thursday evening with an elaborate reception on the lawn at the H.H. Gaetz residence on Douglas (55) St.
After spending a second night at the mansion home of the Ellis family on the corner of Douglas Street and Poplar (46th) Ave. Laurier left Red Deer on Friday morning (Aug. 12th).
Everyone agreed that despite the glitches, the visit had been a wonderful success.
Red Deer had asserted itself as an emerging centre in the Canadian West. Moreover, Laurier took many of the policy ideas presented to him in Red Deer, and elsewhere in western Canada, and made them key planks in the party’s platform in the 1911 election.
Although Laurier and his Liberal party swept all but one Alberta seat in that election (with a similar result in Saskatchewan), the Laurier government was defeated nationally by Sir Robert Borden’s Conservatives.