Remembering the May long weekend of 1937

The May long weekend is one of the most anticipated events on the annual calendar. It marks the traditional start of warm spring and summer weather and the final end to any hints of winter.

Many people use the long weekend to plant their gardens, go camping, or visit a favourite resort.

One of the most popular resorts in Central Alberta is Sylvan Lake.

Because of its close proximity to the City of Red Deer and also to the thriving Calgary-Edmonton corridor, literally thousands of people flock to Sylvan Lake on the summer long weekends.

Although the May long weekend is often referred to as the ‘May 24’ weekend, the holiday Monday generally does not fall on that date.

This year, the holiday falls on May 20th. However, 1937 was one of the years when the holiday was actually on May 24th.

Western Canada, at the time, was in the grip of the Great Depression.

Unemployment was high and money was scarce.

While the Depression had started to lift in the mid-1930s, the economy had taken another plunge downward by 1936-1937.

Moreover, the terrible Dust Bowl conditions had returned across much of western Canada.

Consequently, the spring of 1937 was generally warm, but also very dry. Farmers began seeding and golfers were out on the local courses by the latter part of April. There was a wet snowstorm on May 5, but few people minded. The snow quickly melted and provided some very welcome moisture.

The ice went out on Sylvan Lake on May 7, five days earlier than it had gone out in 1936. Shortly thereafter, George Hoffner was installing his ‘waiting room’ for swimmers at the end of the west pier. The public boat loading dock was made operational shortly thereafter.

There was great excitement across Canada with the coronation of King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) on May 12th. Sylvan Lake celebrated with a large parade and ceremonies in the open square by the Cenotaph and Memorial Presbyterian Church.

The crowds then went to the Alexander Pavilion by the lakeshore where they listened to the new King’s speech on the radio.

All the children present were given free passes to a special afternoon matinee at the local Uptown Theatre. They were also treated to free ice cream courtesy of Palm Dairies.

In the evening, the Boy Scouts lit a large bonfire on the main beach, accompanied by a display of fireworks. A large dance at the Alexander Pavilion followed.

After the tremendous success of the Coronation Day festivities, some thought that the Victoria Day weekend would be somewhat of an ‘aftermath’ event.

However, with the continuing hot and windy weather, many people sought a weekend at the Lake for some relief from the heat.

According to the weekly Sylvan Lake News, while “The crystal water of the Lake had not yet reached a temperature to attract bathers,” the public beach was still packed with picnickers and others enjoyed the hot spring days.

The campgrounds were packed and most of the local cottages were opened up by their owners for the season.

The big event was the official opening of the Varsity Hall and Alexander Pavilion dances halls for the summer season. The big draw at the Varsity Hall was Leo Smuntan and the Bessborough Hotel Orchestra from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

They played both on the Saturday and Monday nights, as public dances were not allowed on Sundays.

The success of the May 24th long weekend set the stage for a long hot summer at Sylvan Lake. Times may have been hard and money was tight, but Sylvan Lake still provided an affordable summer vacation spot for Central Alberta families.