Sunnybrook United Church marks 50 years

The 1950s and early 1960s were heady times in Red Deer’s history. The post-Second World War boom was made even stronger with the discovery of significant oil and gas fields across Central Alberta. Red Deer became a centre, first for oil and gas exploration companies, and then for a burgeoning energy service industry.

The rate of growth was astonishing. The population of the City soared. In 1957-1958, Red Deer grew by an astounding 21%. Consequently, Red Deer gained the distinction of being the fastest growing city in Canada.

Most of the newcomers were young families, a reflection of the great baby boom that followed the War. Hence, at least one new school and/or major addition to a school was completed every year for more than a decade. There was an enormous push to expand and improve civic services, including new roads, utilities and recreational facilities.

Almost all the local churches were soon swamped, particularly with their Sunday school programs. All kinds of projects were undertaken to increase the size of existing churches and to build new ones.

Gaetz Memorial United Church had the largest congregation in the City. The Church board was hard pressed to manage the enormous increase in attendance. However, in January 1955, disaster struck. The historic old building burned down. Fortunately, the Church was fully insured. Work soon began on a new and much larger church building.

A large Christian Education Centre was added to the east side of the new church. However, even with the major increase in space, Gaetz Church was full to overflowing. Hence, consideration was given to creating new congregations on the north and south sides of Red Deer.

In 1959, Charles and Olga Bower made a generous donation of land to Gaetz United Church in what was to become the Sunnybrook subdivision. Unfortunately, not much could be done for three years until the subdivision was developed. However, in the summer of 1962, the Church Extension Committee began detailed work on the two proposed new churches and Sunday school facilities. A major Capital Funds Drive was launched.

An old army hut was purchased and then cut in half. One part was placed on a site in the Fairview district, while the other was placed on the land donated by Bowers at the south end of 43 Ave.

As well, $40,000 was expended on each of the two new halls. On May 5th, 1963, the Sunnybrook and Fairview Halls were officially dedicated.

The City gave the United Church three years to build a permanent church in Sunnybrook and five years for one in Fairview. Several meetings were held in the first part of 1964 to get the Sunnybrook and Fairview congregations properly established.

Church services were started first at Fairview, but Sunnybrook also quickly developed a very active program with Cubs, Scouts, and other children’s groups and activities, as well as the Bower branch of the U.C.W. Reverend Stewart Hewlett acted as the first minister for both Sunnybrook and Fairview congregations.

Work began on the attractive new Sunnybrook Church in 1966. Hio Developments was the general contractor. Work was completed in early 1967. The new church was formally dedicated on Feb. 1, 1967.

Sunnybrook United has undergone a great many changes over the following decades. Rev. Harold Jenner replaced Rev. Hewlett in 1968. In turn, the ministry was taken over by Rev. Dale Watson, followed by many other very capable ministers and congregation leaders.

The Church building has been renovated and expanded over the years. As different services, projects and activities came to an end, new ones soon took their place. Sunnybrook has always been noted for its energy and commitment to service to others, locally, nationally and internationally.

One aspect of the Church that has never changed is the caring community of Christ with a solid and enduring foundation of faith.

Sunnybrook United Church will be marking its 50 anniversary with special celebrations on June 14th and a special church service with Rev. Stewart Hewlett on June 15th.