Winter this year has gotten off to a miserable start. There have been three heavy snowfalls, leaving some of the highest accumulations of snow ever recorded in Central Alberta in the month of November. The terrific blizzard on Dec. 2-3 was a storm that will long be remembered in the community.
There have been a great many other harsh winters in Red Deer’s history. The winter of 1906-1907 was so brutal that it is still considered a benchmark for life-challenging pioneer winters. Local farmers and ranchers suffered enormous losses of livestock. Some settlers lost their own lives in the extreme cold and snow.
The winter of 1919-1920 was no better. The first blizzard struck on Oct. 8. Winter did not release its grip again until the following May. Many farmers were unable to finish harvesting their crops as one heavy snowfall followed another.
The harsh winter was a prelude to several rough years economically for Red Deer. Unemployment spiked as high as 25%. Many businesses went bankrupt as did the Red Deer Memorial Hospital. Agricultural prices dipped so low that some farmers faced bills when they shipped their cattle to market. The cost of the freight exceeded the amount for which the animals sold.
Finally, the economy began to take a turn for the better in 1923-1924. The creation of co-ops such as the Alberta Wheat Pool and Central Alberta Dairy Pool helped to boost the prices for grain and dairy products. The opening of the Provincial Training School, (now Michener Centre), as the provincial institution for the residential care and education of mentally handicapped children, created a significant number of welcome government jobs in the community.
Still, the local retail merchants looked to the traditional holiday shopping season for some of the first profits in years. Hence, the local newspapers were full of gift-giving ideas and Christmas specials.
Tragically, just as Christmas shopping was getting under way, Central Alberta was hit with a terrific blizzard on Dec. 13.
A total of 58.5 cm of snow fell in three days and high winds created enormous drifts. By Dec. 15, temperatures plunged to -46.1C. The following two days, they dropped even further to more than -50C. Red Deer attained the unenviable distinction of being the coldest spot in Canada.
The passenger trains ran several hours behind. The local schools closed for a few days. Milk, bread and grocery deliveries were often suspended. Wiltshire’s Bakery had to use a sleigh for its deliveries for the first time in four years.
Towards the end of the week, things had improved slightly. On Dec. 18, the lows for the day were only -45.6C. Nevertheless, local farmers found it impossible to make it into town. Many City residents remained loath to venture out of their home as some of the drifts were waist-deep.
Local hockey took a particularly big hit as Red Deer lacked an indoor arena at the time. The local media lamented the poor turnout for the games, although everyone admitted it was hard to get fans out when the temperature hovered at -20C and -30C.
One out of town game at Leduc proved particularly challenging as the poor roads meant that the Red Deer team did not arrive until midnight. The match went ahead anyways and lasted until 1:30 a.m. Red Deer got edged out by a score of 3 to 2 and one of the best players suffered broken bones in his hand.
Meanwhile, Red Deer’s merchants tried to make the best of things and put warm winter clothing on sale. Some put signs on the windows that said ‘Come In and Get Warm.’
Still, the downtown area remained very quiet.
A ‘warm spell’ set in just before Christmas with temperatures rising to a relatively balmy -10C. However, the relief in the weather was too late to salvage the retail season.
Red Deer’s business community had to be content with wishing their customers, friends neighbours and family, a Merry Christmas and expressing a heartfelt wish for a much better New Year in 1925.