One of the significant attractions of Red Deer is its extensive parks and trails system.
In various public surveys, those parks and trails are often cited as our community’s biggest asset.
In early Red Deer, there was initially not much concern about town planning and the development of parks. The Town was a small collection of frame and brick buildings with large open spaces between them.
However, as the Town began to rapidly grow and develop after the turn of the last century, more attention was given to town planning and the creation of parks.
One of the first public areas subsequently created was the Civic Square (now City Hall Park) which was acquired by the Town in 1901.
Another was the CPR Park, created east of the train station, which would allow travelers a spot to stretch their legs while they took a break from their long gritty trip on the steam trains.
In 1907, Town council began discussions about acquiring the area where Waskasoo and Piper Creeks joined as a possible park. However, the cost of the land seemed high and there were more pressing priorities in the Town budget.
In 1909, Halley Hamilton Gaetz, made a very generous proposal to the Town.
He had been very active in public affairs, serving on Town council and as mayor in 1907 and 1908. Moreover, his parents, Rev. Leonard and Catherine Gaetz, had recently passed away. He wanted to do something in their memory.
He consequently offered a gift of six acres, extending along the river from his home on Douglas (55th) St. to the mouth of Waskasoo Creek.
He also indicated that his brother-in-law, George Wilbert Smith, would be willing to consider the offer of an additional piece of land, extending west to the Gaetz Avenue traffic bridge.
Town council was enthusiastic about the donation.
It would give the community a beautiful park that would include picnic areas, but would mainly be left in a natural state. A decision was quickly made to name the area Gaetz Park in honour of the donor.
H.H. Gaetz’s gift acted as a catalyst for further park planning. Town council revived the idea of acquiring 40 acres on the south side of town, again as a picnic and recreational area, but also as a beautiful wooded spot which would be left largely in its natural state.
An offer of $7,000 was made to the C&E Townsite Company to purchase the land. In the spring of 1910, the ratepayers voted in favour of the by-law authorizing the borrowing of the necessary funds. In January 1911, Town council voted to officially name the new parkland Waskasoo Park.
A few years later, council adopted the name, The Garden City, as the official motto for the City.
Over the following decades, the City of Red Deer acquired other parcels of land along the Red Deer River as well as Waskasoo and Piper Creeks.
A large amount of this land was acquired during the real estate bust that followed the outbreak of the First World War. Many of the landowners defaulted on their taxes and the City subsequently assumed title to their properties.
In the early 1980s, the City, with generous funding from the Provincial Government, began the development of an urban corridor park along the river and creeks. In 1982, this new park system was officially designated Waskasoo Park and name was no longer just used for the parcel on the south side of the downtown core.
A walking trail system had already been started in Red Deer, initially with a generous grant from the Devonian Foundation.
The Waskasoo Park project greatly expanded and enhanced that walking trail system and made it a key feature of current and future park developments.
Thus, the initial gift of H.H. Gaetz in 1909 of six acres of parkland along the river has become the cornerstone of one of the best and most popular features of our City. It has helped to make our community a much more enjoyable place to live.