The history behind street names of Red Deer

On the Thanksgiving long weekend, one of the daily newspapers in Edmonton ran an excellent two-page feature on the origins of the various street and other names used in that city.

Names of streets, avenues, parks and subdivisions are something which we use continuously everyday. However, we rarely stop to ask how this or that name came about, and/or what it signifies.

The main north-south thoroughfare in Red Deer is called Gaetz Ave. after Rev. Leonard Gaetz. He was a retired Methodist minister who was appointed as the local agent for the Saskatchewan Land and Homestead Company.

That company once owned more than 115,000 acres (180 sections) of land in and around Red Deer. Leonard and his wife Caroline also established a new home and prosperous 640 acre farm for their large family in what is now downtown Red Deer.

In 1890-1891, the Calgary-Edmonton railway was built between Alberta’s two main centres. Leonard Gaetz offered a half-interest in his farm to the railway company if it created a townsite on his farm.

He shrewdly made that offer as an undivided 50% share in the property, rather than subdividing off a piece for the railway.

That way, whenever a lot was sold in the fledgling hamlet, half of the proceeds went to Leonard Gaetz, while the other half went to the railway company. Thus it was a win-win situation for both parties to the deal.

Sir James Ross was the senior executive in charge of the C&E Railway Company. He was also the person who came to Central Alberta in July 1890 to negotiate the acquisition of the townsite from Leonard Gaetz.

Hence, when George Bemister surveyed the townsite in November 1890, the main east-thoroughfare was named after Ross.

The names of the C&E Railway company officials and agents were used for the other streets and avenues in the community.

There was, however, a major anomaly to the names used for the new hamlet. For reasons lost in the mists of time, both Gaetz and Ross were originally designated as avenues.

All other east-west roadways were called streets, while the north-south thoroughfares were called avenues.

It was not until 1909 that the Town of Red Deer decided to correct the obvious anomaly and change Ross Ave. to Ross St.

In 1913, the new Red Deer City council decided to move away from the original street naming system and adopt the one used in Calgary.

The City was divided into four quadrants. The streets and avenues were given numbers such as First St. SE and Second Ave. NW.

A few thoroughfares kept their names, such as Gaetz Ave. and Ross St. as well as Waskasoo (now 45) Ave.

Another anomaly continued for many years. The section of the old Calgary-Edmonton Trail, which entered Red Deer on the southeast corner of the community, was officially named Brick St. because there were brickyards on each end of the road.

However, everyone in the city called the thoroughfare ‘Victoria Avenue’ even though that was not the registered name and the roadway ran east-west and not north-south.

However, that anomaly began to disappear in 1947.

That was the year that Northwestern Utilities began installing natural gas service in Red Deer. The Company asked City council to adopt the Edmonton style of naming and numbering streets. Hence, Brick St./Victoria Ave. became 43 St. In another example, MacKenzie/First Avenue East became 49 Ave.

The new 50 St. and 50 Ave. continued to have their original designations of Ross St. and Gaetz Ave.

Other names were used for roadways such as Spruce and Springbett Dr.

In 1961, the City began using street names extensively again, with the first letter matching the name of the subdivision. (e.g. Springfield Dr. in Sunnybrook). In 1964, the City began to name the street, avenues, crescents and closes after prominent and long-time residents of the community as well as local veterans.