July 6, 1912 marked an important milestone in our community’s history. That was the date that the Salvation Army ‘opened fire’ and established a permanent presence in Red Deer.
As is widely known, the Salvation Army was founded in 1865 in the slums of the East End of London by William Booth and his wife Catherine. The goals were set as “The advancement of the Christian religion”, but also “Education, the relief of poverty and other charitable objects beneficial to society as a whole”.
The Salvation Army used a unique quasi-military form of organization. It also adopted an open and non-discriminatory approach to its work. To use the famous words of General Booth, the Army often offered “First soup, then soap and then Salvation”.
The Salvation Army first established a presence in Canada in 1882, Five years later, it started operations in Calgary. Work in Edmonton commenced in 1893.
The Salvation Army began expansion into Central Alberta at the turn of the last century, when communities such as Red Deer began to grow rapidly. In May 1907, there were news reports that temporary quarters had been secured in Red Deer and that a branch would be established by summer. However, these plans fell through.
In February 1908, another attempt to establish a Red Deer presence was made. There was an outdoor service on the intersection of Gaetz Ave. and Ross St. as well as evening services in the Lyric Theatre. Although attendance was excellent, a permanent local corps was not organized.
By 1911-1912, Red Deer had entered one of the strongest booms in its history. Newcomers flooded into the community. While most people were able to quickly establish themselves, several others, particularly young male transients, found themselves with no place to live and short of funds.
Unfortunately, the boom also brought a dark side to the community. There was an explosion in liquor consumption, particularly by single young men. Illicit gambling became a significant problem.
These were social ills with which the Salvation Army had a lot of experience. The Church was also highly skilled at helping the homeless and those facing destitution.
Hence, the Salvation Army renewed its work in establishing a permanent presence in Red Deer. To use the words of the news reports of the time, the Salvation Army “Opened fire against sin and the devil” with an open air, Saturday night rally on July 6, 1912. Despite a steady downpour of rain, a good sized crowd turned out to hear the speeches and testimonials.
The crowd then proceeded to the Orange Hall on Stewart (53) St., where there were more rousing speeches, moving testimonials and impressive music by the assembled Salvationists, which included representatives from Winnipeg, Calgary and Wetaskiwin.
The new local corps was commanded by two women, Ensign Alice Pearce and Lieutenant Florence Peacock. The meetings and services were held in such places as the Orange and Oddfellows’ Halls as well as the Lyric Theatre. As the year progressed, these services and meetings were held as often as four times a week.
On Aug. 20, 1912, General William Booth passed away. A special memorial service was held at the Orange Hall in Red Deer. As an indication of the respect that the community held for General Booth and the Salvation Army, the local Red Deer Citizens Band volunteered to perform at the service.
In November 1912, Major McLean of Winnipeg, who had presided at the initial meeting on July 6, returned to Red Deer to secure a local barracks. However, with the boom time conditions, suitable space was either unavailable or unaffordable.
The problem of securing a permanent location was something which was to dog the local Salvation Army for a number of years to come.
To be continued in a later column.
However, for those interested in joining the local Salvation Army in the celebrations of its centennial, there are a number of events planned this weekend (Oct. 13 and 14) including a concert by the Canadian Staff Band and special anniversary service. For more information, contact the Red Deer Corps at 403-346-2251.