This year marks the 110th anniversary of one of Red Deer’s oldest neighborhoods, Woodlea, which lies north of Ross Street and south of 55th St., with Waskasoo Creek on the west and the base of the East (Michener) Hill on the east.
In pre-settlement times, the Red Deer River valley was incredibly fertile.
It was covered with thick grasslands, interspersed with willow bunches and aspen poplar groves. The richness of the area attracted Rev. Leonard Gaetz and his family to settle here in 1884.
In 1890, Rev. Gaetz struck a deal with the Calgary-Edmonton Railway Company to create the townsite of Red Deer. However, area to the east continued to be part of his farm.
One of the challenges to travel across the valley, for the Gaetz family and others, was Waskasoo Creek.
In the early days, it was not a gentle streamlet. It was so full of water that it was a popular fishing spot. In the springtime, or during heavy summer rains, the creek could turn into a dangerous raging torrent.
There were other obstacles.
By the river, there was a heavy swampy area, now part of the Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary. The township road – now known as 55th St., but at various times known as Douglas Street or the Cemetery Hill – was very steep and difficult to use in icy conditions or wet weather.
The alternative was to head south to what is now Ross Street, and use the deep coulee formed by a creek that drained the large sloughs in the Grandview area.
However, in the years following the turn of the century, Red Deer began to grow very rapidly.
The population jumped from a mere 323 in 1901 to more than 1,500 within four years. Red Deer began to extend beyond the boundaries of the original townsite.
Leonard Gaetz, and his second eldest son Halley, consequently decided to develop the Woodlea area as a new subdivision.
The district was to have larger and longer lots than in other areas of the town. Also, Woodlea was to be the first subdivision in Red Deer where the streets and avenues varied from the standard rectangular pattern. In particular, there was to be a Woodlea Crescent and a Circle Street.
The new subdivision proved to be very popular.
Sales of lots were brisk. The first homes were soon built near Waskasoo Creek on Waskasoo (45th) Avenue and Poplar (46th) Avenue.
Later, several more houses were built, by the creek and along Bank Street (44th Ave.) at the foot of the hill.
In 1914, the First World War broke out. Growth in Red Deer came to a screeching halt. Woodlea became a quiet ‘urban fringe’ area, with large open spaces.
In 1923, the Nazarene Church bought a large piece of land in Woodlea and turned it into a church camp for revival meetings.
It soon became one of the largest evangelical revival centres in Alberta. In 1924, group of Chinese businessmen acquired another large piece of land on the eastern side of Woodlea.
This was later taken over the Wah King and Sam Wong and operated as the Sam Wo Market Gardens. This successful business continued to operate until 1948 when it moved to south Mountview.
In 1962, the nurseries/gardens moved farther east into the Balmoral District, along 39th Ave. where it still exists today.
In the years following the Second World War, Red Deer began to grow very rapidly and there was a tremendous demand for new housing.
The Woodlea and Waskasoo areas were particularly attractive. The old Chinese market gardens and the Nazarene Camp were consequently subdivided into residential lots in the early 1950s.
Today, Woodlea remains one of the most attractive and popular subdivisions in Red Deer. There is also a strong and vibrant community association in the district.