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History of Red Deer’s Second Courthouse

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It has been witness to a great many events and stories in the 90 years it has stood on the corner of Ross Street and 49th Avenue in Red Deer.

The Gaetz Company building as seen in 1912. It was the courthouse for the region from 1916-1931. It is the current site of Mason Martin Homes. Canada’s first female juror served in this courthouse in 1922.  Photo courtesy City of Red Deer Archives photo.

As the solidly constructed anchor for both provincial and the Court of Queens Bench for 52 years, this sturdy structure has also been a sanctuary for artists, the setting for movie productions and most recently home to numerous professional offices. It also was the backdrop for the last murder trial in Alberta which saw the defendant sentenced and hanged under capital punishment in the province.

Construction of the new courthouse well underway. City of Red Deer Archives photo P2610

This readily recognizable icon celebrated the anniversary of its official opening earlier this month and is showing no signs of retiring any time soon.

View of the Lyndall Limestone columns in the Palladian Style entrance. Photo by Duane Rolheiser.

This was the second courthouse for the steadily expanding central Alberta city. The earlier one had opened in 1916 after having been converted from a coverall factory. Talk about being adaptive and creative!

Construction of the “new” courthouse was significant for many reasons. The Great Depression was in full swing so this project provided a much-needed injection of both money and jobs into the community along with a sense of pride that such a fine building would bring to the region.

Brick exterior with Lyndall Limestone detailing. Photo by Duane Rolheiser

This would be the last courthouse built in the province until the 1950s, the final version  of a series of Alberta courthouses built in the classical revival style. Both Wetaskiwin and Medicine Hat received similar structures during this era.

Testament to the quality of the design and materials used in construction of the building is the fact that it remains steadfast after more than 8 decades of use.

Constructed using hot riveted steel beams, brick and mortar, then graced with pillars shaped from the legendary Lyndall Limestone from Manitoba, this grand historical resource will stand for a great many more years to come.

Original 1912 era boiler. Converted from coal to natural gas.
Photo by Duane Rolheiser.

In the spirit of the type of practicality and resourcefulness often seen during the depression, heating for the building would be provided by a boiler built in 1912 and  repurposed from a ship!

It was converted from coal burning to natural gas in 1949 and has since been replaced by modern, efficient boilers yet it still remains in the building as evidence of a different era.

Every building of a certain vintage usually carries a story or two about otherworldly spirits or energies. Why not the old Courthouse? It was thought that the ghost of Robert Raymond Cook inhabited the building.

On one particular evening, the caretaker for the courthouse was heading into the boiler room to grab some tools. When he flicked on the lights, they popped briefly and went dark. Despite this, the caretaker walked alongside the boiler in the direction of his tools when suddenly he was slapped in the face by an unexpected soft force! Was it the apparition of the hanged murderer?

When he had regained his composure a time later, the caretaker investigated the boiler room once more to discover the source of the slap in the dark. A frightened pigeon had flown up in his face when startled in the boiler room!

Judge bench in the original courtroom. Photo by Duane Rolheiser

This magnificent building was the home of the judicial branch of the province for the Red Deer region from 1931 to 1983 when its replacement was constructed just down Ross Street to the east.

A law office has made good use of the original architecture. Photo by Duane Rolheiser.

The courthouse was the venue for a great many legal tales over the years but probably none more famous than the 1959 murder trial for 21 year old Robert Raymond Cook of Stettler, AB who was accused of murdering all 7 members of his family in a most violent manner.

RCMP mugshot of Robert Raymond Cook, 1959. Photo used with permission by Legal Archives Society of Alberta.

His trial began on November 30th, 1959 and Cook was found guilty and sentenced to hang for his crimes. His defense appealed the conviction and a second trial was held in Edmonton but his conviction was upheld on June 20th, 1960.

On November 14, 1960, Robert Raymond Cook was hanged. His death sentence was the last ever carried out in the province of Alberta.

the actual witness bench where Robert Raymond Cook would have sat Photos by Duane Rolheiser.

Numerous books were written about this trial as the murders captivated and horrified the population who followed the course of the investigation and trials.

Even a dramatic play was created, called “The End of the Rope”, reenacting this historic trial which was developed and was even staged in the actual courtroom where the all too real drama actually took place all those years ago.

exterior of the courthouse while it was home to the Community Arts Centre in the 1980s. Photo courtesy Red Deer Archives.

In 1983, the  building was sold to the city of Red Deer for a dollar and turned into the Old Courthouse Community Arts Centre. The grand structure housed painters and potters among numerous artistic pursuits for 18 years

An artist displaying his works during a Christmas arts fair in the courthouse, 1987. Photos courtesy City of Red Deer Archives.

The old courthouse has seen real life dramas and reenactments of legal dramas including being the location for filming  scenes from the TV Movie, “While Justice Sleeps” starring Cybil Shepherd in 1994.

Even a dramatic one-man play was created by Aaron Coates called “The End of the Rope” in 2003, re-enacting this historic trial. It was developed and staged in the actual courtroom where the all too real drama actually took place all those years ago. Cook’s lawyer, David MacNaughton even answered questions from the crowd after the performance.

Promotional ad for the TV movie “While Justice Sleeps” starring Cybil Shepherd. Photo from IMDB

The old courthouse made its most recent transformation in 2001 when it was purchased by Jim Dixon and Dick McDonell.

Interior details.
Photos by Duane Rolheiser.

The new owners invested close to a quarter of a million dollars in upgrading the building including installation of new boilers, restored doors, energy efficient windows and new flooring  throughout. 1930s era lighting was sourced to replace fluorescent fixtures, giving the rejuvenated structure a proper historical feel.

Today this 90-year-old icon of downtown Red Deer proudly carries on as the home to numerous professional organizations from lawyers to architects and with its new owners and numerous upgrades, this beautiful structure should be proudly welcoming people to downtown for a great many more years to come.

Red Deer’s old courthouse sits as the centrepiece of Red Deer’s historic downtown and is celebrating its 90th birthday. Come spend some time downtown. Visit the city’s unique Ghost Collection, many of which are within a few blocks of the Old Courthouse.  For more information on leasing opportunities in this beautiful building, please email Davin Kemshead or phone 403-318-6479.  

 

How the Railroads Shaped Red Deer

 

 

 

I'm a storyteller with a love of aviation and local history. In the 1990's I hosted a popular kids series in Alberta called Toon Crew.

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Province loosens rules for participants and team volunteers in Rinks and Rec Centres

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Further clarity for youth participants in the Provincial Restrictions Exemption Program

As of Monday, September 20, 2021, The City of Red Deer has adopted the Provincial Restrictions Exemption Program. The program applies at all City owned and operated recreation and culture facilities.As a part of the Restrictions Exemption Program, The City had previously announced that all vaccine-eligible visitors 12 years and older to City facilities would need to show proof of vaccination, a valid medical exemption, or a negative rapid COVID-19 test within 72 hours of entry. Over the weekend, the Government of Alberta released further details about the Restrictions Exemption Program which clarify the requirements for youth sport, fitness and performance activities.

As a result of continued consultation with provincial government representatives, the following updates have been applied for all City of Red Deer recreation and culture facilities, effective September 21, 2021:

  • Volunteers for organized sport groups can enter to perform their activity-related responsibilities without proof of vaccination, exemption, or negative COVID-19 test

  • Youth sport, fitness and performance participants can take part in their activities without proof of vaccination, exemption or negative COVID-19 test

  • Youth aged 12-17 must show proof of vaccination, medical exemption or a negative test result to enter any facility while not participating in activity. This includes spectators, or using the concourse and common areas.

  • Anyone ages 18 or older will be required to show proof of vaccination, medical exemption or a negative rapid test result within 72 hours of a visit to facilities.

    • From September 20 to October 25, proof of a single dose is considered acceptable as long as the dose was given more than two weeks before visiting a facility. After October 25, proof of double vaccination is required.

All other vaccine-eligible visitors will be required to follow the guidelines set out for the Provincial Restrictions Exemption Program which can be seen here: https://www.alberta.ca/covid-19-public-health-actions.aspx.

Effective September 20, anyone unable to wear a mask will be required to provide a medical exemption letter from an authorized health professional. More information about mask exemptions is available at alberta.ca/masks

Please visit www.reddeer.ca/RecUpdate for more information about the Restrictions Exemption Program at our facilities.

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Alberta

Canadian women's hockey team to play B.C. Junior A men as part of Olympic prep

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CALGARY — Canada’s women’s hockey team will play a pair of games against male Junior A teams in B.C. next month.

The national women’s team, currently centralized in Calgary to prepare for the 2022 Winter Olympics, will travel to face the Trail Smoke Eaters on Oct. 4 and the Cranbrook Bucks on Oct. 5.

Canada is coming off winning a women’s world championship Aug. 31 in Calgary, where the host country edged the United States in overtime for gold.

Twenty-six skaters are trying out for 20 spots on the Olympic roster.

Three goaltenders have already been named to the Beijing-bound side: Ann-Renée Desbiens, Emerance Maschmeyer and Kristen Campbell.

The women are accustomed to a regular slate of games against male midget triple-A clubs as part of their Olympic prep, but games against Junior A teams are more rare.

Goaltender Shannon Szabados made 52 saves in Canada’s 3-2 win over the AJHL’s Calgary Canucks on Dec. 5, 2009.

Canada split a pair of Maritime Junior Hockey League games in September of 2019, when the women lost 4-2 to the Valley Wildcats and downed the Pictou County Crushers 4-1.

“We are grateful to both Trail and Cranbrook for their willingness to be part of our training as we start our season,” said Gina Kingsbury, Hockey Canada director of operations for the national women’s teams, in a statement Monday.

“The level of competition we expect to face is crucial in our journey and we look forward to showcasing our athletes to hockey fans in both communities.”

Fans can buy tickets and attend both games subject to meeting B.C.’s COVID-19 requirements.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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