The origins of Red Deer’s beautiful Cenotaph date back to the end of WWI. The statue of the Unknown Soldier is a provincial historic site. In this article, historian and author Michael Dawe helps us understand the rich history of this monument and reminds us all of the sacrifices of our forebearers. Enjoy the photo gallery showing the changes to the Cenotaph and its surroundings over the years.
The Cenotaph by Michael Dawe (originally published Nov. 9, 2019)
There are many memorials around the City of Red Deer to honour those who served and those who lost their lives during a time of war. The main community memorial is the Cenotaph, the statue of the Unknown Soldier that stands in the centre of Ross Street in the heart of downtown Red Deer.
The origins of the Cenotaph go back to the end of the First World War. That conflict had been a searing experience for Red Deer. 850 young men and women from the City and surrounding districts had enlisted. Of these, 118 lost their lives. Of those who returned, many had suffered terrible wounds and faced a lifetime of ill health and suffering. Hence, it was extremely important to the community that a fitting and very special memorial be created.
On December 18, 1918, five weeks after the end of the War, the Central Alberta local of the Great War Veterans Association (forerunner of the Royal Canadian Legion) organized a large public meeting to discuss the creation of such a memorial. Three proposals were initially made. The first was to construct a pyramidal monument of river cobblestones in the centre of the City. The second was to construct a community hall and recreation facility next to City Hall. The third was to purchase the old Alexandra (Park) Hotel and turn it into a community centre.
After considerable discussion, a fourth proposal was adopted. It was decided to build a monument rather than a community centre. However, at the suggestion of Lochlan MacLean, it was also decided that this monument be in the form of a statue of a soldier, mounted on a pedestal, rather than a cobblestone pyramid or obelisk.
Major Frank Norbury, an architectural sculptor at the University of Alberta and a veteran of the War, was commissioned to carve the statue. He came up with the concept of carving the Unknown Soldier as he was coming off active duty on the front line. He was to face west, toward home and peace. He was also to be positioned towards the C.P.R. station from which most of the soldiers had left Red Deer for the War.
This latter point was one of the greatest controversies about the Cenotaph. City Council and a few others wanted it in the centre of the City Square (now City Hall Park). However, the majority wanted it facing directly towards the station and in the middle of Ross Street, Red Deer’s busiest thoroughfare, so that it would be a constant reminder of the sacrifices of the War.
Meanwhile, fundraising for the project commenced, but proved quite a challenge. Post-war Red Deer faced one of the worst economic depressions in its history. However, despite the general shortage of money, by the following summer more than half of the $6200 needed had been raised. Unfortunately, Red Deer City Council decided that given its financial situation, it could not contribute any money to the project. This decision reinforced the opinion of the Memorial Committee that Council’s wish to have the Cenotaph in the middle of the City Square should be ignored.
There were still a lot of hard feelings about that lack of official City participation. Eventually, City Council agreed to build a boulevard in the middle of Ross Street, west of 49 Avenue, as a site for the Cenotaph. A decision was also made to place street lights at either end of that boulevard to provide nighttime illumination of the spot.
There was another debate regarding the proper means of recording the names of those killed in the War. Some wanted tablets placed on the pedestal. However, the Memorial Committee was worried about having a complete and accurate list. Finally, it was agreed to have two scrolls prepared, one with the names of those who had served and one with the names of those who had lost their lives. Both scrolls were put into a copper tube and placed in a cavity in the pedestal.
On September 15, 1922, the Cenotaph was officially unveiled. To the delight of the community, Governor General Lord Byng of Vimy agreed to come and do the honours. Lord Byng was a hero of one of Canada’s most significant military victories, the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Vimy was also a victory that had also come with very heavy loss of life, both locally and nationally.
At the time of the official unveiling, it was reported that the Cenotaph was the first sculpture war memorial in Alberta. Once the official dedication was completed, the monument was placed into trust with the City on behalf of those who had contributed to its creation.
The Cenotaph was rededicated in 1949 to include remembrance of those who served and lost their lives in the Second World War. A plaque signifying that designation was added to the pedestal. After the completion of the new City Hall Park and the Memorial Centre in the early 1950’s. there was a push to relocate the Cenotaph from its location on Ross Street to either the centre of City Hall Park or a new site in front of the Memorial Centre. However, a plebiscite was held in 1953 in which the citizens of Red Deer voted to keep the Cenotaph were it was.
Another plaque was added in 1988 in memory of those who served and died in the Korean Conflict. At the same time, through the efforts of some dedicated members of the public, special lighting was added to ensure that the Cenotaph was highly visible at night.
There were new proposals in the 1990’s to relocate the Cenotaph to City Hall Park. However, Charlie Mac Lean, son of Lochlan MacLean and one of the last surviving people to have actually built the Cenotaph, offered the opinion that he did not think that the monument could be safely relocated.
In 2006, the Cenotaph was extensively cleaned and repaired. City Council then successfully applied to have the Cenotaph designated as a Provincial Historic Site. In 2010-2011, a beautiful Veterans’ Park was created around the Cenotaph, to enhance it and to make it more accessible to the public. Moreover, eight interpretive panels were created to let people know the full significance of Red Deer’s official war memorial. They give the stories of those who served in the Boer War, First World War, Second World War, Korean Conflict, the Afghanistan War and all the peace-keeping and peace-making missions in which Canadians have been involved.
Lest We Forget.
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Bus fares and transit fees rising next month: City of Red Deer
Increase to fees and fares, effective September 1
“Like every business, our operating costs have increased and in order to maintain our current levels of service for our riders we had to consider increasing our bus fares,” said Jeremy Bouw, Manager, Transit & Fleet Services. “This year we have seen our ridership slowly increasing and we want to keep that trend moving upward by maintaining our transit services and continuing to attract new riders.”
As of September 1, the following rates will be applied to Transit services:
- Cash Fares
- Adult (18-64 years) – $3
- Youth (6-17 years) / Student / Senior – $2.50
- 12 Ride Pass
- Adult – $33
- Youth / Student / Senior – $27.50
- Unlimited Ride (Monthly Pass)
- Adult – $75
- Senior – $62
- Student – $62
MyRide, The City’s electronic bus pass, is available for purchase at Transit Customer Service in Sorensen Station or at City Hall. MyRide can be conveniently reloaded with the fare type of your choice in 12 ride bundles or unlimited monthly passes at Transit Customer Service, City Hall or one of the seven reload stations located throughout the community.
As of September 1, the following recreation services will experience rate changes:
- Daily admission at the Collicutt Centre, Recreation Centre, Michener Centre, Servus Arena, Kinsmen Community Arenas and Setters Place at Great Chief Park
- Monthly Recreation All Access Passes and Recreation Value Passes*
- 10 punch passes at the above-mentioned facilities
- Group admission fees at the above-mentioned facilities
- Childminding fees at the Collicutt Centre and G.H. Dawe Community Centre
- Facility rental fees
* The Recreation Plus Pass fee was adjusted with the opening of the newly expanded G.H. Dawe Community Centre in February, and will not receive another adjustment in September.
“Our intent is always to provide as much access to recreation as possible, while managing increased costs, staffing levels and maintenance demands,” says Tammy Greba, acting Recreation Superintendent. She continues, “as a demonstration of this, we continue to offer the Fee Assistance Program to those needing financial help accessing City Arts and Recreation programs and services.”
For more information on fees and fares visit:
City welcoming evacuees from Northwest Territories
A reception centre will be ready at noon on Thursday, August 17 at the GH Dawe Community Centre (6175 67 Street).
People arriving in Red Deer from the Northwest Territories are asked to register at the GH Dawe Community Centre (6175 67 Street). Additional supports for evacuees are available including assistance for lodging, meals, medical and pet care.
The GH Dawe Community Centre remains open to the public and all recreation activities are running as scheduled.
People looking to support evacuees can do so by donating to the Canadian Red Cross or Central Alberta Humane Society (to support evacuees with pets). Both these organizations are accepting monetary donations only.
- To donate to the Red Cross: Donations can be made either online at www.redcross.ca or at the local Red Cross Office (105 – 5301 43 Street).
- To donate to the Central Alberta Humane Society: https://cahumane.com/
More information on The City’s response is available at reddeer.ca/evacuees
Information for Evacuees:
- People arriving in Red Deer from the Northwest Territories are asked to register at the G.H. Dawe Community Centre (6175 67 Street).
- If you or anyone you’re evacuating with require additional supports (meals, medical, lodging, pet care) staff are available to support at the G.H. Dawe Community Centre.
- Evacuees will receive free transit and recreation passes. More information is available at the Reception Centre (G.H. Dawe Community Centre).
Information for Residents:
- The G.H. Dawe Community Centre remains open, with programming not impacted at this time.
- While we greatly appreciate our community’s desire to help, the best way to help is by donating to the Canadian Red Cross or Central Alberta Humane Society (to support people with pets). Both these organizations are accepting monetary donations only to support evacuees.
- Organizations looking to support can email [email protected]
For the latest wildfire information, visit https://www.gov.nt.ca/ecc/en/services/wildfire-update
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