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The rich and sobering history of Red Deer’s “Unknown Soldier”

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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 sacrifice of our forebearers.  Enjoy the photo gallery showing the changes to the Cenotaph and its surroundings over the years. 

The Cenotaph by Michael Dawe

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.

Michael Dawe

Here are some other local history stories you might enjoy

The Battle of Vimy Ridge Described by Michael Dawe

Armistice Day 11/11/1918 from a Red Deer perspective in pictures and story

 

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City Hall reopening Monday June 21 – details

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City Hall

City Hall reopening for payments and in-person customer service

Red Deer City Hall will reopen for utility and tax payments on Monday, June 21, and licensing and permit customer service and payments on July 12. The re-introduction of in-person customer service and payments is in alignment with the provincial easing of restrictions that is currently taking place. City Hall will be open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. with the exception of holidays.

“We are excited to be reopening City Hall for in-person payments and customer service. This long awaited reopening will enable us to reconnect with our customers in person and still support doing business with us online, where possible,” said Acting City Manager Tara Lodewyk.

Starting Monday, June 21, 2021, key customer service employees will return to City Hall with a phased reopening taking place in the coming weeks and months. With renovations that took place while the building was closed, all customer and public interactions are now provided on the main floor of City Hall.

Some additional changes include new windows and doors, improved customer service kiosks, new security controls and numerous health and safety measures that serve to protect employees and customers accessing City Hall. All renovations were focused on making necessary changes that facilitate improved customer interactions while considering the safety, health and wellness of all employees and citizens.

“As we reopen City Hall for in-person customer service, the health and safety of our citizens and employees is still top of mind. Masks are required inside the building and there will be capacity limits for the number of customers permitted inside at one time,” said Lodewyk. “We kindly ask that anybody coming to City Hall, or accessing any of our recreation or public facilities, uphold all public health restrictions as we work to keep everyone safe throughout the phased reopening.”

A full reopening and return to work for all City employees is expected to take place between June 21 and September 7, 2021. In many cases, City employees have continued to report to their workplace, in-person, based on the requirements of their position; however, with the lifting of the provincial work from home order, The City will welcome its remaining employees back into the workspace with the intention to have everybody back between now and September. This includes City Hall, the Professional Building, Civic Yards and all City owned and operated recreation and culture places and spaces.

“Covid-19 has limited us in many ways. It has taught The City to innovate, work differently and find efficiencies. As we transition back to in-person service, we ask our customers to be patient with us as we navigate the new challenges of our ever changed in-person business offerings. Our business looks different than it did when we closed City Hall more than 15 months ago, and while we are excited to be once again serving you in person, we do expect some bumps along the way,” said Lodewyk.

With changing and modified provincial restrictions continuing to be announced, The City of Red Deer will adapt and update its programs, services and offerings on an ongoing basis. This will include everything from the number of people permitted within a facility at one time, to masking requirements.

“We will continue to take our direction from the provincial government as they ease restrictions and introduce their phased relaunch strategy,” said Lodewyk. “We share the community excitement around the easing of restrictions and continue to work together with our community to uphold public health orders and preventing the spread of Covid-19.”

Starting June 21, the following payments can be made in person at City Hall:

  • Utility bill payment
  • Property tax payment
  • Parking ticket payment
  • Re-loading parking cards
  • Accounts Receivable invoice payment
  • Licence payment
  • Special event permit payment
  • Other miscellaneous fee payments

Starting July 12, the following payments and customer service will be available in-person at City Hall:

  • Parking inquiries
  • Licence and permit applications
  • Inspections

For updates on The City’s municipal response to Covid-19, visit www.reddeer.ca/covid-19.

For more information, please contact:

Corporate Communications
The City of Red Deer

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City of Red Deer

Come to Capstone for a Father’s Day riverwalk

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Capstone invites Red Deerians to enjoy new community spaces

Sunday June 20, Red Deerians can enjoy a fantastic Father’s Day in Capstone – Red Deer’s newest riverside community.

Stroll with your family down Riverwalk, where you can view a special Father’s Day mural by local chalk artist Haley Abrahamsz, on display all week (weather dependent). Food trucks will be in Canada 150 Square from 11 a.m.–to 7 p.m., providing outdoor dining choices in addition to the many food and beverage options already located in Capstone. The first 200 customers will also receive a complimentary soda coupon for Troubled Monk’s delicious line of sodas. You may even see Spandy Andy dancing his way through Capstone.

“For the next several months, as restrictions ease, our team will be focused on creating events that showcase the many features and amenities that the Capstone community has to offer, in a way that feels comfortable and safe for Red Deerians to attend”, says John Sennema, Manager of Land and Economic Development at The City of Red Deer. “This includes events that happen over a period of several weeks so that people can attend without encountering large crowds, and installations that are spread out over the community.”

Future activities in 2021 include scavenger hunts, food truck festivals, outdoor recreation classes, and art installations. “Activating these spaces is a critical step in the adoption of the neighbourhood vision, especially as this master-planned community evolves into an active, modern community” explains Project Manager Cory Edinga.

Last year The City of Red Deer conducted extensive research on the wants and needs of the future resident of Capstone – dubbed the ‘Cap-Citizen’. These future residents are curious, active types, who are social, and community minded. Events and activations will be planned with their needs and wants in mind.

For more information about the community and public spaces of Capstone or to view the 3D animation which depicts how the community might look and feel in 2040, visit liveincapstone.ca.

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