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.
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Face coverings now mandatory in Red Deer for all indoor public spaces and pubic vehicles
From the City of Red Deer
City Council passes temporary mandatory face covering bylaw in Red Deer
The bylaw will officially come into effect on November 30, 2020; however, The City strongly encourages citizens to wear a face covering in accordance with the bylaw starting today.
The decision to proceed with a short-term face covering bylaw came after in-depth discussions on the topic over the past few weeks and during last week’s Special City Council Meeting. During this meeting, a number of amendments were considered by City Council, triggering the need for the third reading at today’s regular City Council meeting.
“Mandating temporary face coverings in Red Deer is a short-term measure to be responsive to the evolving pandemic in Red Deer and across the province. We know this is a divisive issue in our community, and although the Province has yet to mandate masks across Alberta, City Council believes this temporary measure is critical if we want local case numbers and hospitalization to remain flat,” said Mayor Tara Veer. “Through this bylaw, we are putting into action, the recommendations of health officials because the safety, health and wellbeing of all citizens continues to be our number one priority.”
At this time, the bylaw has a sunset clause of March 1, 2021, and will expire on this date.
The bylaw mandates all citizens must wear a face covering in indoor public places and public vehicles with the exceptions noted in the bylaw. This includes any place, whether publicly or privately owned, where members of the public have access as of right or by implied invitation.
The bylaw does not apply to several groups including children under nine, those who are disabled, and anyone eating/drinking, or engaging in heavy labour or physical fitness activities. It applies to passengers in public vehicles, like taxis or rides for hire, but not to drivers where there is a barrier installed in the vehicle. Businesses affected by the bylaw are required to display signage.
The fine for not wearing a face covering in a public place is $50.
“This decision is about protecting public health and safety, protecting our health care system, and doing whatever we can to help stabilize the local economy and prevent potential future lockdowns that could result in further business impacts and closures,” said Mayor Veer. “We are all feeling the pressures of COVID-19; citizens, businesses and Albertans alike are significantly affected. The City will continue to do everything we can to support our local citizens and businesses by putting measures in place that could minimize the spread of COVID-19.”
A mandatory face covering bylaw is just one of the municipal measures being taken to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Red Deer. The City also continues to adapt its many operations to be responsive to the changing circumstances, increase communication with citizens and businesses and to continue to seek information and support through the Province of Alberta.
Red Deer is now one of approximately nineteen other Alberta municipalities, including Calgary, Edmonton and Lethbridge, to have a mandatory face covering bylaw in place.
For more information about the new bylaw and other COVID-19 restrictions, please read our Face Coverings in Public Places (Mandatory Mask) Bylaw FAQ (pdf) or visit www.reddeer.ca.
Tour the newly renovated Westerner Park Centrium
From the City of Red Deer and Westerner Park
Preview of renovations almost complete ahead of Team Canada training at Westerner Park Centrium
In 2019, Red Deer City Council approved a $3 million capital request from Westerner Park’s Exhibition Association, which operates the Centrium, as part of its 2020 capital budget to help with renovations needed at the facility.
The City of Red Deer approved $3 million toward a revitalization project that would improve the 1991- era arena’s dressing rooms, concourse and seating.
At the time of budget approval, Tara Lodewyk, General Manager of Planning and Protective Services said “Westerner Park is a huge economic driver in the region. We want it to keep attracting more events, as Red Deer businesses and citizens’ benefit whenever the Centrium brings in various sport, business and cultural attractions.”
Renovations, which are nearing completion, include updating dressing rooms, adding additional railing to the outer edge of the concourse, new modernized LED score clock and signage, and one of the biggest projects, replacing the 30-year-old spectator seats to meet modern facility standards. Westerner Park officials had aimed to complete renovations before hockey players started arriving for the World Junior Championship that were set to run Dec. 26, 2020, to Jan. 5, 2021, which has since been deferred to 2021/2022. Construction during the pandemic occurred more efficiently due to no events being held in the facility, while renovations also provided local economic stimulus by employing local trades.
On September 17, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) announced that all games for the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship will be played in Edmonton, instead of Red Deer, due to COVID- 19 restrictions, without fans in attendance, but will return to Edmonton and Red Deer in 2021.
However, Red Deer is hosting Canada’s best under 20 hockey players ahead of the 2021 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships. Forty-seven players will attend a training camp at the Centrium at Westerner Park from November 16 until December 13. The selection camp will include practices and three intrasquad games, as well as six games against a team of sports all-stars, before the team enters the bubble in Edmonton. The Red Deer camp will take place in a cohort bubble and will be closed to the public and the media.
“Not being able to host World Juniors this year was a significant disappointment for many Red Deerians who were anticipating welcoming the international hockey community back to our city,” said Mayor Tara Veer. “I know Red Deer will be ready to welcome the world to our community in 2021/2022, and will actively continue our preparations for this incredible opportunity for our city. This year, we are glad to be able to participate in preparation for the World Juniors by hosting a selection camp bubble at the Centrium.”
“The renovations and upgrades will enhance guest experience at Westerner Park and ensure the comfort and safety for everyone that attends events in the Centrium,” said Mike Olesen, Westerner Park CEO. “The upgrades will also create more interest from national and international events to consider Red Deer and Westerner Park for upcoming events.”
“We’re incredibly excited for hockey fans to experience the bold changes taking place inside our home, the Centrium,” said Merrick Sutter, Sr. Vice President, Red Deer Rebels. “The much needed upgrades provide a fresh, clean look for all guests and events, and further cements the facility as a premiere destination for major events and junior hockey.”
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