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    Red Deer, Alberta: A brief History + Heritage

    Red Deer, Alberta is a city in central Alberta, Canada. It is located near the midpoint of the Calgary–Edmonton Corridor and is surrounded by Red Deer County. It is Alberta’s third-most populous city after Calgary and Edmonton and the largest city in central Alberta. The city is located in aspen parkland, a region of rolling hills that is home to much of Alberta’s wildlife. The City of Red Deer had a population of 100,418 as of the Canada 2016 Census.

    The European history of Red Deer begins with the arrival of fur traders in Central Alberta in 1795. John Palliser explored the area between Fort Calgary and Edmonton House (present day Fort Edmonton) in 1859. While rather than settle in the area, he found the soil and climate to be unsuitable for agriculture. He recommended that the Hudson’s Bay Company look elsewhere for a trading post. In 1863, Stephen Henry Blakiston established Fort Normandeau at present-day Red Deer River Crossing. This fort became a focal point for fur trade between Edmonton House and Fort Victoria (present-day Vancouver). The European population of central Alberta remained small until 1875 when Father Albert Lacombe founded St. Albert Catholic Mission in north east portion of the future City of Red Deer.

    The Cree peoples called the area Waskasoo Seepee which translates to “Elk Park” or “Elk Valley”. By the 1870s large herds of elk fed on the rich grasses in the area and were noted by settlers. The elk herds were eventually decimated by overhunting and encroachment on their habitat.

    The arriving of the CPR in 1883 brought many settlers from eastern Canada, Europe and the United States. Agriculture quickly became the primary industry in central Alberta. The United Farmers of Alberta was founded in 1909. In 1913, the Great Western Garment Company was established in Red Deer. This clothing manufacturer remained a vital part of the city’s economy until it closed its doors in the late 20th century.

    The first decade of the 20th century saw significant economic growth in Red Deer and the surrounding region. A fairgrounds and racetrack were built in 1909 along with a street car system. In 1910, the population of Red Deer was 5,673. By 1915, Red Deer had a hospital and eight doctors. It also boasted a fire department (established in 1904), a waterworks system and telephone service.

    The City of Red Deer was incorporated on May 4, 1913 with a mayor-council government. This coincided with the opening of the new Provincial Court House in the city. Prior to 1913, the area was administered by Improvement District No. 37.

    Red Deer continued to experience strong growth in the 1920s. The United Farmers of Alberta co-operative bought the Great Western Garment Company in 1922. Two years later they built a new factory in north Red Deer. With more than 400 employees, it was the largest employer in the city. The cooperative also started a creamery, meatpacking plant, fertilizer plant and clothing factory in Red Deer. In 1926, the organization changed its name to United Farmers of Alberta (UFA).

    The Great Depression and drought brought many challenges to central Alberta farmers. Many farm families left the area in search of work. The UFA co-operative struggled during this time but continued to operate its businesses in Red Deer.

    World War II led to increased industrial and agricultural production in Alberta. This created more jobs and brought more people to Red Deer. The population of the city grew from 5,832 in 1941 to 11,318 by 1951. After the war, many veterans decided to settle in Red Deer and the surrounding area. This resulted in another population boom which continued into the 1960s.

    Red Deer’s economy diversified in the second half of the 20th century. A pulp mill was built in 1959 and a petrochemical plant opened in 1974. These industries, along with agriculture, remain important to the city’s economy.

    Red Deer has experienced several periods of rapid growth since its incorporation as a city. The most recent period began in the late 1990s and continues today. This has led to challenges such as traffic congestion and housing affordability. Despite these challenges, Red Deer remains a vibrant and growing city.

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