Red Deer 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. The city is located in aspen parkland, a region of rolling hills that is subject to oil, grain, and cattle production. It is a centre for oil and agriculture distribution, and the surrounding region is a major centre for petrochemical production. According to the 2011 municipal census, the population is now 91,877.
Prior to European settlement, the area was inhabited by aboriginal tribes including the Blackfoot, Plains Cree and Stoney. European fur traders began passing through the area in the late eighteenth century. Into this ethnic mix, the Métis peoples also emerged.
A native trail ran from Montana in the south across the Bow River near Calgary and on to Fort Edmonton. About half way between Calgary and Edmonton the trail crossed the Red Deer River at a wide, stony shallow used by First Nations peoples and bison since ancient times. The shallows, now known as the Old Red Deer Crossing, are about upstream from the present City of Red Deer.
With the establishment of Fort Calgary by the North-West Mounted Police in 1875, traffic increased along what was by then known as the Calgary and Edmonton Trail. After the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway in Calgary, traffic along the "C & E" trail increased substantially. A trading post and stopping house were built at the Crossing in 1882 and a permanent settlement began to develop around it.
During the 1885 Riel Rebellion (also known as the North-West Rebellion), the Canadian militia constructed Fort Normandeau at the Crossing. The fort was later taken over by the North-West Mounted Police who used it until 1893.
With the decimation of the buffalo by hunters, the aboriginal tribes who relied on them for food, clothing and shelter were also in decline. The fertile lands around the Red Deer River were attractive to farmers and ranchers. One early settler, the Reverend Leonard Gaetz, gave a half-share of he had acquired to the Calgary and Edmonton Railway to develop a bridge over the river and a townsite. As a result, the Crossing was gradually abandoned. The first train from Calgary to Edmonton passed through Red Deer in 1891.
The Cree peoples called the river on which Red Deer now stands, Waskasoo Seepee. This can be translated "Wapiti River" or "Elk River". Some of the first British traders thought the wapiti were a type of European red deer and gave the river its current name. The fur traders' confusion is not surprising. North American elk or wapiti (Cervus canadensis) are different from European elk (Alces alces).
As a founding father of the city, the Reverend Dr. Leonard Gaetz (1841–1907) is memorialized in the name of Red Deer's major thoroughfare: Gaetz Avenue.
Born in 1841 at Musquodoboit, Nova Scotia, Gaetz married Caroline Blowers Hamilton in 1865. They had a family of eleven children. Gaetz was an ordained Methodist minister, serving the church until 1883. He left the ministry due to ill health and moved to the Red Deer Valley. He decided to homestead on the west half of a section on the Red Deer River, and one of his sons, Halley Gaetz, took up the other half section.
Leonard Gaetz acted as the local land agent for the Saskatchewan Colonization Company and purchased parts of three other sections from his employers. By 1890, the Gaetz family owned vast land holdings along the south bank of the Red Deer River around the mouth of the Waskasoo Creek. The holdings included parts of Sections 16, 17, 20 and 21. Leonard Gaetz's increasing wealth allowed his family to play a central role in the growth of Red Deer.
In 1895, Gaetz returned to the active ministry in Manitoba. Once again, this proved detrimental to his health. He retired back to Red Deer in 1901, and resided here for the remainder of his life. He was a strong promoter of the area, founding the Westerner showgrounds and annual "Westerner Days", akin to the Calgary Stampede. Gaetz also served as Red Deer's first mayor. He died in Red Deer in 1907.
1900 to 1929
Red Deer saw a massive influx of settlers in the early 1900s.
In 1901, when Red Deer was incorporated as a town, the population stood at 343. Through its location midway between Edmonton and Calgary and the fertile land that supported profitable mixed farming, Red Deer developed primarily as an agricultural service and distribution centre. A further boost came in 1907 when it was chosen as a major divisional point for the Canadian Pacific Railway. Two other railways, the Alberta Central Railway and the Canadian Northern Railway, entered the community in 1911. Red Deer underwent a large land boom.
On March 25, 1913, Red Deer was incorporated as a city and the population had jumped to nearly 2,800.
World War I brought a sharp end to the boom. Red Deer emerged as a small, quiet, but prosperous, prairie city. In 1922, the provincial institution for the care of the mentally handicapped, currently known as the Michener Centre, was established in the city. Prospects looked good for modest but sustainable growth.
1930 to 1945
The Great Depression of the 1930s was a major setback for city, though it fared better than some communities. Central Alberta was not hit by severe drought. The city was virtually debt-free and profited from its ownership of the local public utilities.
Growth returned to the city with the outbreak of World War II. Red Deer was chosen as the location of a large military training camp (the A-20 Camp which was located where Cormack Armoury, The Memorial Centre and Lindsay Thurber High School are now located). The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan built two air bases to the south of the city at Penhold and Bowden.
Post Second World War
On January 1, 1948, the City of Red Deer amalgamated with the Village of North Red Deer, located on the north bank of the Red Deer River.
In the late 1950s, Red Deer claimed to be the fastest-growing city in Canada.
By roughly 1991 the Canadian Pacific Railway had been removed from the inner city; the track currently runs parallel to the city outskirts. The most prominent landmark of the railway remaining is the CPR bridge spanning the Red Deer River, converted to a walking trail shortly after the track removal.
The city is now a major centre for oil and natural gas extraction and related industries and also for agriculture and agricultural services. It is also a regional centre for administration with a courthouse and provincial building. It is also well served with all major stores in malls such as Bower Place, Southpointe Common, Parkland Mall and many other locations.
Red Deer is also noted for its number of restaurants, economic resilience and youth demographic.