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  CN Red Deer station 1955

Forth Junction Project
Michael Dawe
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Rotary Recreation Park area
a jewel in heart of city

 
reprinted from Red Deer Express August 26, 2009
 
A week ago on Aug. 19, there was a public open house to discuss a new concept plan for the Rotary Recreation Park and the parkland areas on the southern edge of the Red Deer Valley.

The preliminary concepts and designs, presented by Group 2 Architecture Engineering Ltd. and Michael von Hausen Urban Planning and Design Inc., included a number of interesting historical elements. That is not surprising as the park and recreational areas, included in the new plans, are amongst the oldest park areas in the city.

The oldest of these park areas is located on the southeastern edge of the valley, where Waskasoo Creek follows the base of the escarpment.

This land was initially acquired in 1902 by the Red Deer Agricultural Society for use as Red Deer's first permanent exhibition grounds. Named Alexandra Park in 1904, the fairgrounds were expanded and improved a number of times over the succeeding years.

In 1910, the Town of Red Deer decided to acquire 40 acres of land along Waskasoo and Piper Creeks, west of Nanton (48) Ave.

While part of the new parkland was to be used as a picnic and recreational area, a decision was also made to leave much of the wooded area in its natural state. In January 1911, Town Council voted to officially name this new parkland Waskasoo Park.

In 1911, the Canadian Northern Western Railway Company acquired a right-of-way between Nanton (48) and Parkvale (47) Avenues. The original intent was to have a rail line run from the Calgary area through Red Deer to the south side of Edmonton. However, these plans were dropped during the First World War.

A spur line was run instead in 1920-1922 from the CN's Brazeau line north of Red Deer to station yards where the Park Plaza (Co-op) Shopping Centre is located today. A branch of this line ran further south and eventually connected with the CPR main line, west of Gaetz Ave.

Meanwhile, improvements were made to Waskasoo Park so that the area at the foot of Piper's Mountain could be used as a tourist camp. Because many of these tourists arrived by the automobile, the park became known as the Auto Camp.

The Auto Camp became very popular, used by hundreds of campers each summer. More improvements were made in 1927-1928, including the construction of a large cookhouse and installation of electric lighting. In 1939, a number of small tourist cabins were constructed and became Red Deer's first motel facility.

During the Second World War, with housing very scarce, the Auto Park cabins were increasingly used as year-round housing. This situation continued after the war as the city's population began to increase dramatically.

Unfortunately, by the late 1940s, the Auto Park was starting to become decrepit since the cabins were never meant for long-term housing. Consequently, the cabins were demolished and the area was restored as a family picnic and recreational area.

Since the Rotary Club took on the redevelopment of the area as a long-term project in 1950, the site became known as Rotary Park.

In 1952, the Red Deer Arena was constructed on the Exhibition Grounds and in 1954, the Red Deer Curling Club was built next door. In 1958, the Pioneer Lodge was erected at the north gate to the fairgrounds.

In 1959-1961, the CN station and yards were relocated north of the river to the new Riverside Industrial Park. This was Western Canada's first railroad relocation project. The old CN property north of 49 St. was converted to a mix of commercial and residential use, but the right-of-way to the south was turned into park and recreational spaces.

In 1962, the Recreation Centre was built on the old right-of-way, followed by an Olympic-sized outdoor pool in 1964.

In 1977, the Golden Circle Seniors Centre was constructed by the Kiwanis Club. In 1978, the Red Deer Museum and Archives was built in the space between the Recreation Centre and the Golden Circle.

Extensive changes to the south area followed the relocation of the Westerner Exhibition Grounds to the south side of the city in 1980-1982.

In the mid-1980s, Heritage Square was developed east of the Recreation Centre and included a number of historic structures and replica buildings.

With the relocation of the CN rail line and the Exhibition Grounds, a parks and recreation "jewel" has been created in the heart of the city. The newest proposals suggest that even greater enhancements and improvements will occur in the coming years and decades.

       A look at the Canadian Northern Railway (Red Deer Express Jan.2011)
       Rail relocation project a first in Western Canada (Red Deer Advocate June 2010)

Canadian Northern Western Railway Brazeau sub (CNR) - Mirror to Red Deer and Nordegg

Canadian National Railway operated in downtown Red Deer from 1920 to 1960
Red Deer once had four railway stations
Canadian National Railway Stations in Central Alberta
Rise and Fall of Passenger Rail in the C&E Corridor

       News article: Paths to change (Rotary Recreation Park) (Red Deer Advocate Aug.2010)


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