By Miichael Dawe
Another Halloween will soon be upon us. It is one of the most popular of the annual celebrations. While door-to-door trick or treating by young children has become somewhat less common over the last few years, more and more people seem to be decorating their homes and their yards for the evening. Dressing up in costume remains as popular as ever, as are social get-togethers with all kinds of food and drink to share.
Halloween is a very old celebration, with some of the traditions dating back to the ancient Celtic rituals and festivities, marking what was then considered the start of the Celtic New Year. Later, there were strong Christian influences, as the night became connected with commemorations of All Hallows Eve (the origin of the name “Halloween) and All Saints Day on November 1st. All Saints Day is still a public holiday in parts of Europe.
Celebration of Halloween was not common in North American until the arrival of large numbers of Celtic immigrants from Ireland and Scotland during the 19th century. However, the tradition of children going door-to-door for trick or treating did not begin until the early part of the last century. It did not become a practice in Red Deer until the latter part of the 1920s.
Some of the earliest celebrations of Halloween in Red Deer took place in the early 1900s. Usually, a local group would organize a party at a local hall with all sorts of fun and games. Apples were a staple of these early socials. The wearing of costumes was strongly encouraged.
One group that organized annual Halloween events was the Alexandra Club. This was a group of young women dedicated to raising funds for the Red Deer Memorial Hospital. Hence, the annual Halloween gathering was as much a fundraiser as a social occasion. Other popular fundraisers staged by the Alexandra Club were women’s hockey games at the rink on Morrison (52) Street.
In 1913, the main Halloween event was a dance at the new Parish Hall on Gaetz Avenue, just north of St. Luke’s Anglican Church. This large new public hall had been officially opened on the eve of Red Deer being incorporated as a city on March 25, 1913. The Halloween music was provided by the Orpheus Orchestra. The evening was such a success that plans were made to have Halloween dances at the Parish Hall as annual events.
Tragically, the First World War broke out in August 1914. The community focused on the war effort and little was done to mark such “frivolous” occasions as Halloween. However, after the War, a new tradition started. The local 78th Battery of the Royal Canadian Artillery organized Halloween Balls at the Armouries on First Street South (now the location of the Children’s Library).
The annual militia balls were quite lavish events and extremely popular. People were not even bothered when, at the first ball in 1921, the outside of the main exit was blocked with a pile of piano boxes. A threat by the attending officers of a week’s short rations ensured that the young artillery men quickly cleared away the obstacles so that the guests could depart for home.
Halloween pranks have been one of the most enduring of the evening’s traditions. In 1921, in addition to the piling of the piano boxes at the 78th Battery’s ball, the local newspapers reported that Police Chief Anderson probably had as much fun the day after Halloween as anyone else. He rounded up all the likely suspects from the previous evening’s pranks. He made sure that these “young enthusiasts” spent the day putting things back in place and removing the soap that they had applied to various store-front windows.
Unfortunately, a small group had gotten carried away with their pranks at the High School building on the Central School grounds. In order to drive home the point that there were limits to the number and type of activities that would be tolerated on Halloween Night, Principal C.D. Locke imposed a “two-day enforced holiday” on the perpetuators as a warning to rein in their “youthful exuberance” during next year’s Halloween activities.
Michael Dawe – October 31, 2018
A fifth generation Central Albertan with roots in Red Deer and Pine Lake, Michael Dawe serves on Red Deer City Council. In 1979, he became the city’s first full-time archivist with the Red Deer and District Archives. In May 2009, he was seconded to become the curator of history in preparation for the City of Red Deer Centennial in 2013.
Michael has won a number of awards including the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and Alberta Centennial medals. He was named Alberta Citizen of the Year by the Council on School Administration of the Alberta Teachers Association for his work with local schools. He received the Minister of Veterans’ Affairs Commendation for his work with veterans. He was twice voted Red Deer’s Most Beloved Citizen by the readers of the Red Deer Express newspaper.