Never pause blankly over history
This last week a handful of local citizens had an opportunity to listen to one of Central Alberta’s living treasures as Red Deer historian Michael Dawe spoke at an Innisfail Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
As Dawe said of high praise directed his way by fellow writer and historically minded colleague Johnnie Bachusky, “All I needed was the coffin.” That attitude is typical of a man who has spent his life studying history both formally and informally.
Dawe is a quiet man who speaks volumes when he does, whose family roots run deep in Red Deer and area, and a man whose encyclopedic knowledge of Central Alberta should be viewed as legendary. Writing Red Deer: The Memorable City was a natural for him.
But Red Deer: The Memorable City is not your typical history book.
Having read a good part of it the first day I purchased one, I was taken by an intangible aspect. As an author of several books, it is one thing to write a history that is dry and another to write one that is readable and enjoyable.
That is a quality very few historians possess and Dawe has it in spades.
His approach to history comes not from textbooks, but rather from private conversations and family gatherings at his grandparents’ farm. He spoke of family gatherings when conversation typically ran to topics of who-married-whom, what was where and which historical structures defined areas.
The Dawe family has had a major impact on Central Alberta.
The Mintlaw Bridge trestle was designed by Michael’s grandfather, who was also instrumental in the Alberta Central Railway. Michael’s father, G. H. Dawe, was pivotal to education in Central Alberta, having the G. H. Dawe Elementary School and recreation centre named after him. Michael himself has been a major force at the Red Deer Archives for decades now and is the go-to man for any question historical.
As Dawe demonstrates in Red Deer: The Memorable City very aptly, the development of Central Alberta followed trends and waves. Before the area was populated by Europeans, native locals followed their food supplies until the arrival of settlers and treaties changed their lives. The early settlers arrived, broke land, and built settlements in the late 1800s bringing waves of European culture and traditions. War came and with that, great loss and social change. Economies faltered, populations shifted and regional differences grew, prospering some and hamstringing others. All the while, Innisfail and area were changing. Citizens from Innisfail were active on all fronts, locally, provincially and nationally, politically and socially. Today, Central Alberta is a thriving region due to those who came before us.
Michael Dawe reminded us of that.
He also left behind another important message.
The tales of our lives contribute to the stories of the areas we live in. Whether it is recording our family histories, our community histories, or helping build a historic centre or museum, we are part of the process.
Support your local museums such as Markerville, and the Innisfail and District Historical Village. Read your local history books. Tell your family stories to your children, write them down, and pass them on.
Your children and community will thank you 50 years from now.