The town of Redcliff is just west of Medicine Hat. These communities grew up together. Our President, Jen Zollner poked around and found all kinds of interesting information about Redcliff.
On this page:
Redcliff timeline/Highlights, Growing Up in Redclff, Before TV, (excerpts from “Bricks Bottles and Babies) and Noteable Redcliff Citizens.
Prior: Traditional territory of the Siksikaitsitapi (Blackfoot Confederacy)
1880 <untold herds of buffalo are practically extinct <ruts from Red River carts making their way through the area
1883 <CP Rail line finally gets to what will become Redcliff <-steep grade coming up the coulee is 7 degrees: steepest in Canada. 4 degrees is steepest grade in the Rockies <CPR strikes gas while drilling for water an hour NW of Redcliff <Stair whistle stop 1/2 km west of present day Redcliff <76 Ranch (Stair Ranch) is located by CPR Stair Station, registered in 1886
1883 <first coal mine opened, operated until 1891 <employed 25-30 men who lived in dugouts dug into the river cutbanks <shut down with natural gas discovery and better quality coal for CPR from Lethbridge <That mine is the source of underground coal seam smouldering for 60+ years
1900’s <extensive advertising promoting Redcliff: inexhaustible supply of cheap natural gas for domestic and industrial use, lots of natural resources: coal, shale, clay, silica, cheap land
1906 -street staked out and waterlines installed <Redcliff Brick and Coal Co is established (coal mine fueled the brick making, closed 1949) where Rudyard Kipling witnessed the blowing of a gas well. He said this community has “all hell for a basement” <Moonlight steamboat river cruises take folks to see the ‘red cliffs’. Thus the name Redcliff. (It might have been Stonerville after one of the founders!) <Young folks skate to the outcroppings of red shale on north side of river banks. <red shale was harvested and sold to a town in southern Ontario for their streets
1907 <The town is like a campground (tents, no running water, no telephone or sewer service, no sidewalks). <Presbyterian Church first services held at Redcliff Brick and Coal cookhouse <Church built, first service in August: the building didn’t have a roof yet! The congregation sat on boards supported by nail kegs and boxes. In 1913 the basement was dug for a new church. On October 9th, 1921 a roof over the basement was dedicated. In 1925 joined United Church of Canada, called Gordon Memorial Church. (See page 73, “Bricks, Bottles and Babies”)
1910 <Redcliff incorporated as a village. <First government post office opens by C.T. Hall in his drug store. He changed Redcliffe spelling to Redcliff. (Before this the “post office” was a soap box was nailed to the wall of Davidson’s grocery store. Folks picked through all the mail to find their own.) <First newspaper “The Redcliff Review” (closed down in 1941) <Wooden water tower is erected and water pipes laid. Two gas wells drilled with easy and cheap hook-up for fuel and light. Real estate has so much money they used a wastebasket as a cash register: they needed to tamp it down as it got full! <First school is in Presbyterian church basement (45 students, all grades to Grade 8)
1910 – 1915 Redcliff is the manufacturing centre of the west: brick, clay and glass products supply western Canada. Other industries: trucks and buses, wrought iron, flour, windows, hand glass blowing, shoes, cigars, hand cleaner, dairy, greenhouse, etc. <Businesses: banks, real estates, lawyers, doctor, drugstore, grocery stores, livery stable, barber shop with dance hall upstairs, picture show, meat market, hotel/restaurants, laundry, lumber yard, boarding houses and even a jewellery store for a short time
1911 First council meeting. <A tent village, 100 tents pitched in the town<A two story brick school is built (was demolished in 1960) <School became the town’s social centre
1912 -Redcliff incorporated as a town: The company, I-XL (“I-excel”) first named Redcliff Pressed Brick, renamed I-XL in 1960 was a mainstay for 92 years. Later had plants in Regina, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Abbotsford. <Redcliff’s August population was 750. <First greenhouse was Redcliff Rosary, then Redcliff Greenhouse: in business for 92 years!
1913 <Population grew to 1200 then to 2000. Accommodations were at a premium; entrepreneurs set up a tent bunk house 75′ long, rented cots for $1 a night. There was a typhoid break out that year. <Steel water tower replaces wooden one, no longer functional but still a proud historical symbol.
1914 <Population is an estimated 4000. <St Ambrose Anglican Church is built with funding from England. Now a provincial heritage site
1914 – 1918 World War I <263 Redcliff men enlist over four years. <51 men gave their lives (according to the plaque at St. Ambrose Church). <-1000-3000 people leave <Truck/bus factory makes artillery shells for the war. Trucks built in Redcliff are shipped to Ontario to train troops. <Shoe factory makes boots for Canadian troops in Belgium and France. <Nine industries cancel plans. <There’s a rash of fires for horse-drawn fire trucks to put out. The only industries to stay are: brick factory, Dominion Glass, the greenhouse and the Brick and Coal Co.
1915 <Cyclone causes extensive damage, many roofs lost, many business buildings and home levelled. <Town declines: people leaving because of the war and loss of homes/businesses
1918 <Spanish flu pandemic (only one death in Redcliff, school serves as a hospital). <Wearing cotton cheesecloth face masks enforced (when on the street). Later mask-wearing was considered non-effective and abandoned
1921 <St. Mary’s Catholic church bought the now vacant Presbyterian Church; had its beginnings in 1910, mass held in various halls. Early Sunday morning ladies would need to clean butts and beer bottles from the dance the night before!
1920’s -1930’s <Area is drought-stricken, residents received relief, slow economic development
1925 <July 1st, first stampede: some boys had rounded horses off the prairie, rode and raced them. Then the town decided to have a stampede, too. Town built corrals and a 1/2 mile race track in the SW part of town. All southern Alberta came to see horse races and bucking stock. In 1927 stampede started with a parade and ended with a big dance.
1930’s <Wooden sidewalks replaced with salvaged bricks in the business district. Concrete sidewalks replaced these in the 1950’s
1937 <Swimming pool is built: previous pool was the cement basement left after the flour mill burned down in 1913
1939 <Population about 950
1945 <Avenue of trees planted by students, 218 trees each honoring those who served WWII. Cenotaph in scripted with the names of Redcliff and District, sons who gave their lives, (35 in World War I and 7 in World War II.)
1946 <Re-Teen Club is formed. Teen queen contests started in 1953, continued to 1964-65
1951 <Recliff Lion’s Club started
1954 <Isabel F Cox School is built, elementary school: four rooms for four grades at first; later four more rooms and Grade 5. Today has students from junior kindergarten to Grade 3
1957 <CHAT Channel 6 television station (studio, office and tower) <Redcliff’s first building with an elevator: oldest industry here still in operation.
1960 <Parkside School opens, initially had Grades 6-9, now Grades 7-9; Grades 10-12 attend classes in Medicine Hat
1966 <Red Hat Cooperative formed; named for the two towns most represented by the growers. With a merge in 2020 the brand changed to Big Marble Farms. Still the same 25 local grower’s co-op to package and market their greenhouse produce
1967 <Redcliff Public Library opened
1968 <German Canadian Harmonic Choir is founded
1979 <Margaret Wood School opens with 184 students from Grades 1-5
1980 <Senior Citizen’s Drop-In Centre opened
1981 <Redcliff Historical and Museum Society formed
1989 < Glass factory closes. The town of Redcliff pulsed with the sound of the compressor at the ‘Glass Factory”. Work shifts scheduled a good many of its residents. Even if you weren’t an employee, the factory whistle was the timer informing everyone it’s 8 in the morning, or it’s noon, it’s 4 in the afternoon or it’s midnight. They all used it to gauge every day, of every week, for 76 years. All things glass was their pride: from canning jars to beer bottles, from honey jars to replacing tins of baby food with glass. Milk bottles, lantern globes and soft drink bottles were glass until times changed and glass was replaced with lighter, unbreakable plastic and paper. Whatever the reasons, when the plant shut down it was a drastic change for all the employees who had worked there countless years, many of whom lived in ‘The Glass Town’. But it was also a big change of identity for the entire town.
1990 <Aquatic Centre is built. Hosted the 1991 Southern Alberta Summer games
1995 <Drive-in theatre built; was the last one left in Alberta when it closed in 2005
2001 <Redcliff Community Church began operating
2006 <Redcliff Taxi is established
2021 <The 175′ brick pillar being jackhammered down to be replaced by a 98′ one
Read this story from Medicine hat News
- population in 2020 is 5,955
- elevation 2,474 feet
- latitude 50 degrees, 4 minutes, 38 seconds
- longitude 110 degrees, 47 minutes, 20 seconds
- average temperature during July is 20 degrees Celsius
- average temperature during January is -10 degrees Celsius
- mean precipitation is only 13.7 inches per year
- Redcliff receives one of the highest number of daylight hours in all of Canada, hence the large number of greenhouses located in the town.
- economic base is horticulture (greenhouses) and was Petroleum Industry Services
- largest employer is Red Hat Co-op
- Redcliff once had three brick plants supplying the construction industry of Western Canada.
Growing Up in Redcliff, Before TV
This is a compilation of quotations and paraphrases of entries shared in “Bricks, Bottles and Babies. What an idillic childhood it was growing up in Redcliff in pre-TV times.
You got dressed and ate breakfast to start the day’s adventures with other kids on the block. You never lacked company as there were lots of kids. Computers and TV, not! We’d meet on the front sidewalk and decide what we would do. Every day was spent outdoors enjoying the sunshine. The glass factory whistle was the unofficial curfew to hurry home.
The whole town was our playground as well as the wide open prairie and river hills around it. The vast prairie was the perfect place to fly kites, pick cactus berries and chase tumbleweeds with a stick on a windy day. We were aware of rattlesnakes and annoyed when grasshoppers got under our clothing and pinched. We’d hunt for a bird’s nest, then sit quietly in the distance to see the little ones as they hatched, learned to eat and started to fly. We’d snare gophers with a piece of string, walk the gopher around and then let it go. The prairie was a good place to try riding a Dubeau pony.
The coulees and river hills provided endless entertainment -homemade bob sleighs as well as going downhill on toboggans or ‘barrel stave’ skis. There was a Dead Man’s Path past the Indian markings. It was a scary path only a foot wide and when you looked down, it was straight down to the bottom. The ‘Sitting Rocks’ above the river channel had a drop-off. They were unique rocks where you could sit and enjoy the river. Charlie’s Trail was a chopped trail down one of the river hills. You could go with your dad to Pedersen’s Coulee to practice shooting at targets put on the bushes. Smoking Hills is where you would melt the rubber on your runners walking on the ground above the underground burning coal. Picnic snacks would be the saskatoons and cactus berries we had picked.
Down by the river there were lots of caves. Sometimes we walked across the river to Galt Island to hike, swim and have a campfire. We’d swim in the channel in May and June before the pool opened in July. Riding our bikes down to the river was easy, pushing them back up was not. With our families we’d often have picnics, corn/wiener/potato roasts and marshmallow cookouts.
In the winter it was snow angels, snowmen and icicle sword fights. The outdoor rinks had a heated shack and lights that switched off at 9:00; no fancy skates or clothing, just warm snow suits. Winter was about all about hockey for the boys. Some nights the shinny games went on till the rink lights went off and that might be midnight or later. The rinks were sometimes flooded with a five-gallon pail with holes in the bottom pulled on a gunny sack. Or they’d be flooded with a fire hose. Bumpy as the ice was, we thought it was good. Sometimes we walked to the river and skated. When we got a ride to the Stair Dam north of Redcliff, it was an afternoon of hockey and skating with a big wood fire going.
Around town there were all kinds of vacant buildings. We’d look around the old brick yard office and pretend it was haunted. When exploring the old Ornamental Ironworks building, we’d test our courage by jumping from one floor to the next across the open elevator shaft. We’d catch pollywogs from the slough on Main Street, then take them home hoping they’d turn into frogs. There were mud puddles to wade in or we could go rafting on one of the many sloughs.
We played games of all sorts: several kinds of marble games, many different skipping chants and hop scotch. There was Frozen Tag, Bannister Tag, Prisoner’s Base, Green Ghost, Red Rover, Knock Knock Runaway, Mother-May-I and sack races. We played Hide-and-go-Seek and hiding from each other in the dark. (It was a race to see how fast you could get home when we had nuclear warning drills.) The Tea Party game is where a group holds hands and does a somersault while holding hands. Team games were football and baseball as well as hockey.
We built go-carts and push-carts and anything you could ride. Scavenged bike parts from the dump were pieced together into something that would work, maybe even ride it around the block on a back tire. An old car tire or a ‘Hoop-and-Glider’ (a wheel attached to a lathe stick) was fun to roll around town. We hid our paper dolls in a paper bag before going to each other’s house so the big boys couldn’t tease us. Our dolls had homemade cradles made out of a paper box or maybe a wooden orange box. Doll blankets were pieces of cloth.
The swimming pool was open from 1:00 to 5:00 every day in the summer and then again in the evening. It was always full. It had been an old basement and even though it had lots of water bugs and slippery green algae on the sides, we didn’t mind. In fact it was a lost day when they drained the pool and refilled it with clean water. You had to be six before you could go in the big pool, and before you could go off the low and high diving boards you had to show the lifeguard you could swim four widths in the deep end. By summer’s end most of us were tanned dark brown with blondish hair from the bleach in the water.
In our yard we loved to dig a space big enough to be a clubhouse. We dragged wood and accessories to make it comfortable. We slept under the stars in the backyard with friends and observed the northern lights streaking across the sky. There were times when we would get up after midnight to meet other boys and girls at the water tank. We’d just hang out or maybe we did a little garden raiding. Our parents wondered why we had a stomach ache when we raided apple trees. Too many green apples. At Halloween we were known to collect all the garbage cans and old meter boxes from the back alleys and build huge barricades. One year we dissembled a horse drawn wagon and re-assembled it on the school roof. Of course we tipped over outhouses. If a constable caught us, he would take us for a drive to the Box Springs Road or the old candy factory and we had to walk all the way back to town.
We enjoyed our various purchases. A movie costing 15 cents was shown every Saturday using a projector. (It was 10 cents for a treat). We spit sunflowers all over the floor and rushed to the bathroom during the scary parts of the movie. Back home we would ride the broom pretending to be a cowboy. Cann’s Grocery had the biggest selection of candy in town. You gave him money and he gave us a brown paper bag to fill. He never counted. Baseball cards were five cents a pack with gum. We couldn’t wait to see the stick of a Dilly Man ice cream to see if it said free on it. A phone call to Medicine Hat was ten cents, but we had to use a neighbour’s. We earned money by digging the garden for five cents a row or we got a penny for the bottles we had collected going door to door with a wagon or gunny sack. Or we collected newspapers that we redeemed for cash at the greenhouse or glass factory. Double sheets had to be separated into single sheets. We trimmed shrubs and we raked gardens in the spring. The favourite toys we purchased were balsam wood airplanes, pea shooters, water guns and twirlies on a stick.
Parents weren’t afraid to let their children leave in the morning to wander the town and prairies unsupervised. Everybody knew everyone else. If we did get in trouble at school, we were in more trouble when we got home. Kids had to make their own entertainment and solve their own problems.
And when all of their comments are put together like this, you can’t help but agree that it was fun growing up in Redcliff before the days of television.
Redcliff’s Notable Citizens
Accomplishments of Some Former Redcliff Citizens:
Friday: a Chinese man who started the first laundry in 1913. So named because he only knew one English word, Friday. His answer to every question was “Fliday”
Cecil T. Hall (Doc Hall): Pioneer postmaster and pharmacist for over 40 years. Wrote a go-to reference book for the 50th anniversary “Early History of Redcliff”. See “Doc Hall, a Memoir”, pp 219-224 “Bricks, Bottles & Babies”Joe Jacobson (Lucky Joe) He lived in Redcliff with his wife and daughter. In the 1930’s, was a dare-devil pilot. Owned an air circus and flying schools in Kansas City and California. North American newspapers reported his air explosion and other close calls. Earned colonel rank with the American Air Force in WW II
Frank King (1936-2017):-a Redcliff native son who was general manager of Calgary Stampede. He was instrumental in bringing Winter Olympics to Calgary & Vancouver in 1988 & 2012 respectively. Hereceived Order of Canada, was named one of the Top 12 Canadians and was inducted to the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame
Dr. Ted Slack (Jo Slack): Their ranch near Redcliff was called ‘Riverbend Arabians. Their land is on the bend of the South Saskatchewan River where they bred and raised prize winning Arabian horses. His stallion, Al Nahy was the Canadian Breeder’s Champion Stallion. Ted was a founding member of the Medicine Hat Exhibition and Stampede.
Gerald Berkhold (1938-2021): Was thankful to be raised in the culture and friendship of Redcliff. Was a U of A Commerce graduate. Established the Redcliff Scholarship Fund to support Redcliff students pursuing post high-school education
David Thomson (1939-2020): His youth was spent in Redcliff. He was aid and advisor to Pierre Trudeau. He managed commercial mortgages portfolios in Calgary, Edmonton, Minneapolis & Denver. Was well known for his athletic feats. Due to his gratitude for an education (MBA), a scholarship was started in his name.
Lorne Wells (1941-2005) Well-known bull rider and calf roper who won eight Canadian calf roping championships. Was three times Canadian team roping champ. Inducted into Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame. Held many roping clinics to train young ropers.
Dale ‘Hoot’ Rose The legendary bull rider & calf roper who wore a Hoot Gibson western movie-star hat. He smoked a cigar (and wore dress shirt and tie) while making high point bull rides: judges gave him an extra point if he was still smoking at the end of the ride! Inducted into the Canadian Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 2008 (died in 2005). Taught bull riding to many of Redcliff’s young men at his indoor arena
Cody Snyder Grew up in Redcliff. First Canadian to win PRCA’s World Bull Riding Championship in 1983, he was 20. Holds record for the highest scored bull ride in Canadian rodeo history, a score of 95. Canada’s coach for PBR World Cup Championships around the world. Inducted to Alberta’s Hall of Fame and to the Canadian Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame. Co-founder and CEO at Bullbuster Inc (business) promoting bull riding
Todd Snyder Grew up in the town of Redcliff , Cody’s older brother-a bull rider
Dale Vine Born and raised in the town of Redcliff. Started as a bull rider and rode bareback broncs. Was a rodeo clown and bull fighter. Instrumental in starting the Box Springs Rodeo
Jory Vine (Dale’s son) The first 17 years of his life were spent in the town of Redcliff. He is a bull rider and bull fighter who teaches bull fighting at various rodeos
Keenan Vine (Dale’s son) Lived in the town of Redcliff for his first 15 years. Was a bull rider, now arena director of the Calgary Stampede. In Pro Rodeo, helped produce the PFR. Produces professional bull riding events all over Western Canada
Brent Hope Grew up in Redcliff (then moved to Box Springs). Was a bull rider. Owns a Redcliff business, “Ghost Rider BBQ Sauce”
Delvin & Darwin Stuber, brothers Ranch north of Redcliff. Calf ropers and now team ropers. Instrumental in starting Box Springs RodeoRedcliff’s
Their history book “Bricks, Bottles and Babies” does an excellent job of honoring it’s former esteemed citizens. Be sure to check for them on pages 187-214.