Opinion

Laurence A. Banting - a true community visionary

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Red Deer College being located on its current campus. Initially, the College was temporarily located in a wing at the Lindsay Thurber Composite High School. However, it was always understood that a large permanent campus location would have to be acquired.

One spot north of the City was to be investigated, but a large security dog kept the officials from inspecting the site. Another location was considered in Oriole Park, but it was soon determined that this would not provide the College with what would be needed.

The Red Deer Planning Commission suggested a site east of Red Deer, but it was decided that a ring road would have to be constructed to make that location properly accessible.

Finally negotiations commenced with Laurence Banting who owned a 260 acre farm on the south side of West Park. Banting was planning to retire and was willing to consider offers on his property.

Laurence Ashley Banting was born on Aug. 27th, 1898 in Kent, England, the only son of Edgar and Eveline Banting. His father was a wealthy lawyer and insurance underwriter. He grew up in a luxurious home at Surbiton, a suburban area on the south western side of London, along the River Thames.

There were four live-in servants to help run the household and raise Banting and his younger sister Gladys.

Despite the very comfortable life style, Laurence ran away when he was 16 to join the military at the start of the First World War. He was initially a bugler.

He then became a gunner in the Honourable Artillery Company (H.A.C.) and earned a commissioned rank by the time the War ended in 1918.

Laurence decided not to return home after his discharge from the H.A.C. Instead he decided to emigrate to Canada to explore the opportunities of the Canadian west. He went to Alberta in 1919 and started a small ranch at Pine Lake (Heart of Hills Ranch) with a partner, Norman Tikerington.

In 1922, after a couple of years of drought, he bought 200 acres of land, south west of the City.

He later acquired additional land adjacent to his farm and along Waskasoo Creek.

In 1924, Laurence decided to host one of Red Deer's first stampedes on his farm. There were to be the usual rodeo events, but also chuckwagon races.

Despite the participation of some first rate cowboys such as Tom Lauder, Ray Baggley and Jim Ross, the event was not a particular success.

Many people blamed the weak attendance on the farm's distance outside the City limits.

Laurence remained a bachelor. Despite many challenges, such as the Great Depression, he built up a high quality farm. He also kept a large and well-tended vegetable and flower garden.

Laurence received periodic 'remittances' and inheritances from wealthy relatives back in England. He, in turn, was very generous with his neighbours.

He often provided young couples with the funds to help them get established. Later, when he began getting pension cheques, he donated them to charity.

In 1963, Laurence agreed to sell the farm to the Public School Board and in turn, to the City of Red Deer, for $1,000 per acre. Part of the land was used for the south extension of the West Park subdivision.

However, under the agreement, 130 acres were donated by the City for the College campus site. Laurence retained the use of his home and the adjoining 12 acres until he moved elsewhere or passed away.

Laurence was an avid diarist. He made entries virtually every day of his adult life. Many of those diaries (1932 to 1973) are now in the collections of the Red Deer Archives.

Laurence Banting died at the University Hospital in Edmonton on Jan. 9th 1975.

While inheritances from his estate were given to family members, a fund was also established to assist students attending Red Deer College.

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