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COLUMN: Remembering Michael Dawe

The respected Central Alberta historian passed away on Dec. 24

There are people you meet who, although there may be gaps between visits in later years, manage to leave a unique and lasting impression on your life.

For me, one such person was Michael Dawe, who passed away on Christmas Eve at the age of 67.

Michael spent nearly his whole working life immersed in every detail imaginable of local history.

Born in Red Deer, he was a fifth-generation resident of the city.

He was also a seasonal resident of the Summer Village of Norglenwold near Sylvan Lake.

After attending Red Deer College, he received a Bachelor’s degree in history and economics from the University of Alberta in 1976.

In 1979, he became the first full-time archivist with the Red Deer and District Archives and served as City Archivist until 2017.

I can’t recall when I first met Michael, but it was likely early on in my time at the Red Deer Express.

For much of my 19 years with that paper, he wrote a weekly column for us, plus he was always a fantastic ‘go-to’ if you had any questions about the history of Red Deer or the Central Alberta region.

Once, he and I, along with our photographer climbed up Piper Mountain in Rotary Park (more like a big hill) for a story I was doing about historical finds that had been discovered at the top.

He also ventured with me and a few others on a warm autumn afternoon to the Pine Lake area to visit the site where Jewish settlers had tried to set up a community but were met with so much hardship and struggle.

Local history mattered to Michael in an intellectual sense, but I could see it was personal as well.

He ‘felt’ these stories and many others — whether they were happy or sad. He was so respectful when he would discuss them, and those typically jovial eyes would take on a serious look.

These weren’t just chapters of our past, they were somehow Michael’s ‘stories’ as well.

Looking back, as our columnist at the Express, he would also often pop by the office — he loved to visit.

And those visits could go on for quite a while.

I remember when I’d hear his voice at the front reception — I would promptly set aside what I was doing and wait for him to round the corner and sit down in our editorial office.

We would delve into what was always a fascinating chat about some aspect of our community’s history. Or politics.

Or we’d chat about a local citizen who had made their mark. He would often ask about my mom, who must have left quite an impression on him as he would refer to her as ‘the saint’ with a sparkle in his eye.

As a native Red Deerian myself, our connection and shared interests in our community went back quite a ways.

We knew a lot of the same people, for one thing.

We also both loved our hometown and would talk about the past with genuine fondness and maybe a bit of how we wished some things hadn’t changed over the years.

Still, he was committed to the city’s future. And becoming a city councillor offered him that platform.

In many ways, it was tough to think of a better candidate — there was hardly a corner of the community he hadn’t touched in some way.

I was always amazed at the number of people he not only knew of but how many of them seemed to also be personal friends.

Simply put, Michael was sincerely interested in people.

Even in his busy schedule, for years, without fail, he would call me at the Express and wish me happy birthday.

I’m sure countless others could attest to his thoughtfulness as well.

I also noticed how many times a friend’s birthday would pop up on Facebook, and I’d see that Michael has also offered a birthday greeting.

I would wonder what on earth their connection would be, but there he was.

He seemed to know pretty much everybody. And it didn’t seem to be a ‘surfacy’ kind of knowing.

I will miss Michael Dawe.

For all of his extensive knowledge, for all of his attention to the tiniest details of local history, and all of his endless community involvement, this was a humble man who never took himself too seriously.

He was quick to look at the light-hearted side of life.

I know that he certainly had his struggles, but it was the sunny side of his personality that I would witness time and again.

Red Deer and Central Alberta have lost a truly remarkable person, a dedicated citizen, a public servant, but most of all, we’ve lost a great friend.

We probably will never fully know how deep and extensive Michael’s reach and personal influence went. I’m so glad we have his collection of columns, articles, books, and recorded observations to treasure.

Thank you, Michael.

Your boundless community spirit and your attention to our beloved hometown’s past will always be so deeply respected and appreciated.

Your warmth, genuineness, and sincerity will be your legacy.

Mark Weber

About the Author: Mark Weber

I've been a part of the Black Press Media family for about a dozen years now, with stints at the Red Deer Express, the Stettler Independent, and now the Lacombe Express.
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