“George Lane is such an integral part of our community.” – Cathy Couey
Nestled near downtown High River, George Lane Park is a hub of the community that has long been an important place for local residents. The park—and, by extension, the river—features prominently in the collective memory of the “Placing Memory” interview participants. More than simply a place for picnics, the park represents a shared sense of community. Whether it was swimming, baseball games, or official community events, George Lane Park has long been a place where High Riverites feel connected.
“George Lane Park has been always well used and a very special place.” – Connie Jewell
Over the years the park has evolved with the town. Once surrounded by a dyke, for a time it contained an outdoor swimming hole. Later, the centennial bandstand was added. For Ed Soderberg, it was the place to be growing up: “That’s where your buddies were, and hung around out there. Out with your neighbours.”
Even before George Lane Park was designated as a park, it was being used by the neighborhood children as a place to hang out and play.
“We would raft across it to get to the bush on the other side, and that bush is where the park is now situated. But we spent hours and hours over there playing cowboys and jungle adventures and whatever. And there was a beaver dam, a beaver house there too, and we’d watch the beavers, stand on top of the beaver house and stomp our feet, thinking we would scare them out. And building forts—we’d build all kinds of forts over there. The park itself used to a—well it wasn’t used as much as it is now, I don’t think. The playground was swings and a teeter totter, I think that was about it. And there were picnic tables. There was a bandstand. It was mostly just for picnics—you know, a church picnic, you know. We’d go down there and take a picnic lunch and play games and tag, children’s races, horseshoes, maybe have a ball game or something like that. But now it’s really popular meeting place for the community.” – Bill Holmes
“And so George Lane Park was one of those places that you hung out in quite a lot. It was a little bit of a less manicured, I guess you could say, than it is today—at least along the west side. So all over the years, all these kind of cool little dirt paths through all the bushes and long grasses and trees had been carved out by, I guess, generations of kids and adults both, and—so it was always quite an adventure to go riding your bike through all of these pathways and play your imaginary whatever games you were playing—you know, detective or police cases or whatever you were doing. But that was always a good place to hang out.” – Jill Henheffer
It was even an attraction for people who lived outside High River. Corky Rousseau mentioned visiting High River from Nanton and how the park was always a highlight. Pat Zebedee grew up on a farm outside High River and experienced the novelty of George Lane Park:
“When we would come to town, every once in a while, we’d get to go and play in the playground in the park. So that was kind of special for us, ‘cause like on the farm all we had was a swing. Maybe a slide if we were lucky. So all the other things that they had at the park were pretty cool to us because we didn’t always get to play on those, like the merry-go-round—that kind of thing. And in later years, we would camp in the park. Just to get away, which is kind of weird, but—we used to camp in the park and it’s a beautiful place. You don’t even know you’re in downtown High River when you camp there.”
Residents explained how they would spend hours in the park as a child, riding bikes, using the playground equipment and, most importantly, swimming! A major summer pastime of High River youth was swimming or floating down the river. For those who were brave enough, jumping off the train bridge was a rite of passage for the older kids. Oliver Perry even remembered the bridge being used for diving practice for two men hoping to make it to the 1936 Olympics. Perry tells of his lifeguarding days in the 1930s, when the town hired him to supervise the popular swimming spot along the river:
“Well, going back to ’35, I was lifeguard on the river down here, in ’35 and ’36. In ’35, they used to pay me a dollar a day for lifeguarding. … [Local kids would regularly swim in the river] and then on Sundays the farmers would bring their kids into town, and then the problems started, because these kids didn’t know how to swim, so then a lot of those—pull them out. … The water there was just actually about ten feet deep or better and it was quite long, eh? And then some of the times you used to get in there and have races with some of the guys who wanted to swim, and have your race here or have your race there. It was good entertainment in those days because, you know, nobody had any money.”
Before there was a pool in town, even swimming lessons were held in the river. Various interview participants shared their swimming memories.
“So when we were kids in the summertime, going to that paddling pool was a pretty special place and we would ride our bicycles down there and spend the day there, so that was, you know, a key part of the town. … Probably the big childhood thing was the Highwood River, you know? It is only a few blocks away and parents just used to let their kids go and swim in the river—we had no pool in town at the time—so all the kids would congregate all along the river, and particularly down at the bridge. We used to go over and kind of float down the river from the end of 8th Street to the end of the bridge, and that was kind of a big thing and swim with the big kids. … If you were a real big kid you could jump off the bridge or dive off the bridge.” – Norman Denney
“And then as I got a little bit older, it was more—you’d swim in the river. That’s where’d you go and take your transistor radio and your lunch and your pop and your towel and whatever, and that’s where you’d spend your summers.” – Jill Henheffer
For a number of years, the park boasted an outdoor swimming pool that came up time and time again in the interviews. It was a simple set up—just a dugout with some imported sand, but it provided endless entertainment for the youth of High River. And despite the fact that Norm Denney and others said it was always “freezing in there,” most of them, like Len Zebedee, recalled that everyone “spent a lot of hours there.” The interview participants also spoke of a shallow wading pool designated for younger children.
“One of the other things I remember when we were very young, before we had the swimming pool in town, was there was an outdoor swimming hole in the George Lane Park, where the river comes through the park, and was diverted through the park and around behind the church here – and there was a swimming hole and a sandy beach. So that’s where I first learned how to – start to swim. In that swimming hole.” – Len Zebedee
Beyond swimming, another activity central to life in the park was games of baseball and softball, whether in organized leagues or informal play. According to Don Way, the kids would go down to the park and “play baseball from when it was light out until it was dark.” Dick Liddell mentioned a church softball league, organized after the war, with the various congregations sponsoring teams. The weekly games would bring the community together. They “used to fill the park up with people because there was no TV then.” And Belf Quon shared his memories of a time before the ball diamond was under the town’s jurisdiction and it was the responsibility of the players and community to ensure its maintenance:
“Down at our old park here—George Lane Park. In them days, we would have a doubleheader—two games—and we would have to take our own lawnmower down—a power lawnmower—and mow the field, the outfield, drag the infield, set up the lines. Nowadays, the town does everything for you. … We had to get things ready, do all the work ourselves, and then we played two games of ball. Nowadays I think they can charge now. But in them days, you can’t charge. So—to throw money to buy the equipment now, we would have the wives of the players, go around with a hat to collect a few dollars to buy the balls and bats. It’s amazing how things change.”
The park also hosted many events, from family reunions to pancake breakfasts. Cathy Couey recalls the park being a prominent place for community gatherings:
“I’ll say Little Britches was big. And I remember hundreds of people lined up for breakfast and then the post barbeque—like the park was just alive and buzzing. There was so many people there and I think I do—you know that’s probably the key in today when you fast forward—you think of the Canada Day celebrations is similar. The park just comes alive and there’s hundreds of people there. I think some—I remember a particular homecoming and there was well over a thousand people there. And I remember being in the park for that and thinking that it was amazing that this many people had come home to celebrate their former friends, residents, and neighbors. I just think of those types of events where so many people have come together to play a part in those community events.”
The collective memory of George Lane Park is not restricted to fond childhood memories. Interview participants shared a deep appreciation for the park that continued into adulthood. Jim Ross remarked how having access to nature in the middle of town is a “pretty significant asset and quality of life enhancement.” The park was often the response when the interviewees were asked about a favourite or important spot in High River. According to Lorna Way, it evokes “that feeling of being in a community. You know, it was like you were connected. You would see people that were all ages.”
These sentiments reveal that the park is meaningful not least because it facilitates a strong sense of community. It brings the community together, young and old alike. George Lane Park remains a constant in the evolving life of High River—a tangible connection to the past. Cathy Couey summed things up the best: “It truly is our community’s gem and it is a great place to gather.”