THE AGRICULTURAL NATURE OF THE SETTLEMENT OF PINCHER CREEK
by Farley Wuth, Curator,
Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
Copyright, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society
ORIGINS OF LOCAL AGRICULTURE
The community of Pincher Creek truly has had a strong connection with the agricultural industry. It started back in 1878 with the establishment of the North West Mounted Police’s Horse Ranch along the Creek. Over the next generation, more than 350 head of horses were raised on this large ranching spread that extended over several sections to the south and east. The horses, which were used to help the Mounties patrol the vast, rugged landscape of Western Canada, proved that ranching could succeed in this part of the world. There was the right combination of wild grasses, a good supply of water, natural shelter, and the nearly ever faithful Chinooks that lessened the winter snow cover.
Private enterprise quickly stepped in on the heels of the Mounties’ success and established a series of corporate and family ranches on the southwestern corner of the Canadian Prairies. The settlement of Pincher Creek quickly flourished as the commercial and social centre for most of those local ranching operations.
The first general store, operated by James Schofield and Henry Hyde, was established in 1883. Within a decade, there were a series of two hotels, a blacksmith, and the Canadian corporate icon, the Hudson’s Bay Co. Store, accompanied by a private banking system, which dotted the frontier yet growing commercial district. At least four churches and a few fraternal organizations sprung up during those frontier years noted for their rapid growth. All were well patronized by local ranchers and farmers.
NATURE OF PINCHER CREEK’S RURAL LANDSCAPE
Yet there was more to Pincher Creek’s agricultural history than simply its role as a service centre to the larger industry. For most of its history, Pincher Creek has been a rural community with a very distinctive agricultural nature even within its own boundaries. For generations following the settlement’s establishment, there was very little distinction between rural and town life. Most properties within Pincher Creek were noted for their large, expansive yards which included ample space for a number of agricultural pursuits.
At the back of these properties, there was often a chicken coop or barn with a loft where a horse or two, a small flock of sheep and a milk cow could be sheltered from the outside elements. Also on site were a large vegetable garden, and a number of sheds which housed a vast array of agricultural and gardening equipment and tools required for survival on the Canadian Prairies. Also housed at the rear of their dwellings were cold storage rooms or more often than not, root cellars accessed via a trap door from the kitchen floor where vegetables harvested from their gardens would be stored over the winter. Indeed, a house and its immediate surrounding property in town would not look very different from those situated out in the countryside.
Most of these agricultural type dwellings in Pincher Creek were centered near the old business core. North of the Creek, thoroughfares such as the former Bridge Avenue, portions of Albert Avenue, and some properties further to the east along Wentworth Avenue and Frederick Street reflected this rural flavour. The William and Emma Berry house, constructed in 1903, for instance, had a farm shed to its immediate east, and a large garden to the south, towards the former creek bank.
On the next street over, which was Bridge Avenue, the two-storey frame house of Dr. Harwood and his family, constructed in the 1890s and noted for its bay window, had a barn dwelling in its rear yard. As of 1926, the property was owned by the Frank and Bertha Crook family who originally homesteaded in the Crook District southeast of town. Further up and across the street, the Bogart and Robert Cooper houses were among several which had sweeping front yards. Behind them, to the west, were the agricultural outbuildings.
On Pincher Creek’s south hill, the Pelletier house was a prime example of an agricultural dwelling within a town context. Located on Schofield Street, behind the Lebel Mansion, it was built in 1912 and its backyard is noted for its large barn complete with a loft. To the east, the former W. R. Dobbie residence, which has continued to dominate the skyline as a two-and-a-half storey structure since its construction close to a century ago, sat on a large sloping yard ideal for pioneer gardening purposes. Smaller, cottage type houses situated further south on Florence and Lacombe Streets, retained that agricultural flavour via their gardens and chicken coops.
The community’s old west end was of a similar rural nature. The Harvey Bossenberry home built in an isolated area during the early 1900s. Later to become a one-and-a-half storey structure, it was surrounded by out buildings and a large vegetable garden. The dwellings along Main and Kettles Streets, as seen in the accompanying aerial photograph from 1956, were well remembered for their gardens of up to an acre in size. Agricultural sheds can be seen dotting the landscape.
IMPORTANCE OF THAT RURAL HERITAGE
Pincher Creek’s rural landscape was reflective of the pioneer and agricultural times in which our community was established and developed. Having farm animals in town simply was an extension of the times in which we live. Most pioneer families needed a horse or two in order to travel any distance, especially if it meant going out of town during the pre-mechanized era. Our forefathers also required a milk cow or chickens to supply them with good quality dairy products, eggs and poultry. Large vegetable gardens were the norm as families grew their own produce. Money was particularly scarce back during the pioneer era and few people had enough disposable income to cover even the necessities of purchasing all of their food requirements in one of Pincher Creek’s general or department stores.
Most early families residing in town also had direct agricultural connections by either being raised on farms or ranches or by having extended family members who still did. They understood not only the value of agriculture but also how to properly raise animals in addition to planting and harvesting gardens. Raising vegetables and a few animals on their town properties was a natural extension of that rural heritage and ensured survival during tough times. It is part of a history of which this community can be proud.