PINCHER CREEK’S PREMIERE FRONTIER BUSINESSMAN TIMOTHEE LEBEL
by Farley Wuth
Timothee Lebel was one of the most successful and shrewd businessmen in the history of Pincher Creek. In civic affairs, he served as License Commissioner from 1904 – 1907 and was a member of the Town Council in 1906 – 1907, serving a second term from 1915 – 1917. In politics, he was an independent. He was a member of the executive committee of the Pincher Creek Board of Trade, the predecessor to the Chamber of Commerce. He served several years on the Board of St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church and was instrumental in the construction of the 1885 Father Lacombe Hermitage. He sat on the building committee and with two others signed on behalf of the fledgling parish the building contract with builder William Carruthers.
The Lebels were close friends with Father Albert Lacombe who adeptly served here during those formative years. Timothe also was a member of the Lethbridge Lodge Number 1490 of the Knights of Columbus. He served on the Board for St. Michael’s Separate School District Number 18. Established in 1909, Lebel served as the District’s initial Chairman.
Lebel was born on May 24th, 1857 in Cacouna, Quebec. He laid the foundation of his business experience by clerking in a store in the East, in Riviere Du Loup. In 1881, he set out for the western country and went on to Winnipeg. Later he pushed further westward. He established the first store in Maple Creek for Mr. Tims who became a lifelong friend. In 1884 he loaded a cargo of goods on several old Red River carts and set out for Fort Macleod. On the way he stopped at Coalbanks which later became the city of Lethbridge.
Timothe Lebel arrived in Pincher Creek and opened up a small store in partnership with Tom Hinton. These two busy young men spent their Sundays writing letters to their sweethearts. Mr. Hinton’s was far way in England and Mr. Lebel’s was back East.
In 1886, Miss Marie Hortense Chasse of Cacouna came west. She too was born in Quebec. Her birthdate was recorded on April 16th, 1857. Mr. Lebel met her in Lethbridge and they were married in Fort Macleod. Afterwards, they were guest of honour at a dinner party given by Dr. and Mrs. Gerard. Dr. Gerard was the first doctor in Fort Macleod.
Later Charles Kettles bought our Mr. Hinton’s interest in the business. Mr. Hinton relinquished his interest in order to give his complete attention to his own business of contracting and building. Many of the buildings constructed by him in those early years are still standing, a tribute to his good work. The papers formally establishing the merchandizing firm of T. Lebel and Company were drawn up by G. J. Byron Jones, the first barrister in Pincher Creek, Northwest Territories, in April 1894 between Mr. Lebel and Mr. Kettles. For years, his daughter Blanche had the original documents, all handwritten.
The store soon became one of the outstanding trade centres of southern Alberta, a large general store completely stocked in every department. Ca. 1904, the firm built a three storey structure and operated small stores in Beaver Mines and Brocket to accommodate the coal miners and ranchers to the west and the farmers and First Nations members on the reserve. Tokens, utilized as trade money for the benefit of the native peoples, were placed in circulation by Mr. Lebel for a full generation from 1890 to 1915, having values from five cents to five dollars.
From these two men, Mr. Lebel and Mr. Kettles, was extended the hand of greeting to all newcomers. Many a tenderfoot had reason to give thanks for the helpful credits marked to his account on nothing, as it were, but to everyone’s faith in each other and the future.
Timothe Lebel retired as the store’s active manager in 1905, the head accountant becoming manager. A disastrous fire in 1915 destroyed most of the buildings and merchandize, and the business was liquidated in 1917 by mutual agreement without dissolution of partnership.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Lebel passed away in 1935. Hortense went first, passing away the afternoon of Thursday, February 7th. She was in her 76th year, and her service was held the following Saturday morning from St. Michael’s Church, located directly across the street from the couple’s former stately home constructed more than a generation earlier. Timothe passed away the afternoon of Friday, July 12th. He was 77 years of age. A largely attended funeral was hosted at St. Michael’s Church the following Monday morning. A total of five priests connected with Pincher Creek, Cowley, and Brocket as well as the family assisted with the service.
Miss Blanche Ouellet Lebel was an integral part of the Lebel Family. Mrs. Lebel returned East in 1889 when her sister’s husband died and her sister became seriously ill. This sister had four children including one infant who was born on February 14th, 1889. Mr. and Mrs. Lebel had no children of their own and adopted the wee baby, Marie Blanche. Mrs. Lebel and Blanche then returned west.
Miss Blanche Lebel was educated at the Sacred Heart Convent in Calgary. She was sent East to finish her education in French. She was completely bilingual. Miss Lebel was adept at china painting and also handiwork, especially embroidery. In later years, she devoted herself entirely to her adoptive parents and nursed them through their long illnesses. She continued to reside in the family’s retirement home on Schofield Street until her passing circa 1978.
The Lebels’ family heritage was French and this Latin based language served as their mother tongue. Marie Lebel’s extended family resided in the French quarters of Quebec, New Brunswick where Blanche was born, Vermont, and Massachusetts. Timothe Lebel had one sister, Miss Caroline Lebel, who also resided in Quebec. Timothe and Marie Lebel were considered business and social leaders in the French Canadian community of the Pincher Creek and Beauvais Lake districts. Many pioneers sought their advice and support on a number of matters. Mrs. Lebel served as President of the Ladies’ Alter Society associated with St. Michael’s Church.
The Lebel Family lived in three different Pincher Creek residences during their nearly full century tenure in the community. Each was tastefully constructed, maintained and furnished. Their first abode was an attractive house, conveniently located on the south side of what was to become Main Street; it stood directly across from the family’s store and was east of the Oddfellows Block. It was a one and a half storey frame house, rectangular in shape except for a porch/kitchen added on the structure’s rear or southeast corner. A wrap around verandah adorned the front. A workshop or buggy garage stood to the east of the house. There was a fenced yard and a garden going up the south hill. The dwelling stood as a local landmark until destroyed by fire many years after having been sold by the family.
The Lebels’ second home was the impressive Mansion which they constructed in 1909 and 1910 on the south hill, again directly opposite their stone store. This massive three-storey brown brick structure was complete with a full basement, which was quite a novelty back then, housing a billiard room. Upstairs, hardwood trained in from eastern Canada was painstakingly utilized for the furnishings. The impressive staircase to the second floor was made of oak and the floors used hard maple. The structure’s exterior was noted for its wooden, wrap around north facing verandah. Highly visible from most points within this ranching settlement, the house had a unique feature in that a cable connected it with the store a block away. Attached to the cable was a basket where family messages were oft sent between the two massive buildings.
Moving into the house in 1910, they remained there for a total of fourteen years when they sold the building to the nuns residing at the nearby Kermaria Convent. The selling price was 10,000 dollars and the house became St. Vincent’s Hospital, Pincher Creek’s third medical facility. With additions made to the south in 1930 and to the east close to twenty years later, this building served as a central component of our local hospital until 1983 when the latest hospital was opened on the north hill. Today, the Lebel Mansion is operated by the Pincher Creek Allied Arts Council.
The third home of the Lebel Family was located just around the corner from their Mansion. Located on Schofield Street as it straddled the south hill, this one and a half storey frame building served as the family’s residence until Blanche’s passing in the late 1970s.