PINCHER CREEK FIRE BRIGADE PROVIDED PIONEER NEW YEAR’S ENTERTAINMENT
By Farley Wuth, Curator,
Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
Copyright, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society
During the era of Pincher Creek’s pioneer history, the annual arrival of the New Year was welcomed by the locals with an enthusiastic social gathering. The event for New Year’s Eve 1908, organized by our new Municipal Fire Brigade, certainly was no exception.
HARSH REMOTE CONDITIONS MEANT THAT SOCIAL OCCASSIONS WERE VALUED
Social gatherings during those early days on the Canadian frontier were important events. It brought people together in what were isolated and harsh conditions. Vast distances separated most of the ranches and settlements in Western Canada. Given the horse and railway transportation of the time, travel between these far points was rarely an easy undertaking. A trip on horseback between the Hatfield Ranch adjacent the Waterton River and the community of Pincher Creek, for instance, was an all day effort – pioneers recalled it was particularly treacherous if an unexpected winter storm approached. The working conditions of the time were difficult, of a manual nature and required long hours. There were few of the modern technological conveniences which we know today. These conditions meant that many pioneers did not have the opportunity to regularly socialize with many of their neighbors or friends from distant points. Yet when those rare occasions did materialize, truly they were special events.
OLD FIRE HALL DATED BACK TO 1898
Such were the cases with those early New Year’s Eve gatherings organized by the volunteer fire department here in Pincher Creek. Local folklore indicates that the first of these annual events took place to usher out the old year of 1907. The Town of Pincher Creek had just been incorporated the previous year and with it, the Municipal Fire Department took shape as an official agency. The original Municipal Fire Hall stood at the rear of the old Town Hall, constructed at the southwest corner of East Avenue and Kettles Street when Pincher Creek was declared a Village in 1898. Archival photos show a long fire wagon, now an artifact at the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village, near the north entrance of the building and proudly surrounded by the eager participants of the fire brigade.
FIREMEN’S GATHERING AT THE OPERA HOUSE
Those fellows serving with the Fire Department were community spirited businessmen, clerks and ranchers who only naturally believed in helping out. The idea of organizing an annual New Year’s Gathering was an obvious extension of those community endeavors. On New Year’s Eve 1908, the “Second Annual Ball of the Firemen of Pincher Creek” was held at the Opera House. Dating back to the 1890s, this community facility was located near the north end of what was then Christie Avenue (now part of Hewetson Avenue). During the early years before the theatre chairs were put in, the Opera House was widely used as a dance hall.
For this particular New Year’s, the Opera House was lavishly decorated with festive decorations. The New Year’s Ball Committee established by the Firemen took great care in choosing bright streamers and placing them in highly visible locations. Press reviews of the event were most impressed with the fancy decorations.
LAVISH MUSICAL PROGRAMME AND MIDNIGHT SUPPER
A musical programme was arranged by the Committee in conjunction with the entertainers. A carefully arranged selection of popular waltzes was arranged for, the organizers keeping in mind that “providing an abundance of dancing for everyone” was important for a community thirsting for such an outing. Dancing music filled the Hall till midnight, and then continued after the customary celebratory break. The music was provided by a pianist and violinist who traveled in from Fort Macleod for the occasion – unfortunately, their names have been deleted from the pages of history. They were accompanied by a “Mr. Smart”. His identity too remains a mystery.
The official change over to the New Year was welcomed in by a well stocked, much appreciated midnight supper. This was courtesy of John Henderson who served as the proprietor of the King Edward Hotel. This establishment had been built only a few years previous, and boasted a modern dining room and kitchen accompanied by a wide menu selection.
A FEW OF THOSE FIRE BRIGADE PERSONALITIES
Three of the men associated with that New Year’s event sponsored by the Firemen were Barney Bolster, Harry Tucker and Charles Hiscocks. Bolster (1878 – 1929), who had extensive ranch and veterinary experience, served as the Fire Chief up till his retirement during the fall of 1907. Local businessman Harry Tucker then took over that leadership position. Hiscocks volunteered as the Brigade’s Secretary until his resignation early in 1908. At that point, he moved to Blairmore to pursue business interests.
Pioneer New Year’s events indeed were community successes.