McCREA AND COLPMAN DRUG STORE
by Farley Wuth and Donald Glass
ASTUTE COMMUNITY MINDED BUSINESSMEN
The D. L. McCrea, Druggist and Stationer, Company was established in Pincher Creek in 1906 during the height of the farming and immigration boom of the early 1900s. Its owner, Delmar Lorne McCrea who commonly went by his first initials, came from Blanum, Ontario where he was born in 1884. He had come west as a youngster of seven years when his parents permanently moved to Macleod. His father, Sam McCrea, had come out west in 1878 as a member of the Northwest Mounted Police, being stationed at Fort Walsh in the Cypress Hills. The junior McCrea received his early formal education in Macleod, but as a young adult, attended the Winnipeg Medical College, where he graduated in pharmacy in 1905. The following year he set up shop in Pincher Creek, launching a successful business lasting thirteen years. In 1919 the business was sold to the local firm of W. H. Upton and Company, which previously had operated the former E. J. Mitchell Drugstore across the street. The McCreas spent a short time in California but returned to southern Alberta, establishing a business partnership in Lethbridge to operate the McCready Drug Store. D. L. McCrea’s departure from Pincher Creek, however, was short lived. Within two years the family had returned to the community and purchased back their drug store. This he continued to operate until his sudden passing the afternoon of Sunday, September 11th, 1927. His early demise at the age of forty-three resulted from complications from ruptured appendix surgery.
The McCrea family chose to sell the business and offered a ten per cent discount on the existing stock in order to liquidate its volume by half. This included fancy goods, drugs, sundries, and toiletries, and was offered for cash purchases as well as monthly accounts. McCrea’s widow, the former Josephine Stapleton who also came from Macleod, quite correctly asserted that the discounts would ensure increased business trade and profitability.
The store’s 1927 purchaser was Charles C. Colpman whose outgoing personality won him a host of friends during his thirty-eight year business ownership. An informal logo based upon his initials “C.C.C.” grew out of his business style: “Careful, Competent and Courteous”. One local historian recalled that “everyone who knew C. C. Colpman knew this was a good description on him.” The business thrived during Colpman’s tenure in spite of the hard times witnessed during the 1930s. Part of his success was that he incorporated a private lending library “The Bookshelf Lending Library” into the drugstore business. Books could be rented out by members of the public at a minimal rate of ten cents based upon a five day borrowing period and a daily two-cent rental charge. At one point his library numbered close to four-hundred volumes. Some of Colpman’s drugstore and stationary customers during the 1930s and 1940s included the Fishburn School District Number 311, which in 1938 purchased such items as a chemistry set, methyl hydrate, candles and glasses, the Pincher Creek Baseball Club, which during the late spring of 1930 purchased paper to be used for sports posters, and nurse Patricia Collins, who in 1946 bought a calendar there. School supplies purchased by budding students were much sought after items at the Colpman Drug Store. Even more popular was the store’s soda counter, well-patronized by students and the younger set but also by downtown shoppers who appreciated the opportunity to take a break and socialize with friends and neighbours. Milkshakes, soda drinks, and soft ice cream advertized as “super fresh super creamy” were served there at reasonable prices by Lloyd Purkis and Joyce Bower. Chrome counters and grey stools were remembered by some. The drugstore’s phone number was 59.
FUNCTIONAL YET MODERN STRUCTURE AT A SOUGHT-AFTER LOCATION
Charlie Colpman retired in 1965, selling his business to Jeff Higa, and the store was moved further east on Main Street. For three generations it had stood just west of the northwest corner of Main Street and Bridge Avenue. It was housed in a multi-functional structure built in the early 1900s and extensively renovated in 1948, just three years after the end of the Second World War. For much of its history the complex was known as the Gill Block, constructed by an early businessman who also operated a liquor store on the premises. The building was functional in design but had an awning on the south side which faced onto the boardwalk. Onto the structure’s rear, which faced to the creek, was within a few years added more storage topped by a shed-type roof. Businessmen like McCrea and Colpman appreciated the extra room for storage, but were concerned with the physical security of their operation during the high water floods of 1908 and 1942, when the creek came dangerously close to the back of the building.
However, both McCrea and Colpman found the location of their drugstore to be ideal. It was in the midst of Pincher Creek’s downtown core, and its proximity to Bridge Avenue meant that the original highway coming in from the north came right by their store. In 1948 the structure was purchased by the Richard W. Morgan family, who operated a car dealership, garage and gas pumps under the name of “Pincher Creek Motors”. Their former location on East Avenue, directly behind the Royal Bank, had been purchased by the Pincher Creek Co-op, and the Morgans’ B.A. Service Station was moved here. At one point John Milne was associated with the service station which included a passageway over the gas pumps. Renovations included updates to Colpman’s Drugstore. A concrete stucco finish adorned the exterior, and a striped cloth awning could be lowered to keep out the summer’s sun. Two picture windows separated by an inset wooden door provided public accessibility to the business.