CHRONICLES OF LOCAL JOURNALISM AND MUNICIPAL POLITICS, Part 1:
HOWARD E. DERRETT, ANNA DERRETT EDWARDS and FRANK EDWARDS
by Farley Wuth, Curator,
Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
Copyright, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society
Pioneer chronicles of early journalism with the Pincher Creek Echo, political leadership with the Town of Pincher Creek and local commercial/cultural endeavours are recounted in the connected genealogies of Howard E. Derrett, Anna Derrett/Edwards and Frank Thomas Edwards. For over thirty years, these three individuals held pivotal positions within the community, an era that spanned the two World Wars and the intervening boom and bust decades of the 1920s and 1930s. Their rural endeavours were prime examples of the community spirit that built the Canadian Prairies.
ACTIVE IN EARLY BUSINESS AND CULTURAL AFFAIRS
Howard E. Derrett was the publisher and editor of the Pincher Creek Echo during the turbulent First World War years. This was a time when the European hostilities of the War dominated many of the headlines. Even for a rural weekly like the Echo that concentrated upon local news, this international conflict stole the front page stories. Pincher Creek then very much was part of a patriotic British Empire where close to 300 local recruits enlisted to fight overseas. Derrett did his best to provide a balance of war and local news in those 1914 to 1918 issues. In 1913, he was appointed Managing Editor of the Pincher Creek Echo, a position he held till his unfortunate demise some seven years later. During the war years he took on business responsibilities for the paper.
Howard Derritt was born on November 3rd, 1877 in the English capital city of London. He was the eldest son of Howard and Elizabeth Derritt who in later years resided in the American city of Buffalo, New York. There were two additional brothers and five younger sisters in the family. In the mid 1880s, when Howard was seven years of age, the Derrett family immigrated to Canada, settling in the Ontario capital of Toronto. There young Howard remained for about a decade. For about eight years as an adult, he worked in the T. Eaton’s Company printing plant, also located in Toronto. His specialty was printing company catalogues and check books. Derrett’s move to the Canadian Prairies settlement of Pincher Creek circa 1910 came about due to health concerns but his subsequent connection with the Echo allowed him to continue in the printing business.
Derrett’s interest in music dated back to his childhood when studied it as an extra-curricular endeavour. In his late teens, he headed off to Buffalo, New York for further studies and participated as a violinist in the Musical Business Circle. He participated in the musical components of the Pan American Exposition, the World’s Fair hosted in Buffalo for six months in mid-1901. Once settled in Pincher Creek, Derritt furthered his musical interests by being the violinist for the Pincher Creek Dance Orchestra. One of the Orchestra’s performances in which he participated was the “Belle of Barnstapoole” in March 1911 which won much local acclaim. Hosted at the Pincher Creek Opera House located near the north end of what was then Christie Avenue, it was originally scheduled for two nights but was held over for a third due to popular demand. Performances also were held in the old N.W.M.P. settlement of Macleod and the Crowsnest Pass coal mining settlement of Coleman. Transportation to these distant points was accessed via the Crowsnest branch of the C.P.R. Audiences fondly recalled the high quality of these musicals and applauded Derrett and his eleven local colleagues for their performances.
While residing in Pincher Creek, it is believed Howard Derrett and his young family resided in a large two-storey house on the south side of Main Street. Noted for its open verandah, bay windows and attached garage perhaps constructed later, this stately dwelling was one of several pioneer structures constructed in the pre-First World War era towards what was then the west end of town. Its location a block west of the Echo offices were ideal for Derrett who could walk back and forth to work.
Derrett was in declining health for several years and passed away at the family residence the morning of Wednesday, January 21st, 1920. He was only 42 years of age. His funeral was held under the auspices of St. John’s Church of England and he was buried in the Anglican section of Pincher Creek’s Fairview Cemetery. In an ironic twist of fate, Derrett’s passing took place just two days after that of Elias T. Saunders, the founder of the Rocky Mountain Echo. Both deaths received blazing front page headlines in the Friday, 23rd January 1920 issue of the Pincher Creek Echo.
PIONEER WOMAN JOURNALIST ANNA DERRETT EDWARDS
Derrett’s pioneer journalism skills and sense of community spirit was carried on by his widow Anna Helena Derrett who survived him. Her local history actually pre-dated of her husband as she arrived in the Fishburn district southeast of Pincher Creek in 1905. This was one of the oldest rural localities in this area with the one room country school, now exhibited at the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village, dating back to 1894. Anna Derrett was 25 years of age when she arrived here. She was born in 1879 back east in Toronto Township, Peel County, Ontario.
By 1911, Anna Derrett moved into Pincher Creek where she and Howard Derrett were recently married. They resided in a large house towards the west end of town, also of recent vintage. The couple had two daughters, Isobel who as an adult became Mrs. W. J. Hoover of Calgary and Dorothy who was Mrs. James Herbert McCarthy of Toronto.