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by Farley Wuth, Curator,
Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
Copyright, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society

Local pioneer James Schofield is best remembered for his many business contributions in Pincher Creek itself, ones that were complimented by his ranching activities west of this N.W.M.P. settlement. Less well-known are his business activities that highlighted the early history of Cowley, that eighth siding on the Crowsnest Line of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Located in that ranching settlement some eleven miles northwest of Pincher Creek, Schofield’s Cowley Store provided his early entrepreneur with the opportunity to ply his many business and people skills.

Schofield had a long history of business experience in the Pincher Creek community. Born in 1858, he was originally stationed as an officer with the North West Mounted Police in three different posts across the Canadian West. He arrived here at the age of twenty-five years to operate the first general store in the settlement. This was in partnership with fellow-businessman Henry Hyde, who later went into the local banking business as well as municipal politics. The store was purchased by the Hudson’s Bay Co. in 1886, and Hyde continued on as its Manager. Schofield then established the Marna Lake Ranch, situated just north of Beauvais Lake, some eight miles southwest of town.

By 1894 he was back in the Pincher Creek business community with the opening of his own general store. Some eleven years later he moved his store into newly constructed premises nearly directly across the street from the three-story stone Lebel Block. The commercial outlet was sold in 1911 to some of his long term employees when he retired from active business circles. His business and ranching activities had won him a host of friends and practical entrepreneurial skills.

Ever the eager businessman, Schofield’s Pincher Creek stores were not the only commercial outlets he opened. He also operated stores in Fort Macleod, Cranbrook, B.C., and Cowley. Each of these three ventures was the result of the completion of the Crowsnest Branch of the C.P.R., and the growth of the settlements along the route. Schofield quickly realized the business potential in establishing places of commerce in each of these locales. Even during the railway’s construction era, this Pincher Creek-based businessman acted upon the economic boom of the time.

According to the family’s own recollections, many of the immigrant Italian workers who helped put in place that rail line had little or no lines of credit. Many used Schofield’s business as a local banking service. He would cash their cheques, and keep the sums of money securely tucked away in the store vault. On a regular basis, day and night, these railway employees would return to claim their cash or spend it in Schofield’s Pincher Creek store. Folklore indicates that some of these immigrants who permanently settled as coal miners up in the Pass would occasionally patronize Schofield’s Cowley store after it opened. So impressed were they with the businessman’s earlier help that they sometimes would risk the perils and inconvenience of long-distance travel during the pioneer times in order to make purchases there.

It was on this wave of growth that Schofield opened his general store in Cowley. It operated under his ownership for only a few short years; built shortly after the rail line’s completion in 1898, and being sold some six years later in 1904. But what a well-stocked general store this was. Archival photos of the interior of the premises indicate that a wide variety of groceries, dry goods and hardware items could be purchased at Schofield’s Cowley store. Canned goods, likely fruit and vegetables, lined the rear walls. Coffee was a popular product and a selection of fresh produce may have been stocked in season.

Kitchenware included graniteware, stoneware, and glass dishes and cups as well as enamel coffee pots and bowls. Hardware merchandize included tools, leather bridles and harnesses, and lanterns, each well patronized by Cowley’s ranching community. Also featured were cook and heating stoves which Schofield advertized in the issues of “The Rocky Mountain Echo”, as Pincher Creek’s weekly newspaper was known during the pioneer era. Prominently displayed were the famous McClary Stoves, the Kitchener Steel Range and Hammond Red Cross Heaters, which claimed that its stoves were high temperature and air tight.

The interior of Schofield’s Cowley store truly was a site to behold! Nary a place on any of the walls was empty of salable merchandize. Three large pillars that supported the roof of the building had lanterns attached. Four or five large wooden and glass topped display cases chalk full of smaller wares were scattered across the floor. The cash register was likely kept along the side of the premises.

Part of the success of Schofield’s trade from his Cowley store was due to his advertizing campaigns that appear to have continued throughout its operation. Large display ads were regularly placed in The Echo, usually on the first page. The August 4th 1903 issue contained one such example.

These promos featured both the Cowley and Pincher Creek stores and spoke of the excellent stock and service that customers could expect from either establishment. Truly these marketing ventures reflected the quantity and quality of the stock that was sold in Schofield’s Cowley store.

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