A HISTORY OF THE HUDSON’S BAY COMPANY IN PINCHER CREEK
By Farley Wuth, Curator,
Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
Copyright, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society
Perhaps the earliest national department store to operate in Pincher Creek was that of the Hudson’s Bay Company. One of the oldest companies in Canada, its local history in town dates back to 1886 and spanned more than a quarter century of frontier chronicles.
The Hudson’s Bay Company made its first appearance in Pincher Creek in 1886, when this fur trading enterprise purchased the General Store established three years earlier by James Schofield (1858 – 1939) and Henry Hyde (1860 – 1933). These two Pincher Creek pioneers were the first businessmen in this settlement, their store which bore their name being the community’s first commercial outlet.
The store, a log structure, was located on what is now the north side of Main Street adjacent to the T intersection with East Avenue, formerly the old gravel highway coming in from Waterton Lakes. Local historian Scotty Freebairn recalled in a newspaper article many years later, in July 1956, that this pioneer store sold everything from chaps, spurs and cowboy hats to chewing tobacco and canned goods. Pincher Creek’s Post Office was located there as well, with Schofield being appointed the Post Master.
The business quickly flourished as Pincher Creek, a small settlement on the Canadian Prairies, witnessed strong growth due to the expanding ranching industry. Its success caught the eye of the Hudson’s Bay Co., which was looking to expand its rural operations. The purchase was made. Hyde, raised in Ontario in a family of Irish ancestry, was appointed its first Manager. Schofield, who also had been raised in Ontario, went on to pursue his own ranching and business interests.
The Hudson’s Bay Co. Store’s fortunes flourished under Hyde’s leadership. Part of its success was due to Pincher Creek’s continued service and social centre role in the expanding ranching industry. The increased trade resulted in the Company seeking out a new store location, as the old premises were no longer adequate. A new, larger structure was constructed a block further east on Main Street. Located on the south side of the street, this was the first business constructed that far east, being east of Police & Bridge Avenues. Formerly the lands south of the Creek had been part of the Northwest Mounted Police Horse Ranch Reserve.
1890S LOCATION AND PIONEER STAFFING
The Hudson’s Bay Company’s move was made circa 1890, and local businessman J. H. McEachern moved into the old store premises. Henry Hyde relinquished his management of the local store in favour of a lifelong banking career. Years later, in 1900, he was succeeded as General Manager by L. H. (Lewis Hoffman) Hunter (1853 – 1928), who by his retirement some thirteen years later had enjoyed close to a three decade career with the corporation. Some of his earlier company appointments were Winnipeg, northern Manitoba and Fort Macleod before coming to the Pincher Creek store. After his retirement from the store Hunter continued to do accounting work for several Pincher Creek businesses. In January 1913 he was succeeded as Manager by H. W. Budd, who had served in an assistant capacity at the store since the previous autumn. The latter maintained a high profile with local customers, hoping to ensure their loyalty to the store.
Some of the other employees of the Pincher Creek Hudson’s Bay Co. Store included Alex Burns (1866 – 1939), who served as the delivery person, using horse drawn buggies and sleighs. Burns had a way with horses. Henry Marquis, who married into the Pelletier family, arrived in Pincher Creek in 1900, whereupon he was appointed the Manager of the Store’s Grocery Department. Robert R. (Bob) Penny worked as the Store Clerk, having been transferred down from the Calgary store in either 1889 or 1890. He was one of the earliest employees of the local store. Penny and his family remained in Pincher Creek for over 15 years. A colleague was fellow clerk Wallace Graham Askey (1869 – 1854), who worked there until 1913. Frederick Dupuy was the store’s book keeper for at least ten years during the same era. Thomas White served as the Dry Goods Clerk for at least a decade, having been listed in both the 1901 and 1911 Dominion Census. Miss Edith Husband capably served as one of the store’s salesladies, as listed in the 1911 Dominion Census. Some three years later she married Samuel Watson who hailed from Ireland. Each worker made an enthusiastic contribution to ensure that the store ran smoothly during pioneer times.
BUSINESS SUCCESS FOLLOWED BY TRAGIC TIMES
Archival photos and advertizing features indicate that Pincher Creek’s Hudson’s Bay Co. store was well stocked with pioneer goods. Square wooden trunks, thick wool blankets direct from the fur trade, porcelain and metal pitchers, barn and kerosene lanterns of all shapes and sizes, shoes for men, women and children and tea, coffee and canned goods from the far corners of the world adorned the shelves and counters of this long, narrow store. Its interior seemed dark by the standards of today’s stores but that was the nature of frontier commercial outlets a century ago and they served the public well.
The Hudson’s Bay Co. advertised regularly in The Pincher Creek Echo, each display ad proudly featuring the Company’s logo pronouncing its incorporation in 1670. Some of the promotional literature was generic in nature, obviously being written by distant Company officials. Capitalizing upon two hundred and forty years of business experience directly in the field, its reputation rested upon “honest goods, right prices and conscientious dealing[s]” and it promised “better goods and better prices than any other firm”.
Other advertising, some gleaned from the 1909 issues of The Echo, were more specific to specific sales and the types of merchandize carried. A Tag Day was announced for July 1st that year, and the store informed the public that it would be closed Wednesday afternoons from June 9th to August 11th in order to give the staff a mid-week break. A large supply of fishing tackle was advertized that summer. During its Spring 1906 local advertising campaign, “first quality groceries, tasty and wholesome” were regularly marketed as were “a full line of shelf and heavy hardware, rubber hose, couplings, nozzles, etc.” In an attempt to increase rural trade, the store promised that “all farm products taken the same as cash”. The Company was interested in doing business in a ranching settlement, and for a while business continued to prosper.
The year 1913 spelled doom for the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Pincher Creek store. In late September it was announced that the store would soon close, as the Corporation wished to concentrate its business efforts upon its big city operations. While the venture still was profitable locally, Company officials thought it would be best to wind things up with a big sale. A massive stock inventory was conducted on Friday, October 3rd.
Then, as bad luck and even worse co-incidents would have it, the Hudson’s Bay Co. store was tragically destroyed by a massive fire early in the morning of Sunday, November 23rd 1913. The fire was spotted at 4 a.m. by a member of the Dobbie Family and the alarm was turned in by William R. Dobbie who was serving as the Town’s Mayor at the time. The flames had gotten strong hold of the building by then, bursting through the front windows shortly thereafter. In spite of the valiant attempts of the Pincher Creek Fire Brigade, there was little that they could do to save the building.
Indeed, the flames spread to several other places of business on both the south and north sides of Main Street, destroying a total of ten commercial outlets. A further five businesses were heavily damaged. In insurable terms, loss estimates to this one store alone amounted to 10,000 dollars. Although there was no loss of lives, the Pincher Creek business community was in shock, and the local Hudson’s Bay Company store never did recover. Its business dealings with our ranching settlement were forever closed. A chapter of pioneer business dealings had come to a sad end.