FRONTIER CHRONICLES OF THE BLACKSMITH SHOP
By Farley Wuth, Curator,
Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
Copyright, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society
Blacksmith shops were important commercial, repair and social outlets on the Canadian Prairie during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Most often serving as well-patronized businesses in small yet thriving settlements, blacksmith shops were also well-utilized by ranchers and homesteaders on their own spreads. Primarily functioning as workshops where horses could be shoed, blacksmith shops were the forerunners of modern day garages. They were equipped to repair most mechanical jobs including wagons, buggies and sleighs, particularly the undercarriages and wheels and runners. Most blacksmiths carried a large inventory of nails, wrenches, scythes, horse and oxen yokes and ice and cross cut saws such as the artifacts seen here. In many frontier cases, additional tools and mechanical devices were housed in blacksmith shops.
The forge, fuelled by hot coals and fanned by bellows, was the center of the blacksmith shop. Here tools and broken equipment were carefully heated, reshaped and repaired. It was dangerous, dusty and hot work.
Charlie Dyson, William Foote, the Scott Brothers and Richard Wittkopf were among the early smithies in the Pincher Creek area. Dyson came from an African-Canadian background. Foote (1862 – 1955) operated a blacksmith shop in town he had purchased from the Scott family. Wittkopf’s shops operated in Pincher Creek and Fishburn at different times during the pioneer era. These shops oft were favourite gathering points for early settlers who well-appreciated the social aspects – the exchange of news or a game of cards – that the informal atmospheres offered.
Featured here are exhibits on our coal mining history. Although the coal development of the Crowsnest Pass remained crucial to the economic growth of neighboring settlements to the west, Pincher Creek’s ranching areas were noted for their coal mines as well. Prominent were the Christie Coal Mine (southeast of Beauvais Lake) which operated for an impressive sixty years from 1883 – 1943; the close to half a dozen mines at Lundbreck, some of which dated to the 1880s; and the resource extraction at Beaver Mines, established in 1907 and accessed by the Kootenay and Alberta Railway. Smaller coal mines operated in the Fishburn District southeast of Pincher Creek and along Heath and Olin Creeks which drain from the western reaches of the Porcupine Hills.
Larger mines catered to the commercial extraction of coal that was shipped to market via rail or by horse and dray services to public institutions, businesses and private residences, primarily in Pincher Creek. Many ranchers and farmers accessed local coal seams for their own domestic use.
Artifacts essential to the coal mining industry seen in this exhibit include miners’ caps, safety lamps, augers which drilled holes in the underground coal, miners’ picks and their shovels. Electrical services boxes were located in the miners’ wash house. As each miner came off shift, the batteries for his helmet light had to be recharged. It took eight hours to recharge them; with the various mining shifts, this panel was kept busy twenty-four hours per day.