FURTHER INSIGHTS INTO PINCHER CREEK’S EARLIEST COMMERCIAL HERITAGE
by Farley Wuth, Curator,
Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
Copyright, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society
Many intriguing yet partially forgotten local businesses from the pages of Pincher Creek’s history date to the 1880s. The list is by no means complete – there were many additional commercial ventures from days gone by. Some have stories to tell, but due to the ravages of time, now offer tantalizing yet incomplete glimpses into the past.
AN EARLY EXAMPLE OF BLACKSMITHING
One of those fascinating tales from the early days of Pincher Creek’s frontier settlement was that of a blacksmith shop alleged to have been started in 1884 by a fellow by the name of Grenier. This business’ launch was only six short years after the establishment of the Mounties’ Detachment and Horse Ranch here, and came into business the year following the start of Pincher Creek’s first business venture, that general store operated by Schofield & Hyde. Little is known of its operation, other than it was located immediately west of what was, twenty years later, to become the King Edward Hotel. Behind the shop and towards our winding creek was located a brick house in which the Grenier Family resided. Some sixty years after its construction, the blacksmith shop was still standing on Pincher Creek’s dusty Main Street. During the early 1940s, it was owned by Harry Tucker and still used for blacksmithing purposes.
Like the modern automotive garage, the blacksmith shops of the 1880s were critical business operations. Through the adept use of a forge, the blacksmith painstakingly shaped and repaired all sorts of horseshoes, metal tools and wagon wheels. A vast assortment of heavy tools, in demand by all ranching, mining, and lumbering trades, usually adorned the walls, and was either used by the blacksmiths themselves or often was purchased by the locals. With Pincher Creek’s increasing commercial role within the local ranching industry, blacksmithing was a booming business. Grenier’s efforts launched one of the first such shops within the community, and by the time of the farming boom a generation later, there were an additional three or four shops, large and spacious, conducting a thriving business.
THE NATURE OF LOCAL BUSINESS IN 1886
Even during the early years, local commercial outlets boomed. According the memoirs of Mrs. Johanna (Wittkopf) Schoening, who arrived in the Pincher Creek area during the summer of 1886, a thriving business core already existed. She noted upon her arrival that there were then two blacksmith shop; a hardware store and carpenter shop, in both which Joe and Tom Hinton had business interests; one hotel (this was the earliest version of the old Alberta Hotel, operated by the Connelly Brothers), and two busy stores – the first was the Schofield and Hyde partnership destined to be bought out later that year by the Hudson’s Bay Company, and the second being the Lebel and Kettles operation destined to hold a prominent position in local business circles for nearly another thirty years. Most of these businesses were clustered along a one-block section of Main Street, extending as far west as Christie Avenue.
These outlets were easily accessible to most parts of this frontier settlement. Early residential development took place further west on Main Street, a small portion of the South Hill adjacent to the old Catholic Church, a portion of the valley floor east of the horse ranch, and to the north of the Creek in what was commonly known to the locals as “Mordenville” stood a few cluster of houses on Bridge, Morden and Albert Avenues. Both the north and south sections of this little settlement had been surveyed during the early 1880s by pioneers Albert Morden and Charles Kettles. As early as 1898, a wooden bridge connecting the two portions of the community spanned the Creek.
EARLY PHOTOGRAPHY BUSINESSES
A unique and corresponding booming business of those early days was that of Hector Perrier’s Photography Gallery. For nearly a decade, it stood on Main Street just west of the old Arlington Hotel. Very early images of Pincher Creek had been taken by Steele and Company, a national company which often set up shop in local communities. The story goes they had a shop, briefly, on the south side of the street and situated a block further west than Perrier’s business. An image shows a very modest, although brightly white washed, shed type structure complete with a small chimney; a small McClarey wood or coal fed stove likely provided the only heat. The latter, although a few years later, proved to be a more thriving enterprise as Perrier was well respected within the local community. He was fondly known by his friends as “Hec”. It is recalled that he specialized in First Nations and pioneer family/individual portraits as well as community landmarks i.e. pioneer dwellings and business establishment. Some of his visual contributions are preserved in a promotional booklet entitled Souvenir of Pincher Creek, Alberta, N.W.T.: A Western Town and Its People. Perrier’s business continued locally till 1916, midway through the First World War when he relocated to Jasper National Park.
Fortunately for those interested in preserving our community’s history, the work of both of these businesses ensured that there were numerous images of Pincher Creek taken during the pioneer eras. Some of them now are housed in the Archives of the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village but many more are in private collections or have been lost to the ravages of time. Should anyone have such photos hidden away in old attics or trunks, please let us know – you can give us a call at (403) 627-3684, drop by to see us at Pioneer Place or email Farley at firstname.lastname@example.org. These early images are essential for the preservation of our frontier history.