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By Gray Campbell

Editor’s Note: This interesting step back into Pincher Creek’s commercial history was written by Cowley area rancher and author Gray Campbell. Born in 1912, Campbell would have known first hand much of the history of the Jackson Bros. Hardware Store. The article was composed in honour of the store’s Fiftieth Anniversary in July 1956, and its text reflects many of the events up to that time. Written in a very lively prose, this article really is a history, not only of this business but also of Pincher Creek’s overall commercial heritage. - Farley Wuth

“This month Jackson Bros. Hardware Store celebrates its 50th anniversary and the following history of the firm will help to commemorate the event.

When we talk about the old times, just what do we mean? Do we think of the old timers around now, or the parents of those old timers?

You can go back in history and study some form of civilization in southern Alberta a thousand years. Or you can come up to date and consider the present era, just begun.

We like to think that this wonderful, sweeping community of ours was settled by giants, men of stature who had vision to match the setting. But it wasn’t so.

When Fred Kanouse turned a bull and 21 cows on the open range in 1877, he probably did not realize it was [the] start of an industry. He was more interested in running a trading post.

But they were great men just the same and when we think of the start of the present era, the history of this country seems to run in sequence from buffalo and Indians through whiskey smugglers and fur traders to the N.W.M. Police and then the cattle ranchers as our first agriculturalists.

Business men followed the ranchers. Do you think that they were dull? We are inclined to be dazzled by the red coats of the Mounties in our history and the glamour of cowboys riding for the Walrond, the Bar U [and] the Alberta Ranch.

Just drop into Pincher Creek some time and chat with Scotty Freebairn. Laugh with him over the early days, read his poetry – virile, he-main stuff – and then make up your mind.

Try to imagine this town at the turn of the century. Or perhaps a little before when J. H. Schofield, the first merchant, had opened a log building store in 1883, selling canned goods, chewing tobacco, chaps, spurs and cowboy hats. Tim Lebel freighted in goods from Medicine Hat and in 1884 started in business with T. Hinton. The Pincher Creek Echo started in 1900 (original name Rocky Mountain Echo) was one of the pioneer papers of the south.

When Alberta was born in 1905, the town of Pincher Creek was a lusty infant. Lebel and Kettles had a fine department store [and] Scott Brothers [had] a furniture and vehicle business.

The King Edward Hotel boasted a long distance phone, steam heat, table and bar unsurpassed with rates of $2.00 per day. Cook, McKerricher and Co. advertized 20th Century Clothing, Walk-Over shoes [and] Watson’s and Stanfield underwear.

Breckenridge, the jeweler, had diamonds, silverware, china and watches. Lynch Brothers had a fine livery business, feed and sale stables, boasting the largest livery barn in Alberta.

The Alberta Hotel catered especially to stockmen and farmers – “best $1.50 house on the line; table first class, and bar stocked with the finest in the land.”

The Arlington Hotel had “steam heat modern in all its appointments, with a bus to meet all trains." They claim it was the favorite of the ranchers, the centre of an old time community life when owned by Dobbie and Mitchell.

Fraser and Freebairn, phone 1, had the Quality Store with Fitrite clothing, D. A. Corsets, Caldwell’s tweeds – fresh groceries.

Wooden sidewalks – dusty streets – hitching posts.

J. E. Shoultz had a fine-looking store with wholesale wines, liquors, cigars (which government was in power then?), and at one end of this building Braniff and Harwood sold land from $8.00 to $30.00 an acre.

Fred Forster and E. R. Olmstead advertised “the land of winter wheat, where 40 bushels of wheat and 100 bushels of oats in an average yield per acre – where a market is close at hand in the mining and lumbering towns of the Pass – where a man with small capital can become independent in two years.

High collars – button shoes – fancy vests.

The 41 Market of Staunton Brothers, wholesale and retail meat merchants, was on Main Street and had branches in all the principal towns. The pioneer druggist, E. J. Mitchell, established [in] 1886, and Mrs. S. M. Hinton had fine fruits and confectionery store with “ice cream in season” and soft drinks. Baillie brothers operated The Western Meat Co., and from their own ranch in the North Fork the choicest stock was slaughtered.

The meat markets advertised their goods at “closest prices”, which probably meant a lot closer to bottom than they are today.

J. E. Upton had a high class gents’ furnishing with Picadilly Brand clothing, English riding breeches a specialty. This would be a good line in polo country, the game having been introduced to this continent in 1886 by E. M. Wilmot of the Alberta Ranch. Upton claimed that “we make it a point to be a year ahead of all competitors.”

This was the town of Pincher Creek as you would have found it when Alberta became a Province. Where are these firms today? Many old time names are still around, but only one, not yet mentioned, is still a going concern with a direct descendant in the business. Here is an announcement from The Rocky Mountain Echo of August 17th, 1906:

“Messrs. Jackson Bros. of Regina, who have been here for the past three weeks have purchased the hardware and tinsmithing business of Messrs. Wm. Berry & Son and have taken charge of that line. Messrs. Berry & son have retained the Furniture Department but as they intend retiring from business, will for the next three weeks, offer the whole stock of furniture at cost price.”

The Berry business at that time occupied the building where today [1956] Johnny Milne runs his Massey-Harris agency. By 1907, however, they moved to the building they now occupy, sharing it with others. The west end was occupied by Fraser and Freebairn. Jackson Brothers were in the centre and the east end was occupied by a lawyer, A. C. Kemmis. Jacksons took over the Kemmis side in 1909, and Fraser and Freebairn in 1946.

It must have been quite a change for the Jackson brothers, Arthur, Walter and Cyril, lately of Wigan, Lancaster, immigrating to Canada at the end of the century and turning up in Pincher Creek by way of Regina. They built better than they knew, these Jacksons, for now the oldest business still operating in one of the oldest towns in the Province of Alberta is celebrating its Golden Jubilee.

When they started up, Walter did the finance and bookkeeping, Cyril the hardware and buying, and Arthur the plumbing and tinsmithing, Tom Hoare was foreman in the tin shop and Charlie McAlpin was a clerk. They added another hand when a young fellow arrived in town with the bank and decided to switch jobs. On June 4th, 1907, there was recorded in the Journal a payment of $2.00 to Gordon Tucker, probably an advance in wages for the new employee. Today [1956] Gordon Tucker will wait on you in the store with a smile and a sparkle of his own, with a memory green for the years of service and loyalty to the firm. Old timers remember Gordon as a good hockey player, a member of the volunteer fire department for 44 years and he is still active in the community band, playing drums as he did in 1907.

The Cash Book and journal is full of history. The entries are very neat and readable for the first few months and then deteriorated to the form of personal shorthand. Either business picked up in a hurry or young Walter did not have to try and improve with his first attempt at bookkeeping. They started with a capital of $7,156.44 and paid Wm. Berry & Son $5,750.00 as a first payment. They showed a liability of $6,894.31 for stock, $221.64 for a horse, wagon and harness; [and] $838.52 for tools and fittings.

Frank Lynch hauled goods from Pincher Station, some two miles [distant]. He charged six cents a hundred pounds. He was credited with $10.00 for carting 17,000 pounds during August, 1908. Probably didn’t have to pay income tax, either.

Soon after they started they must have been a little short of stock for on August 8th, 1906, they had to get 20 pounds of nails from the Hudson Bay store across the road, and two days later they picked up 75 pounds of white lead from Tim Lebel.

Pages echo with the names of early customers which found familiar fifty years later. A. E. Cox [was] the first teacher and the second one in southern Alberta. He travelled ahead of the CPR, with horse and cart journeyed to Fort Macleod when he heard a teacher was wanted. Someone got there ahead of him but he was advised to try Pincher Creek where a few of the settlers with children got together and offered him $40.00 a month to start teaching. [Other bookkeeping names included] J. C. Routhier, son of Judge Routhier of Quebec who wrote “O’Canada!’, Dr. J. H. MacEachern of the Waldron Ranche, J.A. Sandgren, LaGrandeur, Cyr, Neil Yellow Wings, Maunsell brothers, Dick Duthie, Little Leaf and so many others. J. Freebairn paid $40 on a Studebaker wagon in 1906. But as Ken Liddell’s book “This is Alberta” points out, there are more men and women of distinction who helped open the West listed in the Pincher Creek area than any other community in the Province. Therefore, it is impossible to list all the names, or to include some without missing others just as important.

It wasn’t all income for the firm. By September of their first year they donated $100 to “building of road” and $5.00 to the hospital. The first item entered, August 8, 1906, shows a credit to the Pincher Creek Club of $1.75 for three trays returned. In those days they had to order stock from Winnipeg and Milwaukee and also, as they have done for half a century, they ordered from the Great West Saddlery and Marshall-Wells Co.

In 1909 Walter married Margaret Bull. And in June of that year is recorded a loan of $600 to W. H. Jackson, probably to help build the house which today [1956] his son, John, lives.

It wasn’t all business either. A bunch of the boys got together and ran their own boarding house. They called it the Wigwam, and hired a cook. Scotty Freebairn was the chairman, Harold Jackson the secretary-treasurer, with members consisting of Arthur and Cyril Jackson, lawyer Donald Thompson and druggist Bill Upton. This was the original bunch, and they had one hard and fast rule. Each member had to clean his own room Sunday morning. They had a piano and it was the favorite hangout for the bank boys, both Commerce and Union. Every year they had two large parties, complete with orchestra. One party was for the young people in town and the other for married people – to pay everyone back for hospitality received. They had the verandah strung with colored lanterns and there was dancing in the living room, dining room and verandah. Forty to fifty guests would be invited at a time. Here’s what chairman Freebairn has to say about those times:

“Guess I know the Jacksons as well as anyone around here. They were serious young men and straighter shooters too. A bunch of us fellows ran our own boarding house – the Wigwam – from 1906 on. I believe you could say that what the Jacksons contributed to the district more than anything was music. We had the odd musician before they arrived but they formed the first orchestra. Let’s see now, Walter played the violin, Cyril the clarinet, Harold the cornet, Arthur the horn and their sister, Mabel was the pianist. About 1907 Walter suggested we form a quadrille club and meet very Friday. The orchestra would call it their practice night and play for us. No charge. We had a dandy club, and the Jackson orchestra played for that. They would never charge for their services, and they were good. If it was a hospital or charity ball, it was always their outfit. Why I can remember on Sunday night after church we’d all meet at Walter’s house and the 12-piece orchestra would play. Gordon Tucker was a whizz on the drums even then. Whenever I think of the Jackson brothers, I remember that fine orchestra and the fun we had before radio and television. I wonder if its’ possible to have that kind of fun today.”

In this anniversary year you may call at Jackson Brothers out of curiosity or friendship or need. If you are sensitive to environment you cannot escape the feeling of a family atmosphere about the store with Gordon Tucker, John Jackson or Aunt Mary in the office. She is the widow of Harold, who was a lawyer, and a sister of Mrs. Gordon Tucker. You might well ask when does a business firm become a institution. In this country, through drought, depression and two world wars, anything that can survive fifty years seems to have a claim.

So, half a century has rolled by since the founding of this firm. And just what, out of the past, is there left? Arthur retired in 1922 and moved to Edmonton, where he lives in poor health. Walter, quiet and serious, to whom everyone came for advice, who loved bridge, golf, fishing and curling, had the reputation of being worst shot in the country, has passed on. Cyril, bubbling with energy and good humor, continually on the go and joshing with customers, is a men well remembered because he was always willing to oblige people at any time of day or night – cheerfully, untiring service with a smile – that built and maintained the firm’s reputation. A small man who was a marvel in sports; tops in golf, tennis, shooting, or any sport requiring a keen eye and co-ordination of the body. He also has passed on.

Le plus ca change, le plus c’est le meme. As the years roll by, one cannot help remarking how true it is. This is one expression (of many) where we must borrow from the French and in translation the English really does not express the true meaning. You may choose between “the more change, the more similarity” or “the more change there is, the more things remain the same.” Let Us try to apply it here.

When John, Walter’s son, finished school in Pincher Creek he was articled to Ritchie, Paterson & Co. at Lethbridge, and became a chartered accountant. Two years with Price, Waterhouse & Co. and then war. With the RCAF, the last two years spent in London, he returned to a completely different sort of life in the little home town. In 1946 he found his father had been carrying on in failing health, assisted by the ever-faithful Gordon Tucker.

In that year Jackson Brothers was taken over by a new partnership consisting of Gordon and his son, Ted, and John Jackson.

Ted grew up in the business and carries on the tradition set by his father on the pattern of Walter and Cyril Jackson. A continuing spirit of devotion to community affairs included service on the Fire Department, as Scoutmaster and Sunday School teacher.

The name Tucker is therefore synonymous with the name of Jackson Brothers. In fact Gordon has often been addressed as “Mr. Jackson”. As often as one thinks of Jackson Brothers, one thinks of the Tuckers. But when a change in name was considered in 1946, the Tuckers would not hear of it. It’s a nice thing to know in this day and age.

Today we have a second generation Jackson backed by a first and second generation Tucker. But the Tuckers could outvote the Jacksons. What about the future?

You can go in there today and get a complete set of harness, a side-saddle, ammunition for rifles long out of date, stirrups, chaps or whips. You may look at the catalogues that go back to the beginnings. You may wander about the various departments and remember the past.

Somewhere in the store you may spot three likely looking lads stroking new saddles, and if you smile at them, they may return the smile shyly. And what do you know, they could be the Jackson brothers – Bill, Lawrie and Douglas – sons of John, and the third generation in Pincher Creek.

Le plus ca change . . .”

Source: Adapted from Gray Campbell, “Jackson Bros. Celebrate 50th Anniversary In Pincher Creek”, The Pincher Creek Echo, Vol. 55, No. 48, Thursday, 19th July 1956, pp. 1 & 2.

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