TALES OF THE CADILLAC CAFÉ
By Farley Wuth, Curator,
Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
Copyright, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society
Pincher Creek’s vibrant commercial history is dotted with a series of independent enterprises, each noted for their pioneer spirit. One of those examples was that of the Cadillac Café.
In terms of its name and marketing, the Cadillac Café reflected the best of both worlds. Its prestigious name was built upon the best quality of service, friendliness, and good meals expected from a food commercial outlet of three quarters of a century ago. Yet this place of business also was a gathering place for locals where they could socialize with their friends and neighbors over a casual cup of coffee. Such were the much appreciated traditions of a small town business.
PRIME LOCATION IN THE OLD SCOTT BLOCK
For years, the Cadillac Café was a mainstay of the many businesses that occupied the old Scott Block on the south side of Main Street. Constructed in 1904 by businessman Thomas Herron Scott (1886 – 1949), whose commercial ventures also included a furniture store and funeral parlour, this eye-catching landmark stood for nearly half a century until its demise due to fire in early December 1950. Published local history sources indicate that this eatery was located on the main floor of this two-story wooden structure, nearly midway down the long line of intriguing storefronts. To the east were the Pat Burns and Company Butcher Shop (one of several such shops across southern Alberta owned by the famous cattle baron and Calgary Stampede promoter) and the pool hall operated by W. D. Cyr. To the west sat the law offices of Donald Thomson and Harold Jackson (later occupied by the School District), the bakery first operated by the Macleod Bros and later Mr. Milne (the topic of last week’s history article), and a hardware store first operated by Ormand and Alexander and subsequently bought out by department store owner W. J. McRoberts.
Pictorially, the Cadillac Café was noted for its large, square glass window that reflected out onto the dusty and busy Main Street. A wood and glass door, adorned above by a smaller glass transom window, provided public access into the premises from the sweeping wooden boardwalk outside. Café deliveries likely were received at the rear of the premises, via an alley adjoining the south side of the Scott Block.
The precise years of when this much coveted outlet operated is not clear but it appears that the Café was in full swing from shortly after the end of the First World War. It appears as a listing in both the 1924 and 1928/29 Henderson’s Directories for Pincher Creek and continued in business for many years after that. The Café was well patronized by locals who appreciated its good western and Chinese food and desserts.
ASTUTE BUSINESS PRACTICES
Two business people owned the Cadillac Café over its history. The first proprietor was Quong Tai who apparently owned the business during the 1920s. He was affectionately known by his many patrons as “Slim the Chinese”. Later, the Café was owned and operated by another Chinese entrepreneur whom the public simply knew as “Shorty”. Unfortunately, much of the documented chronologies of these two fine individuals have been lost from the pages of history.
Ever the astute businessmen, both owners realized the importance of building up a local clientele. Often they allowed patrons to establish credit at the café and pay off their bills whenever they could. This practice ensured that customers would return and not be scared off by a cash only payment system. In an era before automated banking and an extensive use of credit cards, both Slim and Shorty were more than prepared to accept good cheques in payment for outstanding bills. Cheques were as good as good within a rural community. One such cheque, written out on April 2nd, 1925, provided payment in the amount of fifteen dollars to the Cadillac Café for meals consumed. The cheque was drawn upon the Pincher Creek branch of the Union Bank of Canada, housed in that impressive two-story sandstone building that stood just west of the Scott Block. This cheque is one of a set now carefully housed in the Archives of the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village.
These smaller businesses provide intriguing historical accounts of Pincher Creek’s commercial development.
Sources: Adapted from Pincher Creek and District Historical Society, Cataloguing Database re the Cadillac Café.