THE GENERAL STORE
By Farley Wuth, Curator,
Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
Copyright, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society
Depicted in KBPV’s Reg and Mildred Beere Exhibition Hall – is the pioneer general store which was the centerpiece of any frontier settlement’s commercial district. Pincher Creek’s business heritage reflects the importance of a number of early business outlets.
This Northwest Mounted Police and ranching settlement quickly became the commercial centre for the outlying districts. People came in monthly, sometimes weekly, to purchase supplies, collect their mail and visit with neighbors and friends – trips from the country combined business with social affairs. Shopping was an outing reveled by pioneers often fraught with isolation.
Pincher Creek’s first general store was the Schofield and Hyde Store established in 1883. A variety of frontier era goods were retailed there. Limited quantities of groceries, dry goods, hardware items and clothing adorned the long and narrow shelves darkly lit by modern standards. Business transactions were supplemented by the Dominion Post Office, Pincher Creek’s first, which also operated out of the store. So successful its volume of commerce that within three short years of its establishment the store was sold to the Hudson’s Bay Company. General stores in outlying settlements included Laidlaws Grocerteria in Pincher City, the Schofield General Store in Cowley, the Lundbreck Trading Company established in 1907 and Beaver Mines’ Ballantyne General Store which dated to the 1910s.
As Pincher Creek grew and prospered, new larger Department Stores followed. These offered a larger selection of all types of traditional goods, and were accompanied by credit for all approved customers. In store shopping was supplemented by mail order catalogues. Some Department Stores were independently owned, perhaps the most memorable being the T. Lebel and Company which was housed in a massive three-storey stone structure majestically situated at the corner of Main Street and Christie Avenue. Others, such as the retail outlet which the Hudson’s Bay Company grew into, were headquartered elsewhere. Additional community-based ventures featured the Pincher Creek Co-operative Association Ltd. which dates back to 1922. Business blocks included the Scott Block which sat on the south side of Main Street from its 1904 construction to its destruction by fire in December 1950 and the Gill Block which sat across the street in the early 1900s. Dry Good Stores were highlighted by the Freebairn Co. Ltd. from 1919 to 1952 and by Harvey Bossenberry’s Haberdasher established in 1911. One of Pincher Creek’s earliest hardware stores was Wm. Berry and Sons, established in 1886 and purchased a generation later by Jackson Bros. Two pioneer drug stores adorned Main Street: E. J. Mitchell’s business dating to 1886 was taken over a quarter of a century later by the Cornyn family; and Samuel McCrea’s early 1900s store down the street which was sold to Charlie Colpman in 1927. The hospitality industry was represented by the Alberta, Arlington, King Edward (built in 1904) and Waldorf Hotels. The two-storey sandstone Union Bank of Canada completed in 1907, which became the Royal Bank in 1925, was across the street from the 1905 Bank of Commerce.
Pincher Creek’s vibrant commercial heritage truly is reflective of a diversity of frontier business establishments that served both town and rural customers.
The west façade of the Reg and Mildred Beere Exhibition Hall reflects six of those pioneer commercial outlets, from north to south: Lynch Bros. Livery Stable, A. E. Cornyn Drugstore, T. Lebel & Co. Department Store, King Edward Hotel, Union Bank and Jackson Bros. Hardware.