A LOOK BACK AT A FEW OF THOSE PIONEER LIVERY STABLES
by Farley Wuth, Curator,
Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
Copyright, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society
Pincher Creek’s settlement history dates back to an era long before the automobile was a reality for most rural consumers. Much of this was impacted by the limited technology and frontier roads conditions common prior to the outbreak of the First World War. Other than the railway, which had geographical limitations, the most popular means of local or long distance transportation was by horseback or by horse and buggy.
IMPORTANT ROLES OF LIVERY STABLES IN RURAL SETTLEMENTS
One of the more visible and memorable aspects from this era of horse drawn transportation was the use of livery stables. Featured prominently in most rural settlements, these generally large structures, usually situated along the dusty Main Street or close to places of commerce, served three vital purposes.
The first was to provide temporary shelter for ranchers’ and farmers’ horses when these agriculturalists came to town on business. For a fee, feed and water were provided in these barns, which also offered “out of the weather” shelter for these beasts of burden as their owners scurried around town acquiring a few badly needed consumer goods and ranching gear, while at the same time socializing with friends and neighbors.
In many instances such trips to town were taken only on a monthly basis, if even that frequent. The second aspect of the livery stable’s business was to rent out horses and buggies to those town folk who did not have access to such transportation themselves. This service perhaps was not as in high demand as was boarding horses from rural customers.
And finally, a unique livery barn service found in Pincher Creek itself was that our local entrepreneurs offered regular horse and buggy service between their stables or the hotels in town and the nearest Canadian Pacific Railway station two miles north in Pincher City. Without a direct rail connection here in this ranching settlement, such a “bus” connection was vital in ensuring people and goods had a direct connection with outside rail access.
Livery stables therefore provided a badly needed boarding and transportation service in Pincher Creek from its establishment in 1878 through 1914, the start of World War One. Scattered across town were five livery stables, owned by at least six pioneer families.
ARLINGTON HOTEL LIVERY STABLE
Perhaps one of the earliest such place of business to be established in Pincher Creek was that of the Dobbie Livery Stable, sometimes also known as the Livery Barn for the Arlington Hotel. One 1906 advertizement labeled it the Central Livery Feed and Sale Stables, due to its location in the heart of Pincher Creek. Pioneer businessman and local politician William R. Dobbie, who arrived in the Pincher Creek area in the late 1880s, appears to have been the sole owner and operator of the stable.
In 1892, Dobbie entered into a business partnership with local druggist E. J. Mitchell, and purchased a portion of “The Brick Hotel”, a popular overnight stopping point and watering hole located just east of what was to become Lebel’s and Kettles’ sandstone business block. The hotel had been established a few years earlier by Mitchell, in partnership with Charles Geddes. By 1904 Dobbie and Mitchell expanded the hotel to include a two story addition to the east of the existing structure. Mitchell passed away in 1911, and Dobbie a decade later, but the Arlington remained a local landmark till it was torn down circa 1951.
Dobbie’s Livery Stable was located immediately east of the Arlington, on the property now occupied by Pincher Creek’s Memorial Park. Smaller in size than the hotel and resembling a frontier structure in appearance, it was a one and a half story log building. Horses were sheltered in a variety of main floor stalls, and an ample sized loft was upstairs. Sliding stable and loft doors faced onto the street from the south side of the building. The stable likely dated from the mid-1890s, and it appears that a smaller shed type addition was later made to the east side of the original structure. A small wooden sign identifying Dobbie’s Livery Stable was attached to the street side of the loft.
SHARP BUSINESS SKILLS
William Dobbie’s entrepreneurial interests with the livery and hotel were closely intertwined. Although the livery likely could have survived as its own business, its physical and commercial connections with the Arlington ensured that it had a stronger trade. The Hotel was one of the local establishments advertizing that horse drawn buggies would meet every train stopping in Pincher City, a must for all incoming and outgoing passengers. At one point this meant meeting four trains daily in the railway settlement to the north. Yet the livery stable also provided horse, buggy and driver services for those who needed to travel into the rural areas. This service was particularly in high demand from early medical doctors whose house calls often extended as many as thirty miles distant to Waterton Lakes to the south and the famed Waldrond Ranch to the northwest. It was because of his livery stable that Dobbie secured in 1906 the weekly mail service between Pincher Creek and Oil City, with drop offs at Dry Fork and Twin Butte.
Ever the astute businessman, Dobbie realized the significance of effective marketing for his livery stable. A 1906 advertizing campaign promoted his business by noting the quality of his services. “Teaming of all kinds promptly attended to” and “Best equipment Livery in Alberta” were his slogans. This local businessman also advertized that he bought and sold horses on a regular basis. A display ad in the May 21st 1906 issue of The Rocky Mountain Echo also promoted Dobbie’s Livery Stable as the best transportation service west of Winnipeg. Rubber tired buggies accompanied by good drivers were his claim to fame. Family carriages with or without a coachman could be hired.
One of Dobbie’s long time livery stable employees was its manager, William Agnew. He adeptly served in that capacity till shortly before the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Agnew was born in June 1883 in Ontario, to parents of English ancestry. His wife Marie, two years his senior, also was of English heritage. The couple had one daughter, born in April 1910. The family attended the Pincher Creek Presbyterian Church, located a mere two and one half blocks away from Agnew’s place of work on the north side of Main Street. The church property on Police Avenue now is the site of our United Church.
W. R. Dobbie’s livery stable had a good economic grounding, which ensured its survival till the First World War. Its history was comparable to that of another important livery barn, a massive two-story Main Street structure, first operated by the Robbins Family and later by the Lynch Brothers.
LIVERY STABLE ESTABLISHED BY FRED ROBBINS
This impressive building was constructed in 1903 or 1904 by Fred H. Robbins (1876 – 1965), who first came to the Pincher Creek area at the age of 19 years. He helped his brother on this homestead in the Porcupine Hills, but left two years later to assist the family in their livery stable business in Everett, Washington. He also worked in the lumber industry in Fernie. Both postings gave him valuable experience for his upcoming Pincher Creek endeavours, and by 1903 his yearnings to settle in Pincher Creek brought him back to this frontier ranching settlement. He built his livery stable utilizing lumber hauled in from Fernie.
The livery stable was a massive two-story affair, facing south from the north side of Main Street. A wide sliding door provided access to the many main floor stalls where the horses were stabled. The loft upstairs was used for community events, and was fondly recalled by local pioneers for its many dances. A customer entrance was located just west of the overhanging door, and there were four standard pioneer windows facing the street. Smaller windows could be seen along the west and east walls, providing light access into the stalls. Four chimneys poked through the building’s roof. Several wood burning stoves were placed strategically within the complex, providing heat while at the same time ensuring that the building, its horses and feed did not go up in flames.
The site chosen for Robbin’s Livery Stable was just across the street from the Hudson’s Bay Co. Store, a location that a decade later would prove fateful for the stable’s future. In the meantime, the location was great, as it was nearly two blocks east of Dobbie’s place of business. Although Robbin’s operation was not physically close to a hotel, it did have a contract, at least for a couple of years, to pick up passengers from the King Edward Hotel. More importantly, the stable’s eastern location meant that it picked up much of the traffic from east of town, particularly that which traveled from Fort Macleod on the old Macleod Trail.
Effective advertizing and modern equipment were part of Robbins’ business plan. An early advertizement noted that he had “a new stable and [it] can furnish the finest turnouts in the city, both single and double rigs and saddle horses. Prices right. Careful drivers. Storage & forwarding. Special attention to riding men. Horses bought & sold”. A high pressure water pump, used to keep Robbins’ wagons and buggies clean, is now an artifact on exhibit at the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village.
STABLE PURCHASED BY THE LYNCH BROS.
Fred Robbins sold his Main Street livery stable in 1906, but as we will see later, this was not the end of the story of the Robbins’ Family involvement in the stable business in Pincher Creek. The business was sold to the Lynch Bros., Frank C. and W. Alexander who too had previous livery stable experience. The extended Lynch Family originated in New Brunswick, but several members traveled west to take up farming in the Pincher Creek area.
At one point their business venture was known as the Lynch Bros. Livery Stable, and at other times locals knew it as the Pincher Creek Livery Stable. The names appear to have been used interchangeably. Another change from the previous owners was the extensive signage placed on the front of the building which read “Livery, Feed And Stable. Baggage And Freight Transferred. Bus (horse and buggy) Meets All Trains”. An extensive set of billboards and flyers were attached to the structure’s street side and west wall, both of which were highly visible to the public. Most of these appear to have been public service announcements of upcoming community events.
Lynch Bros. claimed to be the largest livery barn in Alberta, with accommodations for over one hundred horses. Their advertizing schemes claimed that they “paid best attention to transient stock” and had “good rigs and saddle horses”. These were popular with commercial salesmen and the travelling public. As part of their business this livery stable also hauled freight and coal as they had heavy work teams.
The Pincher Creek Livery had several esteemed employees over the years. One was Wallace Gladstone who served as a stableman from at least 1911 through late 1913. His family was the famous Mountain Mill clan initially associated with it’s sawmill. Lionel A. Langton helped in a managerial capacity with the livery in 1911. By late 1913 many of these duties had been taken over by James E. Shultz.
DISTEROUS FIRE OF 1913
Disaster struck the Pincher Creek Livery during the early hours of Sunday, November 23rd 1913 when the building tragically burned to the ground. The fire had started, due to unknown causes, in the Hudson’s Bay Co. Store across the street and destroyed that store as well. Other businesses that were destroyed in this fire, the worse in Pincher Creek’s history up to that point, included George Marcellus’ Warehouse and the old Hewetson Block, which housed several smaller commercial outlets. Other neighbouring stores including the I.X.L. Blacksmith Shop located just east of the Pincher Creek Livery, and Jackson Bros. Hardware to the west were badly damaged but were saved from destruction.
According to news reports the fire had been spotted at 4 a.m., and the alarm turned in by William Dobbie. Although the Pincher Creek Fire Brigade fought valiantly for three hours, the four businesses consumed by the fire could not be saved. Only the fast thinking and action of James Shultz, assisted by a Mr. Tensh, saved all of the horses stabled at the Livery that night. Folklore indicates that they were exited through a rear (north) door of the structure moments before the building was engulfed in flames. Approximately three thousand dollars insurance was carried on five thousand dollars worth of supplies and equipment.
In the issue of The Pincher Creek Echo hitting the street following these sad events, the Pincher Creek Livery placed an announcement that it wished to continue the business. The “old Hudson’s Bay Warehouse”, located nearby the just gutted livery, had been leased for stable purposes, and could accommodate up to fifty horses at a time. A public appeal was made for the public’s continued patronage. However, times were changing. After the war more people had access to vehicles, resulting in less demand for livery stables. The financial losses resulting from that 1913 fire also would have been difficult to overcome. The old glory days of the Pincher Creek Livery had literally passed.
The Arlington Hotel and Pincher Creek Liveries perhaps were the two better remembered stables from our local history. But what also is interesting to note that the two families who owned the Pincher Creek Livery, the Robbins and Lynches, actually were involved in other commercial ventures during those pre-World War One boom years. The Lynches had an early log venture on Main Street, while the Robbins had a later frame outlet north of Pincher Creek’s pioneer bridge on Bridge Avenue.
PIONEER LOG STABLE OWNED BY LYNCH AND BEEBE FAMILIES
History tells us that many years prior to their 1906 purchase of the Pincher Creek Livery, siblings Frank C. and W. Alexander Lynch actually owned and operated a smaller livery stable, this one centrally located on the south side of Main Street and just east of the Alberta Hotel. This building was of a true western Canadian frontier style, the lower level being constructed of large logs numbering perhaps ten or twelve. A small loft was built of roughly hewn lumber. A sliding barn door accessed the front or north side of the building from the street. Just above it was a brightly painted wooden sign announcing to the public the “Pincher Creek Livery Stable”. To the rear or south side of the main stable was another one and a half story structure, also constructed of roughly hewn sawn lumber. This building could have been used for stable purposes or for the storage of rigs, harnesses and gear.
Archival photos of this early livery stable show that it was a busy place of business. One such image depicts two buggies, each pulled by two horse teams, in front of the Lynch’s business outlet. A third team of horses, pulling a wagon of feed, was located just to the west of the building. Another pair of horses and riders was on Main Street, and there were fourteen people on and around the rigs. Although this may have been a staged photo used for advertizing purposes, its implication was that that the stable was well patronized by customers.
Local folklore indicates that this livery stable may have been the first one constructed in Pincher Creek. It was built in 1885 by Jim Connelly whose family had connections with the area’s ranching and freighting industries. The Connellys also had early proprietorship connections with the Alberta Hotel, located just to the west of this livery. This launched a more than two-decade business link between the two structures whereby the livery became known informally as the Alberta Hotel Stables.
Later that same decade the livery was purchased by Charles Beebe whose wife, the former Jane Anne (she may have gone by her second name) Connelly, was a sister of Jim Connelly. According to the 1901 Dominion of Canada Census, Beebe was born on March 17th, 1857 and Jane was born nearly a year earlier, on April 1st, 1856. The couple also operated a small confectionery shop across the street to the east, prior to the construction of the Bank of Commerce building there. Charles Beebe passed away on November 15th, 1906 and is buried in Pincher Creek’s pioneer cemetery.
The Lynch Brothers were subsequent owners. By 1888 the livery had been purchased by local businessman Henry Ernest Hyde, who specialized in banking services. Hyde owned the building until the autumn of 1905 when it was sold to the Pincher Creek branch of the Union Bank of Canada. It was torn down the following August to make room for the Bank’s two-story stone structure being constructed on that street corner. Even during this pioneer era, the loss of one of Pincher Creek’s oldest historic buildings was publicly lamented. The news story of its destruction was picked up by both our Pincher Creek Echo and by the regional Lethbridge Herald.
UNIQUE FEATURES OF THE ALBERTA LIVERY STABLES
The Fred Robbins Family had further commercial interests than just the large livery stable located across from the Hudson’s Bay Co. Store. Following the 1906 sale of that business, Fred and his brother Alfred W. established a livery stable out at Pincher City, situated adjacent to the CPR Station. The business partnership lasted about a year. Fred continued with the business there, but Alfred chose to establish a smaller, yet very profitable, livery barn in Pincher Creek itself. This was located along the west side of Bridge Avenue at a point immediately north of the Creek. The Waldorf Hotel was located just to its north.
Although this stable of frame construction was the only such business not located on Main Street, nevertheless it remained highly visible from the settlement’s core. Built on two levels, the eastern portion faced onto the street and was accessed via two barn doors. Because the structure was located so close to the Creek, it was supported by a series of wooden trusses, as was the plank way that connected it with the street. Adorned by two wooden railways, this highly picturesque entrance was more than sturdy enough to handle the teams of horses and wagons utilizing Alfred Robbins’ stable. Two windows featured in the south or creek side of the building allowed Robbins to watch for incoming business.
Alfred Robbins named his business the Alberta Livery Stables. He was a hands-on business owner, but did employ some very capable help. Local pioneer Robert Gunn worked there as a stableman for several years prior to the outbreak of the First World War. Born in Ontario in October 1866, his wife was the former Mary Gallagher, whom he married in November 1905. She was six and one-half years his junior. By 1914 H. Joseph Chaput served as the Alberta Livery Stables’ Manager. Born in Quebec in July 1883, he was 31 when he was looking after this business. Relatives of this esteemed pioneer resided in both the Tanner and Fishburn Districts. His sister Frances Chaput, ten years his senior, was a Pincher Creek based dressmaker and milliner.
Like its contemporaries, the Alberta Livery Stables promoted its services through the local press. A display advertisement in one autumn 1912 issue of The Pincher Creek Echo claimed that it had the “most stylish turn-outs in town”, and that it paid particular attention to the travelling needs of the out-of-town visitor and business person.
Given the massive technology and transportation changes seen in the past century, commercially operated livery barns have since long gone out of business. But they do offer fascinating glimpses into the past and speak of an important trade that took place when non-mechanized transportation was king in rural areas.