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Tag: Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village

Pincher Creek artisan Laurel Francis displays her “Alberta Buckskin Rose” quilt

Acceptance and strength sewn into works of local artisan

Acceptance is everything to local quiltmaker and lost arts teacher Laurel Francis. As a mixed-race person, acceptance has been a fight.

“I remember at five years old, a rock being thrown through our window, and them telling us to leave,” she says, describing the white middle-class neighbourhood where she grew up. 

The community worried that the Black family would devalue their houses and targeted them as the only Black faces there.

“We weren’t accepted in the local schools because we were mixed race,” Francis says. “So my father threatened to write an article about it. And miraculously, we’ve gotten to school.”

Francis’s parents taught her how to be strong in a world like this, and the lessons she takes from them continue to influence her life and work today.


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“When we were kids, we wanted to be white. We desperately wanted to be white. We would walk around with mops around our heads and pretend that we were white because white people had friends, had lives, and we didn’t,” she says.

“My mom used to say, ‘But honies, what do you like, white milk or chocolate milk? You just have a little bit more chocolate, be happy.”

From her mom, Francis also learned values of kindness and self-sufficiency, which influenced her off-grid and cheese-making lifestyle in the MD of Pincher Creek.

“It was my mother who said, find a need, fill a need,” says Francis. “You’ll always have work if you find a need and fill a need.”

Francis’s late father was a Black rights activist, whom she called her political and social compass. This led to her first personally inspired quilt, depicting a compass, when her father, at the time sick in the hospital, asked when she would start to put more of herself into her work.



“My dad always said, use your voice. You don’t have to beat people over the head with things, but just use your voice to just show people what’s happening.”

This was what inspired the quilt “Still a Long Way to Go,” depicting a Black man in an iron muzzle typically used as a vocal restraint on women. The piece drew on what Francis was feeling about world events and the oppression of Black and mixed-race individuals. 

But her work was not always taken in with open minds. She says that when she put this work out, emphasizing “still a long way to go,” some people took offence.

“It was, ‘What are you doing that for?’ ‘Why are you saying that?’ ” says Francis. “They weren’t happy. I don’t care, I have a voice, I’m gonna use it.”

However, in doing shows with Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village museum, Francis saw the community embracing her work.

“I want acceptance, I want everybody to accept each other,” she says.


Table setting of wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.


Though pleased with her acceptance into rural community, fair treatment and respect in Pincher Creek was not easy for a Black person to get.

“First thing I was told was, ‘I don’t want to be your friend because I don’t know how long you’re gonna last,’ ” she says.

“It was tough and I was by myself and I wasn’t sure how this was gonna go.”

In one of her early experiences in the town, Francis witnessed a business that was gruff towards Indigenous customers and herself, which she later called to point out its discriminatory treatment.

She was grateful the business listened to her and began to change its ways. 

“I’ve spent my life trying to knock the walls down. I want the walls down. And I think I’ve succeeded,” she says.

“I think people see me not as Laurel, person of colour. But Laurel the person who quilts and makes cheese and teaches cheese classes and teaches this and teaches that, that’s what I’m known for. I like that I’m not known for my colour.”



This builds on the legacy of her father, who advocated for Black rights through his newspaper work, TV show, poems on CBC, films with the National Film Board, and more. This legacy included leaving behind strong children.

“Everybody gets raised with their own little prejudices,” says Francis. “He wasn’t trying to say how terrible people are. He was trying to say, ‘Open your mind. Let’s all live together.’”

All of her quilts include an element of strength. 

Today, her quilts are all over Canada, from art galleries to local shows to friends and family to customers who’ve bought her patterns.

| Also see From cowboys to businesswomen: celebrating local Black history this Juneteenth


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Front page of July 3, 2024, issue of Shootin' the Breeze – two young girls in Canada Day photo booth at Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village in Pincher Creek

Shootin’ the Breeze – July 3, 2024

Discover what’s happening in Pincher Creek and Crowsnest Pass including Canada Day photos, local council concerns and community projects.

This week’s headlines:

Celebrating Canada Day in style

Pincher Creek town council raises concerns over provincial legislation

Pincher Creek Emergency Services receives vehicle donation from Plains Midstream

Key takeaways from the 2024 Alberta Energy Outlook

A conversation with new NDP leader Naheed Nenshi about rural interests

My Little Corner – Catching up with Jess

Breeze Mailbox – Crowsnest resident wants cyclists to be more courteous

Summer bike safety with local fire chief

Crownsest Pass to see trail improvements this summer

Fawn season is here in Pincher Creek: town issues safety advisory

Embrace volunteerism this summer

Crowsnest Conservation completes Bee Aware project

Heritage Acres needs helping hands

Peter Van Bussel urges fellow grads to stay authentic and unique

Silver Reins 4-H Club hosts 31st annual achievement day

Celebrating the spirit of community: the significance of powwows

Tips for keeping off-road vehicles safe this summer

Frontier Canadian Recollections – Chronicles of Pincher Creek area’s gas industry Part 1

Obituary: James Tillack

Plus local events, contests, concerts, community notices, job opportunities, service directory, Coffee Break puzzles and general information for Pincher Creek, Crowsnest Pass and Piikani Nation.

Farley Wuth, a moustached man wearing a bowler hat, shows an historic image.

Pioneers with business and homesteading origins

Pincher Creek’s historical landscape is dotted with an array of early pioneers and their contributions, many in the commercial and agricultural realms. Here are a couple of their stories. 

Marion Millar Kew

Early businesswoman and community activist Marion Kew had pioneer roots in both Pincher Creek and Stavely. Her maiden name was Millar, and she was born in Merrickville, Ont., in the late 1890s. She was one of three children, two daughters and one son, born to Mr. and Mrs. William Millar.

Her brother, Harry, resided in Ontario all his life but the two sisters wandered west. The first to arrive in Pincher Creek was her older sister, who married Dr. J.J. Gillespie, a medical doctor who set up shop here. They resided in the former Schofield Family home on what was then Bridge Avenue.

Upon the passing of Marion’s mother, just prior to the outbreak of the First World War, William Millar and his second daughter moved out to Pincher Creek, where they resided with the Gillespies.

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Marion Millar quickly became involved in Pincher Creek’s social life. She took an active interest in both the Alexandra Rebekah Lodge No. 8 of the Oddfellows and the Capt. McPhail Chapter of the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire.

She also was a local captain of the Girl Guides and sang regularly in the Pincher Creek United Church choir.

A big change in her life came in early 1926 when accepted a job offer as manager of the James H. Brand store in Stavely. A few months later, on Sept. 16, Marion Millar and Wilson L. Kew were united in marriage. Kew was the editor of the Stavely Advertiser, that community’s weekly newspaper.


Also read | Pioneer doctor Edward Connor began career in Pincher Creek


She continued to be active in her new home town and transferred her Rebekah membership to that community.

Marion Kew took ill and passed away in June 1934.

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Archie and Jessie McKerricher

Archie and Jessie McKerricher had a long commercial history with Pincher Creek, but their original connection with the area was agricultural.

Archie Douglas McKerricher was born in Plantagenet, Ont., in January 1878. He was the fifth of seven children — three sons and four daughters — born to Daniel and Annie Stuart McKerricher. Archie was raised in nearby London, where he went to school.

His wife, the former Jessie Florence McColl, was born in nearby Glanworth, Ont., on April 11, 1879. The couple married in 1906 and were blessed with three children.


Also read | Frontier chronicles of the Fugina family


Their daughter Annie was born in September 1907 here in the Pincher Creek area. As an adult, she became Mrs. S. Holden of Calgary.

Son Duncan was born just over three years later, in October 1910. Years later, he resided in Devon, Alta.

Their youngest child, Lexie, passed away on Oct. 1, 1915, at the age of 20 months.

By the late 1960s, there were four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren in the McKerricher family.

Archie McKerricher had moved to the West in 1902, first establishing a homestead in the Chipman Creek district. It was located five miles east of Pincher Creek and immediately west of the Piikani First Nation reserve. He farmed there for a full decade.

In 1912, the McKerricher family moved into Pincher Creek, where Archie began a career working for local businesses. His first posting was at the Fraser-McRoberts Store, which as of 1916 was housed in a two-storey brick structure at the corner of Main Street and Police Avenue.

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Later he worked for the Betterway Store, located in the late 1940s in the old Scott Block on the south side of Main Street. The business was later re-established in a building east of the Oddfellows Block.

He retired from work in 1952.

Both Archie and Jessie McKerricher were active in the Pincher Creek Baptist Church. Jessie had received her teacher’s training at normal school in London, Ont., and taught school before coming out to the Pincher Creek area. She combined her church and education interests by teaching Sunday school here.

Jessie was a member of the Alexandra Rebekah Lodge, while Archie was active in the Oddfellows.

Archie McKerricher passed away on Jan. 21, 1967. Jessie followed on Aug. 30, 1969. Both were aged 90 and were buried in Pincher Creek’s Fairview Cemetery.

Black Alberta cowboy John Ware.

From cowboys to businesswomen: celebrating local Black history this Juneteenth

In 1863, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, ending the previously legal practice of slavery in America. The end of the horrific practice is celebrated each year on Juneteenth, commemorating when Union soldiers arrived in Texas on June 19, 1865, freeing those who had not yet been released due to Confederate control.

John Ware

Upon freedom, many formerly enslaved individuals left to start new lives, with some coming up to the local area, such as southwestern Alberta’s famous Black cowboy, John Ware.

“He would probably have been a horseman on whatever plantation or farm he had worked on during slavery,” says Gord Tolton, education co-ordinator at Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village in Pincher Creek.

Horseman work was quite in demand during that time period, so Ware found work along several northbound trails, ending up in the Montana area.

Tolton notes that about one in six north-travelling cowboys at that time were Black and that Ware stood out because of his size and ability to learn new skills.

“When he first started, he couldn’t even afford a pair of boots,” says Tolton. “He learned how to save up and buy the right gear to do this.”

In the early 1880s, Ware was contracted to deliver cattle into southern Alberta for the Northwest Cattle Co. and was then offered a position at the ranch.

Though racial tensions and racism were deeply present in society, Tolton says Ware was respected by the local ranchers for his skills. However, Ware reportedly had to avoid urban areas such as Calgary because of the rampant racism, and was once stopped by police and told he would have to travel around the city rather than through it.

Black Alberta cowboy and rancher John Ware with his wife Mildred and children Robert and Nettie in about 1896.

Black Alberta cowboy and rancher John Ware with his wife Mildred and children Robert and Nettie in about 1896.

“John Ware, rancher, with wife Mildred and children Robert and Nettie in southern Alberta”, [ca. 1896], (CU1107289) by Unknown. Courtesy of Glenbow Library and Archives Collection, Libraries and Cultural Resources Digital Collections, University of Calgary.

Ware eventually bought his own land and cattle and married Mildred, a Black woman from the Crowsnest Pass area. The two had children who lived in the Vulcan area for many years.

Ware was killed when his horse stumbled on a badger hole, falling on top of him and crushing his ribcage.

“He was a great legacy,” says Tolton, noting that the locals remembered him for what he could do as a cowboy and rancher. “He was an embodiment of the Alberta spirit.”

Ware was an independent man who was able to pick himself up from harsh beginnings to learn, creating a legacy of himself despite the challenges of racism and enslavement.



York, William Bond, Henry Mills and Charlie Dyson

Though he is perhaps the most famous, Ware was not the first Black cowboy in the region.

“There were Black people working in the fur trade prior to Ware, going back to the 1860s,” says Tolton.

An enslaved man named York was perhaps the first Black man in the area and was revered by the local Indigenous communities.

In the 1870s, several Black men came up to work in the whisky trade. William Bond was one of these men, exchanging buffalo for whisky and other goods, and operating his own post.

Bond was later arrested by RCMP, along with his boss and others involved. His boss paid fines for the release of everyone except Bond, who spent several months in prison in Fort Macleod for racially motivated reasons.

“He escaped one day during the winter, he was shot at by one of the Mountie sentries, and nobody ever found any trace of him for the longest time,” says Tolton. He was later discovered to have died of exposure.

Bond had an unidentified brother who also worked in the whisky trade.


Dave Mills, son of Black Alberta fur trader Henry Mills, with his Kainai wife.

Dave Mills, son of Black Alberta fur trader Henry Mills, with his Kainai wife.

Photo courtesy of Pincher Creek and District Historical Society

Another historical figure in the area was Henry Mills, a fur trader who worked for the American Fur Co. in North Dakota and later travelled up the Missouri River. He brought his family to southwestern Alberta, where some of his sons married into the local Blood Tribe.

The town of Pincher Creek itself carries the history of two notable Black business owners, Charlie Dyson and Annie Saunders.

Dyson had a blacksmith shop just off Main Street in the late 1800s and early 1900s.


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Annie Saunders

Saunders was born in 1836 in the United States and was married and widowed before making her way to Alberta. She contributed immeasurably to the local community, despite obvious barriers as a Black woman in the 1800s.

Laurel Francis, a Kootenai Brown volunteer, local artist and business owner, has taken this historical figure on as her own for historical re-enactments, and emphasizes just how incredible she was.

“We may have been considered free but that didn’t mean we could get jobs and support ourselves,” said Francis in a historical re-enactment of Saunders.

Saunders was working as a steward on a steamboat when she met newlywed Mary Macleod. The two got on very well, and Macleod asked Saunders to come back to Canada with her to care for her kids.

Saunders moved with the family to Pincher Creek, and started several businesses in the community.


Black businesswoman Annie Saunders of Pincher Creek.

Black businesswoman Annie Saunders of Pincher Creek.“Old Auntie,” ca. 1890, [NA-742-4] by E.M. Wilmot. Courtesy of Glenbow Western Research Centre, Archives and Special Collections, University of Calgary.

“She found a need, and she filled the need,” says Francis.

The community needed child care, so she cared for children. People liked her food, so she started a restaurant. Kids needed a place to stay after school when they couldn’t go home on snowy nights, so she started a boarding house. People didn’t want to do their laundry, so she opened a Main Street business to do it for them.

“Not only was she an entrepreneur, people found her safe,” Francis says. “They found her safe with their kids. She just broke down barriers and had a big sense of humour.”

She went by Auntie, a self-given nickname that Francis notes as being very clever and calculated.

“There’s a lot of other names you can be called. There’s a strength in that you claim your own name,” she says.


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This not only showed the community how friendly she was, but it also told people to call her something that wasn’t the N-word.

“She was a smart woman who knew the only way to get by. ‘Call me auntie.’ And she picked her own name,” Francis says.

Auntie Saunders was a literate woman, a big thing for her time. The history of her upbringing and education is not clear, but it’s possible she learned while enslaved as a “house slave,” like caring for children.

She encountered lots of prejudice when in the area, with organizations such as the Woman’s Institute trying to keep her out with articles saying she wasn’t wanted here.

But Auntie Saunders was also documented in newspaper archives, detailing her acceptance and the extent of her local contributions.

“For her to take on all of the opportunities that she created is huge,” says Francis. “I think that there was an adventurous spirit in there that I really love about her. That’s a real big strength.”


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For the local community, she left behind a legacy of acceptance.

To Francis, the fact that she is not talked about as “the Black person” but rather as a member of the community was a huge contribution when there was such a feeling of separateness.

“She was accepting of people’s foibles, obviously, or she couldn’t have done what she did. The fact that people still talk about her today I think is amazing,” Francis says.

“It’s just a simple person. From just teaching kids, being a nanny, making food, having dances at her establishment, doing laundry and all those things show that simple people can make huge differences in communities. Forget about their colour, their ethnicity, whatever. You can make a difference.”



Related story | Town council to name future street after Annie Saunders


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Historical Dodge D600 fire truck, which had served both the Pincher Creek and Cowley fire departments before being retired and sold multiple times over the years.

Bring It Home: Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village seeks community support to preserve Pincher Creek’s firefighting heritage

Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village is seeking support from the community to fund its new project, Bring It Home. This project will repurpose an existing building to house a new fire hall, showcasing the region’s rich history of firefighting and emergency services. The journey began in October 2022 when Dylan Yanke, a firefighter from Pincher Creek, stumbled upon a significant piece of local history — a Dodge D600 fire truck for sale near Sundre. Originally purchased by the Pincher Creek fire department in 1967, it had served both the Pincher Creek and Cowley fire departments before being retired and sold multiple times over the years.

Recognizing its historical significance, Yanke decided that the truck had to return to its original home. He contacted fellow firefighter Will Thorpe, and soon after, senior firefighter Lynn Roberts joined the effort. Together, they purchased it in January 2023.

“I have always wanted to get an older truck,” shares Roberts, a seasoned firefighter with 30 years of service in Olds and Pincher Creek. “When we found this truck, which is an original Pincher Creek fire truck, my partners and I felt it was important to return this classic piece of equipment to its home,” he tells Shootin’ the Breeze. Reflecting on the truck’s historical features, Roberts describes its versatile capabilities: “The front-mount pump is quite significant. You could suck out of a dugout with it, or hook up to a hydrant and flow water.”

After the truck’s restoration, the trio approached KBPV, offering to donate it. The Pincher Creek and District Historical Society, which oversees the museum, saw this as an opportunity to provide a comprehensive exhibit highlighting the evolution of firefighting in the area, so that it could be seen and appreciated by others. For this, the society has proposed building Fire Hall No. 1. This will display the fire truck as the centrepiece, as well as a range of other firefighting artifacts.

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The Dodge pumper will join a 1900s-era original horse-drawn ladder truck and hose reel, and other uniforms, tools, and artifacts to tell the story of emergency services and the history of firefighting in Pincher Creek, says Gord Tolton, education co-ordinator at KBPV. “Fire has played a significant role in shaping the history of Pincher Creek, with numerous landmark fires affecting the community over the years,” Tolton says. “From the early days of volunteer firefighters responding to calls with horse-drawn equipment, to the modern full-time fire service, the exhibit will trace the evolution of firefighting techniques and technologies.” 

The exhibit will also highlight the dedicated individuals who have served as fire chiefs and firefighters, many of whom were volunteers, he adds.

The project is set to be a focal point for community engagement and education.


Also read | Wildfire safety procedures from AltaLink


“The goal is to create an immersive and educational experience that brings to life the history of firefighting in Pincher Creek,” Tolton says.

To make Fire Hall No. 1 a reality, the historical society has already begun fundraising efforts. It has planned several events and opportunities for people to participate and support the Bring It Home project.

The fundraising kicks off with a major event planned for Father’s Day on June 16. Fire Drill will feature EMS-inspired relay races open to all members of the community.

In this event, teams of five have been invited to a timed relay race based on activities that a firefighter may have to perform during an emergency. It will include a bucket brigade, a target to knock over with water from a pressurized hose and other challenges. 

The entry fee for a team is $50. Participants are divided into two categories: youth (10 to 15 years old) and adults (16 and older).

“Anyone can enter a team. The funds raised will go towards the development of Fire Hall No. 1 and the exhibit,” Tolton emphasizes.

Pig roast at wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.

In addition to the Father’s Day event, the historical society is hosting an outdoor concert at the KBPV on Aug. 10. Award-winning country music entertainer Trevor Panczak will headline the show.

The aim of the concert is to generate additional funding for the proposed structure, and the society invites the community to support it in several ways. Purchasing a $35 ticket to attend the concert is one way to do this.

Additionally, the society is seeking sponsorships from businesses.

“We are asking for a $250 donation to assist us with covering all expenses associated with the concert. You will be issued a tax receipt and two tickets to the concert in appreciation of your donation,” the society states on its website.

Individuals can also contribute by purchasing a brick for $250. The brick will be inscribed with the purchaser’s name and placed permanently in Fire Hall No. 1.

People can also buy 50-50 tickets for $5 each.

“This draw will run until December. Interested persons can buy tickets at the events or the museum,” the society says.

Bring It Home represents a significant step forward in preserving and interpreting the history of Pincher Creek. By creating this dedicated exhibit, Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village is ensuring that future generations will have the opportunity to learn about and appreciate the vital role that firefighting and emergency services have played in the community.

This project not only preserves the past but also keeps Pincher Creek’s history relevant and engaging. As the fire hall exhibit takes shape, it promises to be a testament to the community’s resilience and a celebration of the men and women who have dedicated their lives to protecting it.

Aerial view of the Cowley Lions Campground on the Castle River in southwestern Alberta
Rear view of a woman setting up a digital scanner in Kootenai Brown's cabin at Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village in Pincher Creek.

University of Calgary works to digitally preserve Kootenai Brown Cabin

Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village has always been a haven for those interested in pioneer history. Now, thanks to the University of Calgary’s Alberta Digital Heritage Archive project, part of that history can be digested in a whole new way.

In late July, two members of the project team, Christina Robinson and Madisen Hvidberg, came to Pincher Creek to scan and digitally preserve Kootenai Brown Cabin, one of the many pioneer buildings at the museum.

“We’re always gung-ho about any partnerships, especially one that does relate to one of our buildings, and of course, it being so primary to the history of the site itself and the history of the museum,” says Gord Tolton, education co-ordinator at KBPV.

“Cabins, as much as you try to preserve them, do present challenges, and you never just know when something bad is going to happen,” Gord says.

“God forbid, if something happened to the cabin, at least there will always be this preserved digital record of the cabin itself.”

Relocated to the museum from Waterton Lakes National Park in 1971, the cabin was John George (Kootenai) Brown’s second homestead and features many original furnishings. Brown settled in the Waterton Lakes area in 1877 and was heavily responsible for the establishment and conservation of Waterton Lakes National Park.

Using a terrestrial 3D laser scanner, Christina and Madisen collected data through laser range finding. In this process, millions of laser light points are emitted while the scanner rotates, reflecting off objects and back to the scanner, and that location is recorded in 3D space.

“One of the many advantages of laser scanning for heritage preservation is the speed at which data can be captured. Depending on the level of resolution required, scans can take anywhere from four to eight minutes to complete,” Madisen says.

“For the Kootenai Brown Cabin documentation, Chris and I captured the interior and exterior using 16 scanning locations. This in-field documentation took approximately three hours.”



The project team reached out to the fine folks at KBPV to document the cabin, as it related to a site the team had previously captured digitally.

That site was the cabin’s original location in Waterton, which was discovered by Edwin Knox, a former Parks Canada warden and cultural heritage manager.

Edwin first sought the original location in 2016 to mark the centennial of Kootenai Brown’s passing. Through speaking with locals, as well as using archival records and photos, Edwin was able to identify the location, confirmed by photos and remnants of the original foundation.

The team was asked to digitally capture the site in May 2022, and following their work, decided to digitally preserve the cabin at KBPV as well. In addition to preserving the cabin, they blended the two digital datasets to reconnect the cabin to its original surroundings.

“Cultural heritage really belongs to everyone, and Alberta’s built heritage and heritage landscapes are important representations of this province’s story, people and identities. As such we really believe that everyone should be able to easily view and learn about these places,” Madisen says.

“Digital heritage is easily shared online, which allows anyone in Alberta or the world access to our heritage resources, and the values and stories they represent.”

Following Christina and Madisen’s work at KBPV, the pair registered the scans at their lab at the university using laser control software, then exported to AutoDesk ReCap for data cleaning and export. After documentation, it took two full workdays for the team to process the data, before spending an additional day constructing the web page for the cabin.

Christina and Madisen extend thanks to the folks at KBPV for their assistance, especially Gord Tolton, who provided in-house information and images to help the project.

Those interested in checking out the original data collected by the U of C team can view and download it.


Rear view of a woman setting up a digital scanner in Kootenai Brown's cabin at Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village in Pincher Creek.





Laurel Francis — a black woman with a big smile — shows a grey and white bunny puppet at the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village Christmas Market in Pincher Creek, on the front page of Shootin' the Breeze newspaper.

Shootin’ the Breeze Pincher Creek – Dec. 13, 2023

Unique gifts at KBPV market

Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village was bustling on Saturday as shoppers made their way through the museum’s exhibit buildings filled with vendors, like Laurel Francis of the Francis Everett Farm, offering unique products as tempting to buy for yourself as for those on the Christmas shopping list. This year’s event featured 16 different vendors from throughout the region with baked goods, arts and crafts, paintings and photography all up for sale. | Photo by Shannon Peace

Old black-and-white photo of hockey players on rink in downtown Pincher Creek

Chronicles of Pincher Creek’s 1909 hockey season

Pioneer times in the Pincher Creek area were blessed with strong sports traditions that were both competitive and recreational. As we head into our annual winter season, it encourages us to reflect back to traditional fun times.

Hockey played on outdoor rinks was a mainstay of those traditions. Informal matches usually involved local players and games, while district and regional leagues witnessed a more competitive spirit accompanied by some travel.

Travel beyond the local area after 1897-98 patronized the Crowsnest branch of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Such was the case with the 1909 hockey season, which saw league teams from Pincher Creek, Macleod and Lethbridge battle it out on the ice.



Competitive matches hampered by the cold

The first game of the season, played the evening of New Year’s Day, was hosted by Macleod but won by Pincher Creek with a score 7-5. Lethbridge referee R.D. Robson ensured that a fair game was played. Press reports indicate that the ice was soft, possibly due to the warm weather, but a fast hockey game was pursued.

Initially the Macleod team had the upper hand, but Pincher Creek outskated its opponent in the second half. Only one Pincher Creek player was issued a penalty, while four players from the NWMP settlement to the east “decorated the fence.” Folklore indicates that players and spectators alike were happy with the community recreation.

A second match, this time against Lethbridge on Pincher Creek’s home ice, was hampered by immensely cold conditions. The temperature literally froze at -32 F, with both teams suffering as a result of the cold. At least a pair of hockey enthusiasts from both teams had their feet and fingers touched with intense frostbite.



So miserable were the conditions that the Lethbridge team was unable to practise on the rink before the game and therefore could not attest to the particularities of the ice. The city press indicated that this put their team to a disadvantage.

Reporters noted that the latter part of the game was “fast and furious.” Pincher Creek established a strong lead early in the match with the scoring of two goals, but quickly Lethbridge held back its ranchland competitor.

Although the puck-handling and passing work by our team was fast paced, it was not always strong enough to break through the city’s defences. However, only once did the Lethbridge offence succeed in overtaking their opponents, resulting in their single goal.



Players from both teams appreciated the chance to pursue their favourite winter sport.

The accompanying photograph from the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village archives depicts a 1909 hockey game on an outdoor rink on Pincher Creek’s frontier Main Street. This well-patronized ice rink was located on the street’s south side, with the old-time Alberta Hotel and its livery stable situated next to the rink.

Across the street can be seen the Arlington Hotel, which was in business for close to six decades following its construction, circa 1890. Snowdrifts along the creek valley and the Porcupine Hills are visible in the background.

Regional newspaper clippings were used as the research sources for this history article.




Log cabin at Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village in Pincher Creek

Museum looks for a win-win with new fundraiser

Established in 1966, Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village was created to preserve southwestern Alberta’s vast pioneer heritage. Thanks to the efforts of staff and volunteers alike, the museum has grown to feature over 30 buildings and more than 30,000 artifacts.

Most of the buildings found in the pioneer village are authentic and restored, but maintaining these structures isn’t cheap. The museum has elected to run a progressive 50-50 fundraiser to support its continued efforts to preserve the region’s vibrant history.

“There’s plenty of grants to construct buildings, but there aren’t a lot of granting or funding opportunities for building repairs, especially if it’s a heritage building,” says office administrator Janelle Harris.

“We have limited access to funding, so it falls on us to keep these buildings in good condition and preserve them for generations to come. If we don’t, who will?”

Janelle says the goal is to raise $20,000 for repairs. 

“The community has always supported us, and this is just another way of doing so while having a chance to maybe help yourself at the same time, so we hope that everybody buys a ticket.” 

The lucky winner will be drawn Dec. 3, when KBPV hosts its 11th annual Largest Christmas Cookie Sale in Pincher Creek History.

One of the museum’s major fundraisers, the sale offers over 1,000 dozen cookies, along with pies, tarts, breads, squares and more for those looking for delicious, homemade Christmas treats.

People interested in supporting heritage conservation can visit the museum’s website at to purchase 50-50 tickets. You can also phone the museum and Janelle can take a credit card for ticket purchase.

Available to those 18 and over, each ticket is $5, and there is no limit to the number an individual can purchase.




Farley Wuth, a moustached man wearing a bowler hat, shows an historic image.

Utopia School educated rural students for nearly half a century

As was the case with other rural schools a century ago, Utopia School District No. 840 offered excellent education to the many pioneer students who attended classes within this rustic structure. Let’s have a look back at a few early historical highlights.

A pioneer school and its supporters

Utopia School was one of 10 one-room country schools situated southeast of Pincher Creek. It sat adjacent to the Waterton River, better known to locals of the 1880s and 1890s as the Kootenay River. To its north was Fishburn School, to the west Robert Kerr and to the south New Yarrow School, each offering an education in the “three Rs” to eager students.

The school at Utopia was a frame structure, a rectangular one-storey building that housed students from grades 1 through 8. A peaked roof, adorned with wooden shakes, covered the building.

On one side were two sets of three rectangular windows, a popular style from that era on the frontier. These were opened during the hot weather of the spring, in order to make the school less stuffy as students prepared for their June exams.

At the front end of the structure was an enclosed porch, used as a mud and cloakroom for the students as they entered and exited the building. This room was a bonus during inclement or winter weather.



Off in the distance was a shed where the teacher and her pupils could stable any horses that were ridden to and from classes.

For nearly half a century following its opening in 1904, Utopia School met the educational needs of local students. The school district’s old ledgers, a few of which are now housed in the archives of Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village, chronicle some of the activities of those earlier times.

Starting in 1908, the first year for which property owners within the school district were listed, 27 families were on the roster. Pioneer surnames such as Fitzpatrick, Age, Walper, Swinney, Ward, White, Thomas, Speth, Gilruth, Miller, Blackburn and Whittacker highlight the pages of these intriguing ledgers.

Since Utopia did not have a post office at that time, many of these school supporters picked up their mail in nearby New Yarrow or Fishburn, depending on whether they resided to the south or farther north. Seven of these early families ventured as far as Pincher Creek, some 20 miles away, for their mail.



Revenues and expenditures reflected pioneer times

Utopia faced many of the same challenges as other pioneer school districts in terms of its revenues and expenditures. During its first operational year, 1904, it collected $262.86 in school taxes from the property owners who resided there. Each year, this revenue steadily increased so that four years later, nearly $1,000 was raked in.

One of the more intriguing tax revenues realized by the school district was from property owned by the Winnipeg Hudson’s Bay Co., which owned the west half of Section 26, Township 4, Range 28, West of the Fourth Meridian.

As guaranteed by dominion legislation, this fur-trading giant owned property in each township, which provided an extra source of property-based income for rural school districts. For Utopia, it provided anywhere from $9.36 to $14.40 in annual land tax levies.

The school district also realized annual grants from the Province of Alberta following its 1905 incorporation, usually received in three instalments. For many years, these amounted to between $135 and $255 each year.

Banking services of the Utopia School District were handled during those early years by the Pincher Creek branch of the Union Bank, located in a massive two-storey stone building at the corner of Main Street and East Avenue. Bookkeeper and former educator W.A. Ross (1875-1951) served as the district’s auditor for many years.



One of the more important expenditures was the teacher’s salary. In 1906-07 and 1907-08, the teacher was Annie Campbell, who appears to have received a monthly wage of $50, although the amounts do vary in the ledger. Payments at times were irregular, and it appears that extra wages were assigned at times when additional tutoring with the students was required.

She was succeeded in 1909 by Miss F.L. Ormond, who received a similar salary. Miss Dora McKerrill taught at Utopia the following year at much the same wages.

In 1906, Lillie Thomas provided the caretaking services at the school, looking after the coal-burning stove and assisting with the cleaning. A monthly wage of $5.50 was paid, although often the cheques were issued every second month.

Pioneer schools such as Utopia certainly were reflections of their rural communities. Utopia School closed due to consolidation in 1950, after educating students for 46 years.

The building remains standing on the south side of the road, a visual reminder of pioneer days gone by. An impressive gate at its entrance, arranged by former pupils, also bespeaks that rural community history.



Farley Wuth, man with long grey beard and sideburns, dark-rimmed glasses and brown bowler hat, holds a cup of coffee.

Join Farley Wuth for Coffee with the Curator

If you’ve ever met Farley Wuth, curator of Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village in Pincher Creek, you know he’s the closest thing you’ll find to a human encyclopedia on the history of southwestern Alberta.

Farley has been a wealth of knowledge in his role for just over 25 years, and now people have the opportunity to sit down with him and pick his brain, while sharing their own recollections of the region’s history.

The first Coffee With Our Curator event, a series of informal discussions with Farley about a plethora of local historical topics, was held Sept. 12 at Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village. Each month, the museum will host one of these sit-down conversations, featuring a new topic every session.

According to Farley, these discussions are meant to be a two-way dialogue between himself and participants eager to learn about local history and share their own knowledge and recollections.

“It’s a new way of engaging the public in local history, getting them to come to the museum and get them thinking about these topics,” he says.

The first session revolved around the region’s early explorers and how they shaped the land. Two sets of explorers were discussed — official and unofficial. 



Official explorers consisted mostly of men sent by the Canadian or British governments to identify the agricultural potential of the West. Unofficial explorers are those who came on their own, with Farley referring to them as “renegade frontiersmen.” 

The discussion group also explored how the land’s Indigenous Peoples ensured the survival of these men. 

This conversation will be followed up each month with a new topic to ensure that conversations stay fresh. Topics include early Pincher Creek pioneers, railway settlements, early ranchers of the area and more. 

The hope is that these informal yet informative dialogues will increase public interest in local history while fostering recollections that can provide insights into the area’s past.

The series will run until May, before taking a break for the summer. If the program proves popular enough, the plan is for Coffee With Our Curator to return in the fall of 2024. 

Regardless of what the future holds, Farley is thrilled for this opportunity to sit down with locals and engage them about the early history of Pincher Creek and surrounding areas.

“I always find it very exciting to have discussions with local residents, descendants of the pioneers and people who have come more recently and are finding out what their interests are in the local history,” he says. 

Each monthly sit-down will run from 1 to 3 p.m. and will be hosted in Pioneer Place at Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village. The gatherings are free to attend.

Visit the Kootenai Brown website for dates, topics and additional info.

Any questions can be directed to KBPV by phone at 403-627-3684 or by email.



Aerial view of pioneer museum grounds with buildings and vehicles

Free admission to Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village Saturday

Although the actual day that Alberta joined confederation was Sept. 1, most communities around the province will celebrate the landmark occasion on Saturday.

In Pincher Creek, Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village is offering free admission, a barbecue and bunny bar, and a musical performance by Noel Burles.

“If all the stars align, we also have a display by the North West Mounted Police based out of High River,” says the museum’s Gord Tolton.

“They’re going to bring their display trailer and have storyboards set up and some of the firearms that were used back in the day. The members will also be wearing the same uniforms that were worn circa 1870.”

An unexpected bonus to the afternoon, Tolton says, will be the arrival of a wedding party and the taking of photos at around 2 p.m. of two RCMP members who are expected to be dressed in full uniform.

Alberta Day festivities will take place from 1 until 4 p.m.




Woman with short, dark hair and glasses speaks from a podium while pointing to a photo display

KBPV unveils Part II of Bert Riggall photo exhibit

 Part II of the photo exhibit Bert Riggall: An Intimate Visual of the Southwest Alberta Mountains is now on display in the front entrance of Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village in Pincher Creek. 

The two-part exhibit features photos taken by Bert Riggall, a highly respected mountain guide, outfitter and naturalist, whose photos from the first half of the 20th century perfectly encapsulate the natural beauty of the greater Waterton region.

Part I focused on photos taken by Bert during his early years in southeastern British Columbia and southwestern Alberta, operating a packtrain business out of Waterton and taking tourists on backcountry trips and fishing expeditions. 

Part II now features photos taken by Bert during backcountry trips through the upper Oldman Watershed, including notable landmarks such as Beehive Mountain, Little Bear Lake and Mount Lyell.

“Bert’s photos are visually stunning,” says Farley Wuth, curator at KBPV. “Many of those backcountry trails have not been photographed by other photographers, so it’s a good visual record of the history of that country.”

An avid photographer, Bert captured some of the region’s most stunning landscapes in his shots, while providing a bird’s-eye view of the local history of backpacking during the pioneer days.

While the photos are phenomenal visual representations, Bert took things one step forward by providing written details on the back of nearly every photo featured in the exhibit.

“On the reverse side of virtually every photograph, he’s written down when the photo was taken, the type of camera that was used, the details of the trip, where it was, who was in the party, things like that,” Farley says.


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“It’s great that he took the photos, but it’s equally great that he wrote down the details of what the images are all about. It’s great to have that history.”

This travelling exhibit was organized by Wendy Ryan, president of the Bert Riggall Environmental Foundation, a non-profit outdoors group based in Pincher Creek. 

Wendy has spent roughly six years working on the exhibit, but has studied Bert Riggall’s life and accomplishments for far longer. 

After moving to the area in 1980, Wendy married an outfitter and the pair would often ride horses together along various trails. She did not know they were Bert Riggall trails, nor did she know of their significance, until she met Bert’s grandchildren.

Thanks to the Russell family, she learned and developed an appreciation for the hard work that goes into running an outfitting business, and for Bert’s ability to take photos under difficult circumstances.

Wendy feels it is important not only to promote Bert as an important historical figure to the region, but also to promote the stunning and unique landscapes the region has to offer.

“We’d like to encourage people that would like to learn more about the area to just go out there and discover little hidden gems like the Old Man Falls,” she says. 

“I probably drove by the falls a couple of times without realizing they were there because you need to get out of your car and walk 100 metres, and there it is, and it’s very beautiful.”

Wendy will conduct a presentation of Part II of the Bert Riggall exhibit on Aug. 30 at KBPV, so those interested in learning more about Bert are encouraged to attend.



Header for Frontier Canadian Recollections Column with Kootenai Brown's cabin and man in bowler hat

Life and times of frontiersman Daniel Cassidy and family

The history of the Pincher Creek area is interwoven with the tales of frontiersmen who shaped the community we have today. Such was the case with Daniel Cassidy and his family, whose rural chronicles made them well known through southwestern Alberta.

Early adventures

Daniel Cassidy was born in 1864 in what was to become Port Elgin, Ont. As his birth took place three years before Confederation, this harbour along the eastern shores of Lake Huron was still part of the British colony of “the Canadas.” His parents were Neil and Catherine (Cummins) Cassidy, and he had five siblings — four brothers and one sister.

Folklore indicates that, as a young man, the junior Cassidy led a life of adventure in parts of Canada and the United States. He always was interested in animals, and first spent time pursuing studies to be a veterinarian. Later, he raised thoroughbred race horses, and also was a jockey.

Cassidy also worked as a businessman prior to his arrival in the Pincher Creek area. It is claimed that he once owned and operated a hotel in Castlewood, S.D. He also worked as a dock foreman on the American side of Lake Superior, having secured employment with Iron King Bennett, the famous Minnesota-based shipping magnate.

It was in early November 1887 that Cassidy married his bride, a member of the Smith family who also hailed from Port Elgin. The wedding took place in the American settlement of Duluth, Minn.


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Popular Mountain Mill couple

Twenty-six years later, in 1913, Mr. and Mrs. Cassidy arrived in southwestern Alberta. They established a farm a few miles west of Pincher Creek, and both husband and wife became active in the old timber-harvesting and agricultural community of Mountain Mill. This rural area had a settlement history almost as old as Pincher Creek’s, dating back to 1879 with the first sawmill in this area.

Over the years, they became fast friends with such Mountain Mill, Beaver Mines and Beauvais Lake pioneers as the Wilbur, Clifford and Ray Langs; Jack Ledingham; the McDowells; and William Boyden. They also knew Marie Rose Smith, known locally as the Fifty Dollar Bride, and her numerous children.

Three of Mrs. Cassidy’s younger brothers — Tom, Johnny and Jim Smith — also resided with the couple and their daughter Elsie, and this made for an interesting mix of Smiths in the area, although the two clans were not related. The three Smith brothers were well liked for their fiddle playing at the many dances hosted by the rural community and, like the Cassidys, were highly respected by their peers.

The Cassidys were enthusiastic about their opinions and never hesitated to comment on current affairs. It is said that the couple led many an intriguing discussion on a wide variety of topics.

The Cassidys’ farm was a thriving operation. For nearly 35 years, they resided in a large two-storey house on the property.

One of the highlights for the couple likely came shortly after their 1913 arrival in the Pincher Creek area when they ordered a large coal-burning Home Comfort cookstove. A faded old photo, now housed at Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village, shows the arrival of this coveted item, brought in on a wagon pulled by a team of horses.



This steel appliance was noted for its large warming oven on top and its ornate chrome finish. Like other farming families, the Cassidys appreciated the convenience of this stove, which made cooking home meals as well as heating their home much more efficient.

For such a family located close to the Christie Coal Mine, more often than not it would have burned this local fuel, but often the pioneer stoves were adaptable to wood as well. It all depended upon which combustible resource was available locally.

The couple’s golden wedding anniversary, in 1937, was celebrated with a large afternoon community gathering. In 1945, the Cassidys retired to Pincher Creek, acquiring a house on the south side of Main Street. Mrs. Cassidy passed away the following year at the age of 89. Dan Cassidy lived another dozen years, passing away at the age of 94.

One of the many intriguing aspects of the Cassidys’ history is the varied research sources utilized to put it together. Everything from old newspaper articles from the local and regional press, archival photographs housed at Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village and local folklore can be accessed to compose a historical article from the local past.

These sources underscore the importance of preserving and documenting the district’s chronicles, thereby ensuring that they can be accessed and appreciated by future generations.

Events poster for Pincher Creek Pro Rodeo

Giddy-up, there’s fun to be found all over town!

Rodeo weekend is jam-packed with activities that appeal to a wide range of interests and offer families and friends the chance to kick back, relax and have fun — and you don’t have to be a cowhand to enjoy it.

Pincher Creek’s volunteer organizations and businesses are coming together to offer delicious meals, one-of-a-kind buys and buzzing social events.

Love Local

This weekend provides the perfect opportunity to support local businesses, organizations and events.

We encourage our readers to take time to mosey around town to shop, eat and enjoy Pincher Creek’s small-town hospitality whether they are locals or visitors. 

In our Rodeo Week special feature you’ll find great deals on goods from steaks to western wear. Your support of the advertisers in this feature section is appreciated!



Pancake breakfasts and parade

Early risers can join Napi Friendship Association for a pancake breakfast from 9 to 11 on Friday and enjoy the warm summer sun from the picnic tables on the organization’s adjacent lawn. The breakfast, which includes pancakes, sausages, eggs, coffee and orange juice, is free of charge.

Breakfasting continues on Saturday, with a morning meal from 8 to 10 a.m. hosted by the Cowley Lions in the parking lot of the Pincher Creek Provincial Building. Attendees can enjoy $5 plates of pancakes and sausages, and meet Pincher Creek councillors, who plan to make an appearance at the event.

Proceeds go toward helping community members in need and supporting scholarships for students in the Lundbreck and Cowley area.

Sunday you can get your pancakes at the rodeo grounds from 8 to 11 a.m., hosted by the Pincher Creek SPCA. Breakfast is $5 and proceeds go toward veterinary care for the animals in the local shelter.

The Pincher Creek parade starts winding its way down Main Street at 11 a.m. on Saturday. Come wave at the colourful festive floats full of local businesspeople, volunteers, municipal leaders and cultural groups. For more information on this event, see the full story on page 17.




All the eats!

In keeping with tradition, Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village is hosting its annual Lunch With the Pioneers on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Hungry parade-goers can enjoy a $15 meal of lasagna, Caesar salad and dessert, with additional treats like ice cream available to purchase. 

Museum admission is free all day.

The Pincher Creek Legion is selling burgers Saturday after the parade until 3 p.m., then again from 5 to 8, along with hosting special events. Friday evening at 5, you can grab a bite from the chuckwagon supper at the family-friendly Legion.

Stop by Fox Theatre on Saturday for breakfast sandwiches and coffee, footlong hotdogs and many other tasty treats on Parade day.




Youth lemonade stands

To cool down after the parade, visitors can quench their thirst by supporting a local stand this Lemonade Day. The town’s most ambitious youth entrepreneurs are whipping up their own inventive takes on this classic summer drink and serving them from hand-decorated booths around town.

Floral festival

An array of colourful and fragrant floral arrangements are on public display Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Den on Main Street. The Oldman Rose Society of Southern Alberta is organizing the event to showcase some of Pincher Creek’s best gardening talent and to provide useful planting tips.




Western Market 

Cowboys and gals can find everything to match their lifestyles at the Pincher Creek Western Market. Seventy-two vendors are setting up shop at Community Hall from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday, displaying a variety of goods including ceramics, art, jewelry, food, clothing and horse rack. 

The market is hosting musicians Lani Folkard and Lyndsay Butler on Saturday, and Boots and the Hoots, and Justin Sutton on Sunday. You can also find food, beverages and more at market vendors Celestial Sweets, Sun & Sip, and SGB Fitbodies.

Don’t miss the Ranchland Mall pop-up market, running from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and specials in local retail businesses.



Kids Rodeo

The kids rodeo starts at 10 a.m. Friday with entertainment and activities galore, as well as treats for purchase from Fox Theatre. Read more about the kids rodeo on page 6. 

Thanks to sponsorship from the Pincher Creek Legion, the calf scramble is back and four bikes are up for grabs at the weekend Pro Rodeo performances.

Mutton bustin’ is a delight for the youngest riders, who will take to the arena before the Sunday-afternoon rodeo. The wild pony races are great fun to watch and feature local kids who aren’t afraid to land in the dirt.

Speaking of dirt, the sand pile to the west of the stands is a handy way to keep the little ones busy when the rodeo action tires them out.



Fun around town

If you’re looking for a family night out before the rodeo kicks off, plan to catch Fred Penner’s show on Wednesday, Aug. 16.

This outdoor show is free for everyone. Sing along with Fred and listen to him spin tales that will delight all ages.

In preparation for rodeo weekend, businesses will be judged on their rodeo decor Thursday at 1 p.m. Be sure to take in the rodeo spirit of Pincher Creek these next few days!

If you’re at Ranchland Mall, check out the Co-op’s photo booth and get into the spirit of the West.

Meat draws start at 12:30 p.m. at the Legion. Not sure what a meat draw is? Stop in, enjoy the air conditioning and check it out!

Saturday night’s cabaret with live music by Brandon Lorenzo will be entertaining for the 18-plus crowd. Be sure to plan for a safe ride home.



Fuelling up on the grounds

One doesn’t need to leave the rodeo grounds to get cold treats and drinks, or a bite to eat!

The Rocky Mountain Gut Truck is providing barbecue fare during Thursday night’s team roping competition and will also be ready for a hungry crowd at the cabaret on Saturday night.

The 4-H concession is open from Friday to Sunday. Club members are happy to help cure the growl in your belly, offering community service with a smile.

Beer gardens on the ag grounds are open Thursday to Sunday. Hours vary, so check the header of each day’s rodeo page for specifics.

If sweet treats are what you desire on a hot day, don’t miss the Moose Lick truck, which will be on-site to keep things cool.

Foothills 4-H Beef Club members are also offering a special dinner on Saturday at 5:30. Tickets for a steak sandwich with two sides are $20 and sold on a first come, first served basis.

Remember to have cash on hand for your purchases!



Movie night

Spend a night under the stars with friends and family Friday at the Town of Pincher Creek’s latest outdoor movie night. Starting at 9:30 p.m., Madagascar is showing at the spray park field behind the pool on Main Street. This is a free event. 

Fox Theatre’s concession opens at 8 and it is recommended that viewers bring their own lawn chairs and blankets, and wear warm layers.



See full Rodeo Week feature section here!


     | Read more Pincher Creek, Crowsnest Pass and area news here



Man with his arm around smiling woman kisses her on the side of the head in the doorway of a barn.


Old fashioned log cabin with wooden bench in front – heading for Frontier Canadian Recollections

Documents shed new light on early Pincher Creek ranches

Many locals are keenly aware of the varied and rich agricultural heritage that has blessed the Pincher Creek area for nearly a century and a half. Yet our historical research here at Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village has uncovered old promotional materials from the late 1880s that shed some new light on the nature of some of the early family ranches.

Let’s have a look at a few of those early ranching operations.



Excellent stock-raising area

The promotional literature made note of the excellent stock-raising attributes of the Pincher Creek area. Initial concerns that this district was too close to the mountains, thereby endangering ranching operations through a lack of open rangeland accompanied by heavy winter snowfalls, proved to be largely erroneous.

Early experiences established, with a few exceptions such as the harsh blizzards of 1886-87, that the local winters were not plagued with large snow accumulations. The large grazing areas indeed were a blessing for the early ranchers.

Promotional campaigns made note of the abundance of the local rivers and creeks, which provided adequate water for stock raising. The ranching potential along the South, Middle and North forks of the Oldman River, including those tributaries such as Todd and Ross creeks, was emphasized.

Pincher, Mill and Halifax creeks also were heralded as excellent year-round water sources for those looking for early endeavours raising cattle and horses. The southwest was a ranching paradise second to none.



Butte Ranch partnership

One of the earliest cattle operations established in the Pincher Creek vicinity was the Butte Ranch, originally connected with pioneer Frederick W. Godsal.

This ranching giant later went into partnership with a Mr. Allfrey (of whom we now know little; he seems to have disappeared into the pages of history) and Lionel Brooke, our area’s most infamous remittance man. Brooke later bought out most of the ranch from Allfrey and Godsal.

Situated adjacent to the South Fork, the ranch was enhanced by many improvements over the years. By February 1888, it was “well provided with good stables and sheds” as well as two fresh-water wells. Much of the ranch was fenced, and Brooke had built up the cattle herd to include 200 head of stock, bred by polled Angus bulls.

In spite of Brooke’s lack of hands-on ranching experience, the Butte Ranch did flourish during those early years.



South Fork Ranch envied by many

By the late 1880s, F.W. Godsal also was connected with his nearby South Fork Ranch. It was publicly touted as being “one of the best-improved in the country.”

Godsal, considered one of the premier ranchers attached to the southwestern corner of the Canadian Prairies, had painstakingly changed the system by which he had ranched. After a few years of practical experience, he had come to the conclusion that there was more financial profit in ranching with smaller numbers of cattle, well cared for, than having a large herd that had to be left to the uncertainties of the open range.

His cattle on the South Fork Ranch numbered an annual average of 400, which Godsal maintained provided easy access to those animals that were weak and needed veterinary attention. Feed, primarily alfalfa and timothy (which too were raised on the ranch) was readily available during the cold, snow-filled weeks of winter.

The ranch numbered over 5,000 acres in size, most of which was unfenced pastureland.



The modern South Fork Ranch buildings were the envy of many a non-local rancher. The well-constructed main ranch house utilized local logs, and was designed to withstand the massive weather fluctuations so common to the area. Inside, the structure consisted of a parlour, a kitchen, a pantry and two bedrooms.

Surrounding the house was a fenced yard, a portion of which was cultivated for a garden. Nearby was a second house, measuring 18 by 20 feet, which was for the ranch hands.

The outbuildings included a large barn, half of which was used for the horses and a harness room. The second half of this 30-by-40-foot log structure was for the calves.

An extensive system of corrals and sheds complemented the ranch operation. The arrangements well suited the ever-particular Godsal.



Clear Water Ranche and French Flats

The Clear Water Ranche was located at French Flats, near the present village of Cowley, close to a mile and a half from the South Fork. French Flats derived its name early in our settlement history as a result of the large number of French Canadian and Métis families who settled there in order to take up ranching.

The Clear Water was operated under a partnership of Jones and Sharpe, two pioneers in their own right. The ranch was well known locally for its extensive cattle and horse breeding operations. The horse stock was being improved with two Clydesdale stallions named Atlas and Prince.

On the ranch, nearly 320 acres was fenced, most of which was utilized as pasture. Also grown was an annual allotment of 1,100 bushels of grain and smaller amounts of timothy.



The ranch buildings were extensive and well utilized. Featured was a log stable measuring 30 by 40 feet and complete with a loft. Farther down the yard were several outbuildings highlighted by a solid granary, a cow stable measuring 160 feet in length, and several sheds.

A solidly constructed 50-by-18-foot house, expanded during the summer of 1888, complemented the ranch buildings.

The Jones and Sharpe partnership worked well: the Clear Water Ranche was a flourishing success.

Each of these agricultural entities was well known for its cattle and horses.



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Pioneer rancher and hotelkeeper Cole Sedgewick

One of the less chronicled but very interesting pioneers from the long-ago pages of our local history was Cole F. Sedgewick (circa 1878 -1931). Although he had hard luck in terms of his ranching and family background, his perseverance won him accolades from friends and neighbours.

Ranching and business ventures

Cole Sedgewick was born in rural Montana. There is some disagreement as to his birth year. The Dominion of Canada Census for 1911 lists it as 1878, while his obituary from 1931 indicates that he was only 48 years of age when he passed away. That would have made his year of birth 1883.

Such discrepancies are commonplace in old-time data and are challenges for both the local historian and the genealogist.

Sedgewick’s family ancestry was English, and he had two brothers. His parents were involved in the ranching industry and hotel business south of the line. They operated three hotels in different Montana centres during the frontier era.

Building upon those life experiences, Sedgewick came north to the Lundbreck area in 1899. According to the 1911 Dominion of Canada Census he became a British subject three years later. He established a ranch just a short distance from this agricultural and coal mining settlement.



This was in the year following completion of the Crowsnest line of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Within a few short years, he had built up a large cattle herd and the ranch flourished.

However, a severe snowstorm during the winter of 1910 spelled disaster, as most of his cattle were wiped out. The resulting financial setback forced Sedgewick to give up his ranching venture.

Disappointed but not prepared to give up on southern Alberta, our ever-resourceful pioneer headed to Lethbridge for a short period, where he pursued business options. He soon ventured west, however, settling in the coal mining town of Blairmore, the heart of the Crowsnest Pass. There he purchased a hotel, which he operated until 1923.

Building upon his business experiences at his Lundbreck ranch, Sedgewick secured a thriving trade for the hotel. The mines often were busy and the hotel was located close to the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks, which saw near continuous passenger and freight traffic.



B.C. commercial activities

After more than a decade in the midst of the Pass, Sedgewick took on another business venture, this time adjacent to Kootenay Lake in southern British Columbia.

Building upon the business contacts he had made many years earlier in Lethbridge, he attempted to organize an oil company for these entrepreneurs. In spite of their best efforts, the venture did not get off the ground, but within two years Sedgewick had secured a short-lived position with the Canadian Oil Co.

This position was successful due to Sedgewick’s organizational skills. He secured new capital and combined it with the monies of the Canadian Oil Co. to establish the Kootenay Oil Co. His efforts resulted in his being appointed its general manager, a job he held until 1928.

That year Shell Oil bought out the smaller corporation, but Sedgewick continued his work for another 12 months, resigning in 1929.



Not content to retire from business life, Cole Sedgewick acquired the Pitner’s Café in early 1931, renaming it the Plaza. His wife, Lois, took on active management of the business. However, disaster struck just a few weeks later, in March, when Cole passed away unexpectedly. He had been ill for only a short time.

The former Lois Porter, whom he married in July 1925, was Sedgewick’s second wife. Little is known of his first wife, other than she was born in 1878. Official records list her only by her first initial of “W.” She passed away while the couple resided on their Lundbreck area ranch, following several years of poor health.

Socially, Sedgewick was a member of the Presbyterian Church. He also was active in the Independent Order of Oddfellows when he resided in Blairmore, and later in the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks when working in Nelson, B.C.



More Local Stories



Old fashioned log cabin with wooden bench in front – heading for Frontier Canadian Recollections

Pincher Creek winter weather extremes

The cold snaps experienced early this winter offer us a glimpse into those changeable winter weather patterns of the past. A look back to the winter of 1917-18 provides a few local illustrations of the volatile weather conditions to which we begrudgingly have become accustomed.

Winter weather for Christmas 1917

According to the old records, Christmas 1917 dawned cold and was accompanied by fairly high snowfalls. The coldest was the morning of Christmas Eve, when the temperature dipped down to 26 degrees below 0 Fahrenheit. Overnight temperatures remained almost that cold for the next four nights, and daytime readings fluctuated between –11 and 20 degrees on the old scale.

Meteorological notes indicate that seven inches of snow fell during those five days, and local press reports indicate that the snowfall was widespread throughout southwestern Alberta.



A chinook rolled into town one day

In typical local fashion, everything changed virtually overnight.

On Saturday, Dec. 29, 1917, one of Pincher Creek’s infamous and most welcome chinooks blew fiercely into town. The temperature rose dramatically. Registering a cold 0 as the day’s low, it rose a tremendous 52 degrees by 8 p.m. that evening.

The editor of the pioneer press reported that water was running down Main Street by early Saturday morning and that locals, concerned about a possible flood, were clearing obstructions away from the street drains. By evening, most of the snow had melted but everything was one massive mud hole.



The warm weather continued until January 1918, and within 24 hours of the initial warming trend, the streets in town had virtually dried out. Our pioneers knew they could never underestimate the power of those westerly winds.

Even in the country, the conditions were thawing out. As early as noon on that changeable Saturday, motorists were able to come into town from points as far south as Twin Butte. This was no mean feat, given motor vehicle technology as well as the road conditions of the time, aided and abetted by the heavy snow that had built up the previous month.

A March storm blew in

Local temperatures made the usual winter fluctuations during the rest of January and February. Late in February, another storm blew into the Pincher Creek area, and, although temperatures still hovered in the 10 to 20 F range, this weather change was noted more for its snowfalls and gusty winds.



On Feb. 24, just under a foot of snow fell in town and, according to local folklore, up to eight additional inches fell in the foothills and mountains. The following two days the winds picked up to gale force, and the press reported that at times it was nearly impossible to see across any street in town due to the blowing snow.

By 9 p.m. on the 26th, the winds had died down and the snow-covered landscape had changed significantly in typical Pincher Creek fashion: there were wide areas where the ground was swept bare of snow, yet in the sheltered areas there were high, deeply crusted drifts.

Located in great numbers throughout the countryside, these drifts made travel difficult. Bus connections with the trails at Pincher Station had great difficulty in travelling back and forth, and reportedly got stuck on a regular basis.



Conditions to the west and south of town told similar stories. Large drifts that accumulated along Lang’s Coulee as well as at Mountain Mill made it very difficult to reach Beaver Mines for several days, and blizzard conditions at Waterton Lakes virtually closed down activity there.

The only saving grace was that the storm did not block rail traffic along the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Crowsnest line: the trains had enough power to get through the drifting snow.

As we now watch the current winter weather unfold, we are reminded that Pincher Creek’s very changeable weather patterns truly have not changed all that much over the years.





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