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

A look back at Pincher Creek’s pioneer landscape

Pincher Creek a century and a quarter ago certainly was a different-looking settlement than what we have today.

True, there were historical roots, planted in the 1880s or 1890s, which still can be seen today in terms of how the community functions. But in the intervening five or six generations, there have been many changes.

What did Pincher Creek look like during those bygone days on the western Canadian frontier?

Early land surveys

After the success of the North West Mounted Police horse ranch, established here in 1878, Pincher Creek quickly became established as a commercial centre for the expanding ranching industry.

During the next 20 years, numerous pioneer businesses sprang up to serve local economic needs. The settlement’s “business centre” was located less than a mile to the west of the Mounties’ detachment, on what was to become Pincher Creek’s dusty Main Street.

The selection of where the commercial outlets were to develop was made by ex-Mountie Charles Kettles, who in 1883 was commissioned to survey the streets and the business and residential blocks for the portion of town south of the creek.

The area’s proximity to the creek, with shelter offered by the valley, obviously appealed to Kettles in terms of where businesses could be built. His massive two-storey ranch house, located near what is now the west end of town, dated to 1890 or 1892.

Pioneer Albert Morden (1844-1907), patriarch of the first non-NWMP family to settle here, surveyed the portion of the settlement north of the creek. Many of these streets he named after members of his family. He tragically drowned in the rushing spring waters of the creek.

 

Ace of spades card on ad for Chase the Ace at the Pincher Creek Legion

 

A few early businesses of the 1880s and 1890s

The first local business was the Schofield and Hyde General Store, established in 1883 as a log structure near what is now the corner of Main Street and East Avenue. Three years later, the outlet was purchased by the Hudson’s Bay Co., with Henry Hyde remaining on as its manager.

Down the street was the old Arlington Hotel, also known as the Brick Hotel. Originally owned by the partnership of Mitchell and Geddes, William R. Dobbie purchased the latter’s portion of the business, and the hotel was greatly expanded during the 1890s.

Dobbie, who like Hyde later went on to become Pincher Creek’s mayor, also operated a livery stable next door to the east.

Farther to the west was Timothee Lebel’s Store, a series of log and frame buildings dating back to the mid 1880s. It was not until 1904 that his three-storey stone business block was constructed.

At the opposite corner was the old hardware store operated by William Berry and Sons. Established way back in 1886, this business flourished because of its connection with the local ranches.

On the south side of the street were several other early businesses. The old Union Bank, also housed in a majestic stone building dating from 1904, had been located almost directly across the street from Schofield and Hyde’s store since 1898. To its west was the Alberta Hotel, which dated back as early as 1885, and was closely connected with the ranching Connelly family.

Blacksmith businesses, such as the Allison family’s IXL Blacksmith Shop, and livery stables, such as the massive two-storey building owned by the Lynch brothers, were located farther east.

 

 

Local streets and long-distance travel

Pincher Creek streets during the 1890s were a far cry from what they are now. Pioneers often recalled that during wet weather they were little more than massive mud holes. During dry weather, they were at best simple trails, often very dusty when heavily trodden with horses or during frequent wind storms.

A few of the major thoroughfares, primarily adjacent to the businesses or in established residential areas, were adorned with wide wooden boardwalks. These state-of-the-art pedestrian walkways utilized local lumber harvested at the logging operation at Mountain Mill. Whenever the boards were replaced, children would scurry by, looking for loose change that had been accidentally dropped through the slats.

Regular travel to points beyond Pincher Creek was limited during those early days on the frontier. The railway did not arrive for a full generation after Pincher Creek’s establishment, and motorized vehicles were still a dream of the future.

Travel was on horseback or by stagecoach, and even a return trip to Fort Macleod, the closest centre to the east, was a major undertaking of several days’ duration. Such a trip was next to impossible during wet weather, when the local trail would become a massive mud hole. Winter travel was plagued by snow-clogged challenges.

The route left Pincher Creek east of the NWMP detachment, travelled along what is now Macleod Street, crossed the creek at Goforth’s Crossing and went northeasterly from there.

Similar cart trails headed west from town to the Pass, and south to Waterton Lakes. Travel was difficult at best.

 

Dairy Queen menu items – chocolate-dipped cone, chicken fingers and fries, blizzard, deluxe stackburger, pink orange julius and hot fudge sundae, on an ad for Pincher Creek DQ location

 

Early bridges and fording the creek

Within town, the first bridge constructed across the creek was an old log one, located on what was to become Bridge Avenue, now Bev McLachlin Drive. It connected the frontier business core with the pioneer housing landscape on the north side of the watershed.

Before its construction just prior to 1898, there was little need for a traffic bridge. Most creek crossings within the settlement were handled through a series of fords, one located behind the Mounties’ detachment and a second set, according to local folklore, located farther upstream near Morden’s Grove. As far back as the 1890s, there was a log footbridge near the Morden property, an agricultural spread now occupied by the fire hall.

The old Bridge Avenue crossing was replaced circa 1906 by a sturdy metal structure, required when a much-too-heavy steam engine crashed through the wooden bridge to the creek below.

Some years later, shortly before the First World War, a second steel bridge was constructed at the far west end of town. This provided the ranches at Beauvais Lake, Mountain Mill and Beaver Mines with access to our pioneer business settlement.

 

Large B logo for the Brick Pincher Creek with yellow button to view current flyer

 

Wedding banquet view of wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.

 

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.

 

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

 

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.

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.

 

Shelves of bottled liquor in an ad for Town & Country Liquor Store in Pincher Creek

 

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.

 

Huge, loaded burger and onion rings on Bear Grass Bistro ad.

 

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.

 

Camille Kalveram, young professional woman with long blonde hair, on Vision Credit Union ad

 

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.

 

Aerial view of the Cowley Lions Campground on the Castle River in southwestern Alberta

 

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.

 

Downhill skier catches air on ad inviting skiers to stop at Miner's Mercantile in Beaver Mines on their way to the Castle Mountain ski hill.

 

 

 

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