The Crowsnest Highway heading east from Cowley has freed itself from the Rocky Mountains and its foothills. Lying before the traveller, all the way to Medicine Hat and beyond, is nothing but the northern Plainsthe Prairiesin all its varying glory. Though locally this is lacustrine soila gift of a temporary glacial lakethe Highway here is half way across the narrow band of Black Soil that runs along the front of the Rockies. Before it gets to Pincher Station, some eleven kilometres east, the Highway will have entered the enormous short-grass prairie biotic zone, and will stay in it for the duration of its journey to the Hat.
Behind the traveller, the front ranges of the Rockies, what John Palliser called the loge des Corbeaux, wall off B.C. On the Boundary, the prominent peak of Chief Mountain rakes the passing clouds; directly west, the wounded Turtle bravely suffers its enormous pale scar. For many years, Canadian historians surmised that Louis-Joseph Gaultier, advancing the quest of his father, Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, Sieur de La Vérandrye, to find the Western Sea, must have seen this vista in January, 1743. Re-examination of the records concludes that he likely didnt, and the lead plaque found buried in this area a few decades ago was planted as a hoax. Though La Vérandrye saw a front range of the Rockies, it was probably the Big Horns in what is now Wyoming, USA.
The first European explorer to come close to this position was the Hudsons Bay Companys man, Peter Fidler. In November of 1792, having that summer helped William Tomison establish Buckingham House on the North Saskatchewan River just on the edge of Blackfoot territory, Fidler and John Ward set out to winter with the Piikani (Peigan) People. E.Y. Arima records in his Blackfeet and Palefaces (The Golden Dog Press, Ottawa, 1995) that the pair, guided by a Piikani chief, rode to the foothills of the Rockies and were there presented to a NimiShoshoneparty which had come to consummate a peace treaty with the Blackfoot Confederacy. While those formalities were ongoing, word came that a small band of Ktunaxa were camped in the Livingstone Gapthe defile in the Livingstone Range some 20 miles north of the Highway through which the Oldman River breaks his way out of the Mountainsand had brought horses to swap for Piikani trade goods. Because Ktunaxa territory was thought to be rich in beaver, the HBC was most anxious to establish direct commercial links with the Tribe. Doubtless figuring that his People would remain strong enough to maintain their intermediary position between the Whites and the Ktunaxa, Fidler and Wards guide agreed to escort them south-east across the grain of the country, across the many little mountain-fresh rivers that collect contributions for the great Saskatchewan artery, and finally into the Gap around Christmas of that year. Following their meeting, Fidler followed the valley of the Oldman River eastward, noting Chief Mountain, but unaware of the Crows Nest Pass.
Sixty odd years later, Lieutenant T.W. (Thomas) Blakiston of John Pallisers British North America Exploring Expedition did not miss the Crowsnest. After a disagreement, Blakiston disengaged himself from Pallisers command on the 3rd of August, 1858, collected a small party and, much as Fidler had done before him, headed down the Rocky Mountain foothills. Whereas, however, Fidler was seeking furs, Blakiston was searching for a pass through the Mountains suitable for a railroad. Likely crossing the Oldman, on August 20th he noted ... the existence of ... the Crow-nest Pass, and adds that he was told by the Indians that the trail which he saw following the left bank of the Crow-nest River was poor and seldom usedprobably due to deadfalls. On the advice of his native guides, he crossed the continental divide via what is now called the North Kootenay PassBlakistons British Kutenie Passand back onto the plains by the South Kootenai Pass, crossing the Oldman once again before returning to Fort Edmonton on October 7th.
A couple of kilometres east of Cowley the Crowsnest Highway crosses from the Aspen/grassland regime into the Parklands/grasslands and drops about 100 feet into a dry tributary of the Castle. To the cyclists disappointment, no sooner has the Highway sweated up the eastern slope of the tributarys ravine, than it plunges some 120 feet down into Godsals coulee, the cut of the Castle River, now a man-sculpted backwater of the Oldman Reservoir. In times by-gone, before the Oldman Dam was completed and the reservoir started filling in 1991, the Castle flowed here clear copper-green, its waters only minutes away from joining with the Oldman where a Mr. Leonard, according to Barry Potyondi in Where Rivers Meet: A History of the Upper Oldman River Basin to 1939 (Lethbridge, 1992), might have erected a saw mill in the spring of 1893.1 North about 100 metres from the 1965 Highway bridge, the CPRs new span hangs perhaps ten metres higher on the coulees slopes.
Spanning this gash caused Michael Haney, the Crows Nest Lines superintendent of construction, and his chief engineer, Hugh Lumsden, many a sleepless night. With trestling members pre-fabricated in the Lines construction yards near Fort Macleod, workers began erecting the 875-foot long, 135-foot high structure in November of 1897. Barely had they set up the first of the frames than the temperature dropped to bone-numbing depths and the wind began to howl. Hounded by the impatient Haney who, in turn, was belaboured by the Companys president, Thomas George Shaughnessy, the workers struggled to manuvre the heavy timbers into position. Not only was it an exercise in frustration, but it was quickly recognized as suicidally dangerous. Newspaper headlines screaming of the latest gold strikes in the fabulous Yukon did not help morale, and seldom were there enough men on hand to attack the trestle work when the wind permitted. In report after report, writes Potyondi (1992), Haney bemoans the weather, trying to justify the lack of progress. It was not until late in February that the span was securely assembled, allowing the track-laying crews to build onward towards the Pass.
Topping the lip of the Castles eastern bank, the traveller plainly sees the little settlement of Pincher Station a few kilometres off. Experimentally scattered on the swales, four to the north and one south of the Highway, the five lazy rotors of Canadian Hydros Sinnott Windplant whoosh grandly clockwise. Governed to a maximum rpm of 19.2 by computer controlled blades which pivot through 85º to spill excess air, the tips sizzle through the air at 135 miles per hour, chopping unlucky birds from the sky. Like the Cowley Ridge North plant, these five wind turbines are Nordex N60 Cold Climate Versions and have been operational since September of 2001, adding 80,000 megaWatt hours per year to Albertas electricity supply. Cheap to erect, these units, besides generating power, are located to test the winds to determine where concentrations of similar machines will be situated in the future.
To the south of the Highway the land lays flat. An observant traveller will note the absence of fences on what appears to be an endless grainfield. In the distance some four kilometres huddles an orderly little settlement superintended by a tall, black silo. This is the Pincher Creek Hutterite Colony.
In Europe, towards the end of the Nineteenth Century, the notion that a nation state owned its citizens loyalty demanded that communities which had traditionally remained aloof from the swirl of worldly concerns assimilate into the wider society, conform to the accepted moral code and contribute to the welfare of the larger body politic. Those communities which demurred were considered seditious, and life in many of them became harsher as their residents endured official recriminations, censure and, oft-times, brutality when passions flared. The Doukhobors was one such community, another was the Hutterites. Both Sects looked to the New World for relief.
Like the Doukhobors were, the Hutterites are, in the very nicest definition of the term, Communists. A by-product of Martin Luthers 1519 revolt against the Catholic church, a community of German Anabaptists coalesced in 1529 on marginal lands of the Carpathian Mountains in Moravia, north of the Danube and Vienna. Four years later they were joined by one Jakob Hutter whose pacifist tenets inspired the community to resist the unchristian preoccupations of the greater society. Gods beacon in a miasma of ignorance and superstition, they would live apart, would communally own their durable goods, raise and teach their children according to their interpretation of Christs exhortations, and run their internal affairs likewise. To save their immortal souls, oaths of allegiance were strictly reserved to the Lord; the sexes would join only for procreation; workselfless and diligentwould profit the entire community, the Bruderhof. The Hutterite formula proved successful and its adherents resilient; the Sect expanded and Bruderhoffen soon blanketed southern Moravia and neighbouring western Slovakia. Towards the end of the Sixteenth Century, however, tolerance of dissent was wearing thin in Hapsburg lands, and when the Empire unleashed the Jesuits to impose universal conformity to catholic dogma during Counter-reformation times, some Hutterites wrapped themselves in the fundamentals of their beliefs and bore the fiery consequences while others recanted and melded into the surrounding society. Only to find themselves mauled during the Turkish invasions of the early Seventeenth Century, Sectarians who had held firm and survived resolved in 1621 to emigrate en masse to the tranquil frontiers of Transylvania. There, through the generations, dedication to the narrow observance of the founders maxims fluctuated in response to prosperity and the ability of their neighbours to live and let live. Turkish troubles again forced the Sect to migrate in 1767 and on their Great Trek they wandered through Moldavia and finally, in 1770, were invited by the Russian Count Rumyantov to settle on his sparsely populated Ukrainian estate. For 100 years the Hutterites lived largely unmolested, but in 1870, universal military conscription commanded throughout the Russian Empire forced the Sect to seek a new home. An inspection trip by some of their leaders to the United States in 1873 convinced the Community that there they could continue their lifestyle undisturbed, and within six years they had abandoned Europe and were living in three communities around what is now Yankton, South Dakota. Over the years, as their numbers and reserves increased, the Sect expanded from their core, establishing Bruderhoffen in Montana and North Dakota.
Until 1914 the Hutterites were tolerated by their neighbours, but the onset of WWI caused suspicious glances to be directed at the German speaking, oddly-living Sect. When Woodrow Wilson led the United States into the conflict on April 6, 1917, American super-patriots demanded that the Hutterites contribute to the national war effort. This the Hutterites could not do, and when their young men were incarcerated for their conscientious objections to taking human life and two died in military confinement, the Sect approached the Canadian government for refuge. With vast tracts of the North-West Territories still not fully utilized, and with industrious, self-sufficient farmers with dry-land experience at a premium, Ottawa acceded to the Hutterites requirements that their beliefs be respected. That the members would be ever exempt from military service, would be allowed to live communally and worship as they chose, and would never be compelled to swear an oath of allegiance to the nation were provisos that the Brethren insisted upon before they would set collective foot in Canada.
The Brethren of Hutterites bought land in Manitoba and Alberta in 1918, just as the wave of hostility towards German speakers crested. Their pacifism misunderstood, they were castigated as cowards and reviled for their separatism. Though sentiments mellowed as the tragedy of the Great War faded in the politys memory, the Hutterites were not entirely forgiven for their stance, and the obvious strength of their life-style unsettled their independently struggling neighbours. The Ku Klux Klan, widely active on the Prairies during the Depression, with no Negroes to persecute and finding that local Indians were not at all adverse to the excitement of an occasional confrontation, sprayed their xenophobic vitriol at anyone different, and the Hutterites, with their sombrely distinct garb and Christian pacifism, were easy targets. When the next War screamed to life, the Sect was quickly the object of condemnation spearheaded by the frantically ultra-nationalist Canadian Legion.
That the Sects moral fibre held it together is evidenced by the current healthy state of its society. Though the colonists who immigrated to Canada were moderates in that nuclear families live together, individuals are allowed to select their own mates, and personal ownership of treasures of the heart is accepted, the Communal restrictions emphasize the apparent freedom of the Canadian masses. The Brethren are the first to admit that they have produced their share of mavericks over the years who have renounced the ways of their parents and struck off into the spiritual isolation of the greater society, but the fact that there are now some 130 colonies in Alberta alone testifies to the success of the Sects formula. And the fact that two-thirds of the Worlds 30,000 Hutterites live in Canada attests to the success of the Nations credo of tolerance.
Focused upon the common dining hall, with family houses, school, chapel, barns and shops all arranged for comfort, safety and convenience, the Colony is the incarnation of a model farm. Though their mode of life is old, their agricultural methods are progressive. Modern equipment shines in the huge fields amalgamated from individual quarter sections and original homesteads, livestock benefit from the latest in veterinary advances. Both cereal and animal production is high, and combined with the Sectarians reluctance to use feed additives and crop chemicals, the produce which they sell into the open market commands top dollar. With labour costs low and production high, the Colonies are profitable enterprises which manage themselves well and take very good care of their members.
When a Community approaches a population of 140which didnt take too long a generation ago when families normally numbered into the double digitsit will begin to contemplate founding a daughter Colony. Likely the elders have been keeping their eyes on the land market, and may even have acquired a few quarters which they will continue to rent to outsiders until they have collected enough acreage to support the sixty or so people needed who are willing to go forth and establish the new Community. Even though the Albertan law that no colony to be seeded within a 40 mile-radius of another has been scrapped as discriminatory, mother colonies still prefer, in deference to the latent fears of the regions non-sectarians, to scatter their daughter colonies widely. The Pincher Creek Colony, for example, when it split in 1956 and again in 1975, chose to plant its offspring in the potato soils of eastern Washington.
Officially declared in 1926 by a Bruderhof which originated in Montana, the Pincher Creek Colony started operations on 19 quarter sections. Come 1997, 78 people lived on the Colony and owned 54 quarters of land35,000 acresupon which they ran sheep, cattle, hogs and poultry, operated a slaughterhouse, dairy and egg-cartonning plant, and cultivate huge gardens and horizons of grains.
Having crossed the erased right-of-way of the Kootenay and Alberta Railway and passed long-gone Kandary,2 the K&As junction on the Crows Nest Line (CNL), the Highway approaches Pincher Station (1145m), strewn along the Railway on the north side of the Highway. The hamlet is but a collection of perhaps a dozen dwellings threatened by an overflowing automobile boneyard. A Volker Stevin highway maintenance service yard enjoys Highway frontage, as does a Husky truck stop. Gone is the four-storeyd, Mansard-roofd Alexandra Hotel, the big old livery stable and the large Lake o the Woods Milling Company, Ltd, grain elevator that some photographer captured on film in 1919. Gone, too, are the communitys dreams of eclipsing near-by Pincher Creek.
The foundation of Pincher Station was laid when the movers and shakers in the settlement of Pincher Creek failed to convince the CPR to lay the CNLs rails through their community. The Why? is still a matter of conjecture. Living in a community almost twenty years old and a well-established commercial hub, the citizenry of Pincher Creek felt that the CPR had no choice but to run into their settlement. It was entirely possible, of course, to snake rails down into and out of the Creeks bottom, but that would entail considerable additional expenditure, claimed the CPR, for which it expected to be compensated by concessions from the community. Stubborn cupidity met intransigent hubris and, in the end, neither the Company nor the community was willing to suffer the additional costs. Hence, the tracks keep to the high ground four kilometres north of the settlement of Pincher Creek.3
For the convenience of the residents of distant Pincher Creek, in 1898 the CPR raised a two-storey Crowsnest Pass Branch Standard Second Class Station similar to the one preserved at Museum of Rail Travel in Cranbrook, BC. By 1904 the station had been joined by a few dwellings, an elevator and a long, trackside warehouse also used for storing grain. The next year a townsite proper was laid out and named Pincher City, reflecting the promoters belief that it would soon surpass Pincher Creek in importance and population. In 1909 it was granted papers patent as a Village. To rectify the one lack that they felt kept their community from reaching its full potential, the council indebted the Village to construct a water system in 1911, the year that the Merchants Bank of Canada opened a local branch office. The Villages businessmen formed a Board of Trade in 1912 and set about boosting their community. They met with little success, and by the time the station burned in 1918, the bloom was off the rose. Though the CPR demonstrated its faith in the area by immediately emplacing a Standard Western Lines Station A-2, the Villages tax base was sagging. In 1923 Producers Storage Company, a subsidiary of the Pincher Creek Cöop, built a warehouse at Pincher Station. After a fairly prosperous decade kicked off by the bumper crop of 1923, in May of 1932, crushed by the debts it had incurred in laying in its water system and other infrastructure, the corporation of Pincher City filed for disorganization and renounced its presumptive name. It remains unincorporated.
Pincher Station is in the year 2003 watched over by three elevators or four, depending on the observers opinion. At least two of them, painted a dusty green, are owned by nearby Sinnott Farms and hold feed, seed and fertilizer. The elevators are not the full-sized Prairie skyscrapers which, until the majority of them were demolished in the 1980s and 90s, proclaimed the presence of a farming settlement. Though impressive, the big old elevators are nothing but glorified granaries. According to Brock V. Silversides in his Prairie Sentinel (Fifth House, Calgary, 1997), Prairie grain elevators trace their heritage back to a structure that Joseph Dart raised in Buffalo, New York, in 1841, to load ships. The first such edifice constructed in Western Canada was built at Niverville, Manitoba, in 1879 by William Hespeler on the newly-completed Pembina Branch railroad. Its cylindrical design was not copied by the Ogilvie Milling Company when that outfit built its square-sided elevator at Gretna, Manitoba, two years later. Cheaper to build and space-effective, right-angularity became the norm for elevators which were soon watching over every grain-producing Prairie settlement285 by 1910 in Alberta alone.
In 1913 the dimensions of elevators were standardized. Designed to hold some 35,000 bushelsup to 800 tonsof grain, they measured 31 by 33 feet and rose to 80 feet above the tracks. Other non-standard types, reports Silversides, were also built, such as a 45,000 bushel structure measuring 34 feet by 36, and a 55,000 measuring 36 by 38. The space under the shoulders is given over to bins for the storage of various types and grades of grains, and the central core is occupied by an elevating deviceusually an auger or a bucket chaina distributor and the tubes and pipes which feed the elevated grain into the bins. In the days when they had a choice (there were, notes Silversides, over 300 grain companies operating in the Canadian West in 1916), farmers selected the company with which they would do business, drove their vehicles into the big shed which leans against the elevators core opposite the railway tracks and dumped their loads into the slope-sided receiving pit shared by the foot of the elevating mechanism. Having determined the grains grade and value, the elevator operator hoisted the grain and directed it into the appropriate bin. When train crews had finally spotted a string of grain cars up-grade on the elevators siding, the elevator operator could position the first of the string under the elevators spout and let gravity drop the grain into the car. When it was filled, the operator closed the cars hatches and released the brakes, calling upon gravity again to move the string down-grade until the next car was in position. Simplicity itself. Where there was no grade, a powered capstan similar to that employed to weigh the anchor on a ship was used to draw a rope which had been hooked onto the grain car.
Come 1938 there were, according to Silversides, 5,758 licensed elevators on the Prairies. There were never more. Improved highways and trucks enabled farmers to ignore the elevators closest to their farms and haul grain to larger centres where there was better shopping, more social events and venues. Elevators in the smaller settlements lost their cost-effectiveness, and the branch rail lines upon which there were situated became less profitable. This led to abandonment of both elevators and branch lines, and saw the construction at central locations of re-enforced concrete inland grain terminals which can hold thousands, rather than hundreds, of tonnes of grain.
Pincher Creek (1128m) shelters under the cottonwoods in the bottom of its creeks valley about three miles south of the Crowsnest Highway. The cottonwoods give the settlement its Niitsitapi name, spitsí, tall trees.4 Curious to see one of the oldest settlements in Alberta, todays travellers turn south on at Pincher Station and glide down wide, smooth highway 6 to the Town.
At an intersection monitored by an A&W drive-in and the Ranchland Mall, south-bound highway 6 is deflected due east by secondary 507 coming in from Beaver Mines and a big wind farm to the west. Continuing south past the big Co-op grocery store, what was old No. 6 becomes Hewetson Avenue and soon tips over the lip of the Creeks valley and drop a good 70 feet below the level of the surrounding Prairie. Immediately across the Creek on the left is a big, white, wood-framed ex-Canadian Bank of Commerce building dating from 1905. It used to reside on Main Street, and was moved to a new foundation near the Towns main bridge to serve as real estate offices and the Chamber of Commerces visitor info dispensary. A block on, at the traffic lights, is Main Street. East is uptown, and to the west mainly residences line the street which ends about a mile away at the Agricultural Grounds.
Pincher Creek is a picturesque little Town, and active. Few are the empty store fronts on Main: in fact, so precious is frontage that even buildings that would in other communities be preserved as heritage treasures are pressed into service. The ancient Alberta Hotel still pours beer by the gallon almost every hour of the week, while a couple of blocks to the east the oldest Anglican church in Alberta, St. Johns, still serves its congregation.5 For the visitor there are motels by the mitt-full, thanks to the areas oil and gas industry, and the King Edward across Main from the Alberta, its stately facade of sandstone and brick slathered over with yellow stucco, accepts pernoctators as it has since 1909. There are three campgrounds within a stones throw of each other in the eastern end of the Town.
Pincher Creek claims John George Kootenai Brown as its own, and commemorates his residence in this area by attaching his name to its historical park. Brown didnt actually live on Pincher Creek, rather he and Olivia née Lyonnais and their children settled near Waterton Lake in 1877, an area he had first seen 12 years before and to which he swore to return. According to Harold Freyer in Kootenai Brown (The History of the Canadian West: AlbertaThe Pioneer Years, Sunfire Publications, Langley, BC, 1984), he soon had a trading store opened in partnership with another long-time resident of the region, former whiskey trader Henry Alfred Fred Kanouse, and as more and more adventurers came seeking excitement in the West, Kootenai gained a reputation as the area pre-eminent guide.6 Olivia died in 1885 and Brown married Chee-pay-tha-qua-ka-soon (Blue Flash of Lightning), an Ayisiniwok (Cree) woman who English-speakers called Isabella. The Browns were famous even in their time, she for her skills with native medicines, he for having knowledge of the countryside far and wide. When Sam Steele wanted to bring D company of the N-WMP back to Fort Macleod from Galbraiths Landing (Fort Steele) in BC in 1888, he hired Brown to guide him through the Crows Nest Pass. Brown is credited by some historians as the Whiteman who discovered the first oil in what is now southern Alberta.
Joining the Browns in early residence in the region was William Samuel Lee. His had apparently traded for hides in a little post built near the Milk River Ridge in what is now southern Alberta, on the very fringes of Ruperts Land. His business acumen evidently impressed the Hudsons Bay Company and in 1870 it contracted him to build a trading post at the confluence of the Old Man River and what would become Pincher Creek, and run it. He augmented his Coy income with what he could grow and raise, importing some cattle from Montana and becoming southern Albertas first rancher as a result. Lees first recorded excursion into the area occurred probably in 1866 when, with a party of 40 including Joe Healy (or Kipp), J.H. Hand, Martin Mart Holloway, John Nelson and Bed Rock Jim, he came a-prospecting for gold. Whilst sloshing around in Pincher Creek the outfit lost a pair of pincerspliersa valuable tool which they missed. Eight years later a group of N-WM Policemen, in the neighbourhood looking for a good winter pasturage for the Forces horse herd, found the pincers and thus the Creek was named. The Mounties liked what they found and in 1878 sent a troop of eight members7 to establish a post on the Creek to serve as a headquarters for their horse ranchthe Remount Stationand as a forward base for patrolling the Crowsnest Pass and the Waterton Lakes area. According to Barry Potyondi in Where Rivers Meet: …, the Mounties were likely welcomed to the neighbourhood by Charlie and Marie Rose Smith, who had been in residence in the area since 1877. The Mounties fenced-off about 900 acres and sowed oats and cut hay on the flats south of what is now the Town of Pincher Creek, sending their harvests and horses to the Police companies and detachments throughout the District of Alberta. Joining the Smiths and Mounties in the neighbourhood was Martin Holloway, one of the party of prospectors that lost its pliers, who built a shack somewhere in Pincher Creeks vale in 1878, and Jack Collins and Allen Bachelor who threw up a cabin nearby on a tributary, Mill Creek.
Not wishing to remain in the horse business, the N-WMP soon sold the remount operation to army Captain John Stewart, the Calgary real estate developer who would go on to organize the Rocky Mountain Rangers in 1884 to act as a first line of defence should the local Piikani and Kainaa decide to join with the Crees and the Métis in rebellion against Canada.8Stewart installed ex-N-WM Policeman John Herron as his manager of the station and moved on to less mundane matters. It is likely that many of the horses comprising the 1200-head herd that William Roper Hull and his brother drove from Kamloops, B.C., through the Crowsnest Pass in 1883 ended up on the Stewart spread, intended for the NWMP. When the Department of Indian Affairs put Farm No. 23, the Indian Farm on the Pincher Creeks tributary of the same name, on the market around 1884, Herron arranged the purchase of it for Stewarts outfit. Stewart added the management of the new acquisition to Herrons duties, and permitted ex-Mountie Jim Christie to partake in the deal. By 1886 Herron and Christie had expanded the operation to some 50,000 acres grazin 2500 head of cattle and 300 horses.
Over the years, several Mounties, when their hitch was up, would choose to stay in the Pincher Creek and work on the remount station, or for operations such as the Waldron Ranche, the Roodee Ranch, and the Alberta Ranch Company, which blossomed into being as soon as the Kainaa and Piikani were safely confined on their reserves. Other Mounties would pre-empt land and settle on homesteads or, like Achille Archie Rouleau, take up residence in the growing community on the Creek.
According to the Committee of anonymous authors that compiled prairie grass to mountain pass: History of the Pioneers of Pincher Creek and District (Pincher Creek Historical Society, Pincher Creek, 1974), the first ex-Members to homestead on Pincher Creek were Jim Bruneau, Isaac May and A.H. Lynch-Staunton who established a ranch on the Creek bottom east of the present townsite in 1880. They acquired 20 range cows which they broke to milk, sending their produce to Fort Macleod. West of the present townsite, reported the members of the Womens Institute in their undated A History of the Early Days of Pincher Creek (edited by Emma Lynch-Staunton), Sam Sharpe and George Ives in 1880 pastured the herd of cattle which the Indian Branch of the Department of the Interior had bought from Montana ranchers for the relief of the hungry Piikani and Kainaa. On the Creek upstream from them, Charles Yug Handle [sic] Smith and Mary Rose reportedly tried their hand at small-scale ranching that year, too, and A.M. Morden and his wife, the first White woman to settle in the area, arrived.
Around this nucleus of pioneers other adventurers began to settle, notably the Bell brothers, Donald and Laidlaw, in 1881, the year that Beauvais Lake-based rancher Max Brouillette began shuttling a Concord coach owned by Jack Stewart between Pincher Creek and Fort Macleod. Come 1882 the townsite of Pincher Creek had been laid out by the former Mountie and Department of Indian Affairs employee, Charles Kettles, on lands that he evidently didnt gain title to until the year following.
In the autumn of 1882, in an effort to force the Piikani to become farmers, the Department of Indian Affairs cut back on the rations it supplied to the Tribe. Desperate to feed their families and feeling that the Queen had broken her promise to take care of her children, some Natives began stealing cattle and horses. To counter the rustling, and organize the big spring and fall round-ups, local ranchers formed the first cattlemens association in the West; the Pincher Creek Stock Association. Jim Christie was elected the first president.
In 1883, when Charles Kettles bought the land now partially occupied by the western end of the Town and began branding his cattle 70, Jas. H. Schofield, the former Mountie and Department of Indian Affairs farm instructor on the Kainaa reserve, opened a general store and there-in installed a bureau of the Post Office which his partner, Henry Ernest Hyde, managed. Captain Stewart formalized his stage coach service as the Passenger Express Line, eventually sending the revolver-packing Brouillette as far as Calgary, the tiny community of Coal Banksnow Lethbridgeand even Medicine Hat to meet demand. They perhaps filled out their remuda from the herd of feral Thompson River horses that William Roper Hull and his brother, John, ran through the Crows Nest Pass that summer to sell to ranchers in the District of Alberta. That September of 1883, two English aristocrats, Sir Francis De Winton and his brother-in-law, Sir F.F. Mackenzie, bought Collins and Allens spread east of the settlement, purchased the government cattle herd that Ives and Sharpe had grazed to the west and founded the Alberta Ranch Company. By the next year the pair had acquired 15,000 acres. Around this time the eccentric Lionel Lord Brooke, complete with monocle and side-kick, Alfrey, arrived in the area to oversee Fred. Godsals Butte Ranch, an arrangement which soon collapsed and saw Brooke acquire his own property on Beauvais Lake to the west.
In September of 1883, too, the first of a wave of German immigrants arrived in the area. The blacksmith Karl Schoenig (Charles Schoening) and Gustavus Gus Neumann drove their horse herd out from Fort Macleod and settled south of the community. The next year frau Neumann joined her husband and with her and her family came the Skeides, the Bratkes, and the Schweinfuths. With the arrival of the Braatz family, the Sorges and the Bruns from Nebraska, the area to the south of Pincher Creek became known as Deutsch Flats, soon corrupted to Dutch Flats.
All the activity in the Pincher Creek region drew the attention of the Eastern Slopes itinerant Catholic priest, Father Albert Lacombe, who stayed a few months in 1884. That year, too, St. Johns Anglican was raised on the property of Captain Scobie a mile or two east of the hamlet. The first White baby, John Nicol Kettles, was born that June, and a school, only the second in the District of Alberta, was organized with A.E. Cox hired to teach the little scholars. Arrived that year, too, from Québec, was the man who was to become the towns most influential businessman, Timothé Lebel. With Tom Hinton and silent partner Chas. Kettles, Lebel organized a general store and to house it enticed Andrew Christie away from developing his coal mine out south of Beauvais Lake to erect the first wood-framed building in the hamlet of Pincher Creek. Bishop Legal visited the settlement in 1885 and dedicated a church to Roman Catholic service, and the Connolly brothers opened their Alberta Hotel wherein they served soul-bracing refreshments in the smoking parlour.
With all the equipment necessary to become the areas first dedicated farmers, Francis Willock and his family had arrived at Pincher Creek from Manitoba in 1883. They broke the sod on their pre-emption and planted oats to feed the herd of heavy horses that they were to become noted for, and introduced various garden crops including rhubarb to the area. That fall, relates Douglas Card in Lethbridge Seed Fairs: 18961988 (Occasional Paper No. 17 of The Lethbridge Historical Society, Lethbridge, 1988) Willock seeded a few grains of Early Red Clawson9 in his garden to see what would happen. It was to be an experiment which was to have far-reaching consequences for the Pincher Creek district and, indeed, the entire Prairies. Through the winter the seed lay waiting, and when the spring sun warmed the soil it sprouted, absorbing the snows meltwater before it could be blown away by the thirsty wind. Thus established, the wheat had the endurance to mature. Willock carefully repeated the procedure over succeeding years, eventually harvesting enough seed in 1887 that he could sell enough to Charles Kettle that he could plant a field. A.M. Morden began growing it, too, and he entered a sample in the 1893 Chicago Worlds Fair and won a prize. By 1905 over 40% of the grain grown in the district was winter wheat,10 rising to 50% in 1907 and 80% in 1910. Come the spring of 1911, Pincher Creek was, justifiably, promoting itself as the home of winter wheat.11 By then, however, Marquis spring wheat, developed by Charles Edward Saunders of the Dominion Experimental Farm service and perfected at the Lethbridge Experimental Station under the careful eye of Wm. Harmon Fairfield, was winning the West.
The population of Pincher Creek was about 80 in 1886. A year earlier the tiny settlement had been on high alert as the Newiyawak (Cree) and Mé:tis rose in the District of Saskatchewan. Captain Stewart had led his Rocky Mountain Rangers towards the fray, leaving behind the 31 men and a two officers of No. 3 Troop under the command of John Herron to patrol the range and keep and eye on the local Blackfoot; the Piikani and the Kainaa. A new arrival in July of 1886 listed the settlements assets in her journal. Amid the various cabins and shacks and lean-tos was the Schofield and Lebel general stores, a hardware store, the Alberta Hotel, Tom and Joe Hintons carpentry shop, Greniers blacksmith, another blacksmith (perhaps Schoenigs), a school, and the Catholic Church. At the time Dolphus Cyr and his brother were building their large restaurant, and St. Johns Anglican was in transit from Scobies place to the lot on Main Street which it occupies to this day. Notes Peter C. Newman in his Canada 1892: Portrait of a Promised Land, on an unspecified field near the community the first game of polo ever played in North America was contested in 1886. A year later, when a 15 mile-wide wildfire narrowly missed the community in its 68 mile-long south-east run, a Presbyterian Church was built, and John Herron, the manager of the remount station, and his wife had built the first framed house in the settlement. The Cyr brothers, using mortar made from an outcropping of limestone on a ridge just east of the Alberta Ranch yard,12 were busily converting their restaurant into what folks began calling the brick hotel.
In 1890 there were, according to Barry Potyondi in Where Rivers Meet: ..., 914 Piikani living on their nearby reserve, while the entire White population of the Fort Macleod/Pincher Creek region numbered but 532. Come 1891, some 150 of these called Pincher Creek home. The Cyr brothers were enlarging the brick hotel and the next year would name it the Arlington. They ran a stables and conveyed mail and passengers between Pincher Station and town. The Hudsons Bay Company bought out Schofields store, and Hyde stayed on to manage the operation. It soon became the emporium for the entire district. In 1896 a bridge was thrown across the Creek to connect the community with the new Morden subdivision on the north bank. Le Societé de Saint Jean Baptiste de St. Michel de Pincher Creek had been formed in 1895 and in 1897 St. Michaels Parish was created, welcoming O.M.I. Fr. Blanchet who arrived to oversee it.
On August 18th of 1898 a Territorial Order-in-Council incorporated Pincher Creek as a Village with the power to raise capital and initiate projects like upgrading water works and building a hospital, and to be corporately irate that the CPR chose not to run its Crows Nest Line through the Village, opting to keep the high ground a mile some odd to the north and do business with The Creek through a depot it called Pincher Station. If the Company expected that the good citizens of Pincher Creek to abandon their community snug in its valley and move out onto the windy bald prairie upon which The Station sits, it was disappointed. The CPR could go hang itself. Besides, some solid District of Alberta entrepreneurs had already incorporated the Western Alberta Railway Company13 which was enchartered to build from the Boundary up through Pincher Creek and on along the foot of the Eastern Slopes all the way to the Saskatchewan River near Jasper.
Dr. Geo. H. Malcolmson appraised Pincher Creek in 1898 and liked his prospects, moved in and stayed for many years. Recognizing that the Village was becoming a regional nexus, Western Canadas pioneering financial institution, the Union Bank, opened a local branch in 1899, hiring H.E. Hyde away from the HBC to run it. Some how even an opera house got built, opened in 1900. E.T. Saunders founded the Rocky Mountain Echo in 1899, changing its name in 1906 to the Pincher Creek Echo, a masthead still in use in the new Millennium.
Built in memory of the three local boys lost in the Boer War14, the Memorial Hospital of Pincher Creek was likely nearly completed by the time that the Federal government incorporated the project on April 19th of 1902. It was a major undertaking for a Village that counted but 350 souls that year, and to see the facility through its first critical years the directors15 hired Edith McKerricher as the first matron.
The year 1903 is remembered in Pincher Creek for the big flood, with destruction not seen again for more than 90 years. Writes Barry Potyondi (1992), in that year a Mr. Bailey and his partner, Mr. Penney, had set up the Canadian Northwest Pork Packing Company with capitalization set at $35,000. In the year following the famous flood, Timothé Lebel and his partners raised the extant stone building on Main Street to house their department store. In 1904, too, the Ker Maria Convent was built for two sisters of Les Filles de Jesus who had arrived that January to educate the areas Catholic children and open a small hospital. Too that year, Fr. Lacombe returned to see to the construction of a crude sanctuary, the Ermitage Saint-Michel, in which he resided for five years, likely finishing his English/Blackfoot dictionary, before moving north to Midnapore near Calgary to establish an old-folks hospice wherein he died in 1916.
An Order-in-Council of the Alberta government incorporated the Village as a Town on May 12, 1906, under the administration of J.J. Scott. Pincher Creek began to boom, building on the dreams of oil riches which had begun some five years earlier. Buoyed by the optimism of the times as settlers poured into the region, the Town Council agreed to pay 66% of the $10,000/mile construction costs of the newly-incorporated Pincher Creek Coal, Oil and Wheat Railway, the brain-child of local entrepreneurs J.E. Shoultz and J. Hylands. From the Crows Nest Line, it was to run down to Oil Creek in the Waterton area and the nascent petroleum industry there. Adding to the Towns railroad euphoria, the Grand Trunk Pacific announced that it was to immediately build a branch down from Wainright on its Mainline to an undetermined connection with the Great Northern in Montana. Pincher Creek could well be on that branch. Not to be out-done, the Canadian Northern Railway formed the Pincher Creek Coal Mining Company, suggesting that it might have money to invest in the neighbourhood. Fred Kanouse, the oft-mentioned regional businessman, sensing the making of his next fortune, opened a new, two-storey, frame-built hotel in the new Town in 1906. Euphoria was hard-pressed to hold back Hysteria when the South West Alberta Railway, the Canadian Western Railway, and the Pincher Creek, Cardston and Montana Railway16 companies all trumpeted that they would soon be abuilding locally. Rumour even dragged the CPR into the act, opining that the Company might re-align the CNL through the Town ostensibly to avoid the deep cut of the Castle River, Godsal s coulee, on its existing alignment. Pincher Creek was soon styling itself Chicago of the West, a fancy that did not die until the opening salvos of The Great War killed it.
But in 1906 things could not have been much rosier in Pincher Creek. Area cattlemen that year organized the Pincher Creek Club, and the Pincher Creek Mill and Elevator Company under the vice-presidency of Charles Kettles contracted the McDonald Dunlap Company of Calgary to build a 30,000-bushel elevator and associated flour mill on the northern scarp of the Creeks valley in the new Morden subdivision. Come 1907 the structure was complete and soon waggon-loads of bagged Pride of the West, Standard Bakers, and Choice Graham flours were trundling the 2 miles across the open prairie to the Crows Nest Line for shipment throughout the West.17 In 1908 the McKerricher brothers expanded the Towns economic base by building a creamery.
Pincher Creeks new status as a Town may have persuaded the federal government to invest in it. Until an agreement effective October 31st, 1936, transferred them to the province, Albertas natural resources were the responsibility of the Dominion government. As the smoke for the terrible fire-year of 1910 was clearing from the woodlands, Ottawa created the Rocky Mountain Forest Reserves, defined the Crowsnest Forestry and set up a headquarters in Pincher Creek from which the rangers could administer it. That year St. Michaels school was finally completed.
Dr. Malcolmson, who had expanded his practice to include the mining community of Frank, and had purchased the first X-ray machine in Alberta, retired in 1911. Two years later the Towns population topped 1300. In 1914 the Lord Strathconas Horse Guards dispatched Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur C. Kemmis to Pincher Creek to set up an officer training facility for the Alberta Rangers. The 28th squadron of the Rangers, based in Fort Macleod, that year built an armoury in Pincher Creek. In 1915 the Rangers raised a squadron for the 3rd Regiment of the 13th Canadian Mounted Rifles in the Pincher Creek district trained them in the basics before setting off for their grand Flemish adventure. More than 50 did not return.
Fire took the top floor of the Lebel department store in 1915, and razed Robbins livery stable and a neighbouring dancehall. On July 21st of that year a province-wide plebiscite conducted in Alberta determined that 61% of the provinces remaining male population (women were not enfranchised in Alberta until the Equal Suffrage Statutory Law Amendment Act was adopted on April 19th, 1916) favoured the total prohibition of alcoholic beverages. Not consulted, of course, were the thousands of men then overseas fighting in France and Belgium. Not all jurisdictions, however, voted dry. As did the most folks in the Crowsnest Pass area, the residents of Pincher Creek chose tolerance and only grudgingly suffered the imposition of the resulting laws on July 1st, 1916. The provincial experiment ended on April 12th, 1924, doubtless much to Pincher Creeks collective joy.
In 1917, mention the authors of Chief Mountain CountryA History of Cardston and District (Cardston & District Historical Society, 1978), Pincher Creek reported its populace as 1026, an odd turn-around from the 1300 supposèdly counted in 1913.
Barry Potyondi reminds readers of his Where the Rivers Meet: A History of the Upper Oldman River Basin to 1939, that The Great War savaged the coffers of the Globe for four years, diverting public sector money from investment in health care, sanitation and infrastructure, while at the same time inflicting horrific casualties among the men young and old of an entire generation, sending home the sometimes hideously wounded but burying the lucky dead in geometrically precise cemeteries in Flanders fields. In the filthy conditions of the battlefronts, the sickness that drove men to blow up and gas each other to a military stalemate after three years of slaughter manifested itself as the Spanish influenza. A virulent killer, the Flu came home with the victorious troops. It arrived in Alberta in October of 1918 and proceeded to kill some 3300 people between then and April of 1919, one out of every ten that it infected.18 The Town of Pincher Creek banned all public meetings, required citizens to pay of a $50-penalty for neglecting to wear a mask, closed the schools and even attempted to isolate the Town for awhile, instructing the Alberta Provincial Police to restrict entry and exit.
The price of top-grade wheat had risen to $2.50/bushel by the time the Great War ended in 1918, more than double its pre-war price. Disaster lurked in the fields, however, hinted at by the drought of 1917 when elevated temperatures, hail and winds reduced yields to an average of ten bushels per acre. Was not the local branch of the Cö-operative Association able to organize the Southern Alberta Hay Growers Association to import thousands of tons of northern feed, thousands of cattle would have died on the barren ranges around Pincher Creek that year. The drying winds continued to blow for another two years. Previews of what was to come in the 1930s, 1918 and 1919 saw dust rising from cultivated fields in giant black clouds, evidence to those who could see that the old world farming methods were unsuitable to the light, thin soils of south-west Alberta, destroying the fabric of the soil and leaving it vulnerable to erosion. The rains fell again, however, and the bumper crop of 1923 settle many a debt and inspire a confidence that was not well founded.
The United Farmers of Alberta had been constituted in 1909 as an advocate of the Prairie farmer. It began to open stores, cö-ops, for its members. By 1915 the organization had begun to sell to the general public and agitate for federal money to build local irrigation projects.19 The Pincher Creek Cö-operative Association of the UFA worked itself into the grain marketing business in time to deal with the gratifying crop of 1923, able to form a subsidiary, Producers Storage Company, to build warehouses at Pincher Station and Brocket. The bumper crop of 1923 instigated the creation of the Southern Alberta Wheat Pool and Produce Company that autumn to involve its shareholders forthwith in the disposition of said crop. Through the 1920s, with the yields varying between Fine, thank you. Just fine and Very good, thank you, and a bushel of No. 1 wheat fetching $1.40, farming was profitable in Pincher country. Then the price of wheat dropped; to 65¢ per bushel in 1930, to 34¢ by 1932, to 21¢ by 1937. It didnt much affect local farmers, however, for there was nothing to harvest, anyway.
Along with the rest of the World, Pincher Creek suffered the Dirty Thirties when endless days of winds evaporated every molecule of moisture out of the soil and blew the resulting dust into every everything. Should anything grow, grasshoppers would surely soon be along to munch it all off, or hail to beat it down, or cut-worms to wiggle unseen into the tender root balls and wreak their havoc. Cattle werent worth anything because the people down East had no money to spend on beef, suffering a Recession, and all. And always, always, the Wind, dry and hot during the growing season, dry and finger-freezing cold during the dormant season. Incomes collapsed and the tax base withered, the Town grateful that the newly-formed20 Southern Alberta Horse Regiment had been headquartered at Pincher Creek from 1931. The province established the Alberta Forest Service in 1936 to monitor its own timber resources, but moved the regional forestry headquarters from Pincher Creek west to Blairmore around 1944. Though wheat brought but 21¢ per bushel in 1937, 1938s bumper crops announced another of Natures climatic adjustments which saw agriculture again become a reliable way to make living, with the proviso that practitioners of the Art not abuse the tender Prairie soils upon which their children will have to depend.
Not all was bleak at The Creek. A small, welcomed diversion had occurred in November of 1930. In August of 1924 the principals of the Lethbridge-based Southern Alberta Airlines had designated Pincher Creek a refuelling depot on their tourist excursion route to Waterton Park. The service was short-lived, for on the 13th of that month pilot Jock Palmer had touched his partners little Standard J-1 biplane down on the field at Pincher in just where a badger had decided would be an ideal location for a burrow. The badger likely survived the incident; the Standard did not, and Palmer and, hopefully, his passenger, had to return to Lethbridge likely on the Ding-Bat, the daily CPR milk-run between Cranbrook and Medicine Hat. Palmers misfortune did not get Pincher Creek black-listed with the flying crowd, however, and on November 4th, 1930, the first Alberta Air Tour hove into view in the skies above the town. Seven different aircraft roared onto the turf of a nearby field to be mobbed by curious residents urban and rural. The spectacle lasted only a day, writes Bruce W. Gowans in Wings Over Lethbridge 19111940 (Occasional Paper No. 13 of the Whoop-Up Country Chapter of the Historical Society of Alberta, Lethbridge, 1986), and then the armada was off to wow new crowds.
By the end of the Second World War in 1945, Pincher Creek had cemented its reputation as a regional node, and was in prime position to welcome the Oil Industry to southern Alberta.
Early Oil and the Discovery No. 1
Although the facts cannot be proven and the candidates are several, the man generally credited with first drawing the Worlds attention to the oil producing potential of southern Alberta is Kootenai Brown. According to Aubrey Kerr in his Corridors of Time (S.A. Kerr, Calgary, 1988), in 1874 Brown was employed as a packer by George Mercer Dawson, a young graduate of the Royal School of Mines who was attached as a geologist and botanist to Her Majestys North American Boundary Commission which, that autumn, was just building the last few cairns between the Red River and the Rockies delineating the International Boundary. Well acquainted with the phenomenal Athabaska tar sands in the north-eastern quadrant of the District of Alberta, Dawson had an eye out for any showings of petroleum in the south. He asked Brown and Brown in turn asked some Stoney Indian acquaintances. They knew of several occurrences and led Brown to the closest, an oil seep on Cameron Brook, a minor tributary of the Watertonknown at the time as the Kootenai21River tucked into the high foothills of the extreme south-western corner of Alberta, some 30 miles south of Pincher Creek. The stinking liquid delivered by the seep was an effective medicine, claimed the Natives, and for Brown it made an excellent axle grease and lubricant for his farm machinery after he and his family began homesteading in the area in 1877. He, evidently, envisioned no further use for the goop. Dawson, too, evidently saw little potential in the find, viewing it more as a curiosity than a resource. He was soon to join the Geological Survey of Canada, and over the years several of his cohorts there examined the oil springs of this area.22
One man who did think that the oleaginous curiosities of southern Alberta had commercial potential was John Baring of the influential Baring Brothers Bank. Out from London on a vacation to the Waterton Lake district in 1884, Baring noted the outcrops of oil oozing rock along Dungarvon Creek. To his guide, John Herron, the manager of Stuarts Ranch at Pincher Creek, Baring opined that if someone set up a drilling operation on one of the Outcrops, he would likely strike paying amounts of petroleum. Of course, an industrially-scaled transportation infrastructure would have to be extended into the area before the oil could be marketed profitably, but Barings opinion nonetheless added lustre to the neighbourhoods potential.
In 1888 William Samuel Lee located what he called a coal oil spring somewhere in the Crowsnest Pass not far from Pincher Creek. The Kelly brothers, writes George de Mille in Oil in Canada West: The Early Years (Geo. de Mille, Calgary, 1969), Jim and Bert, drilled on it at some unspecified time, but achieved no reliable flow. In the fall of 1891, the director of the Geological Survey of Canada, Dr. A.R.C. Selwyn, toured the West and took a look at the oil seeps that G.M. Dawson had described in 1874. Selwyns report prompted entrepreneurs to examine potential oil plays in south-eastern BC, and inspired one of the directors of the Fernie, BC-based, Crows Nest Pass Coal Company, William Fernie, to venture some of his capital east over the Mountains. With John Herron, a few Pincher Creek businessmen and, according to Mary McLintock in her 1982 Historical Assessment of Beauvais Lake Provincial Park District for Alberta Recreation and Parks, John Baring himself, Fernie formed the Southern Alberta Land Development Company. With some crude drilling equipment the outfit made a play on section 21, township 3, range 29 west of the 4th meridian and drilled what McLintock claims is the first petroleum well in Alberta. At 200 feet they hit artesian water and gave up.
Allan Poyntz (A.P.) Patrick, however, was not discouraged by set-backs, and persevered to become the pioneer oil man of southern Alberta. A.P. was a Dominion Land Surveyor, and in 1879 he and his packer, Lafayette French,23 were working in the Waterton area and were shown, again by Indians, the very same seep of petroleum on Cameron Brook that Brown saw five years earlier. A.P. was fascinated and sent a sample to Ottawa for analysis. The results were discouraging and A.P. went on with his life. He did not, however, forget about the seep, and in 1889, with the Age of Oil well birthed, filed two hard-rock mining claims on the Brook. Money to develop his claim was impossible to find until he was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of a member of the Territorial Legislature, John Lineham of Okotoks. On February 12, 1901, Lineham and Patrick, with Calgary businessman Geo. K. Leeson, incorporated the Rocky Mountain Development Company (RMD), capitalizing it to $500,000 in one dollar shares. Named as directors were Patrick, Lineham, Leeson, H.E. Hyde, Ontario-based manufacturer William Gillies, and Calgary businessman S.G. VanWart. Headquarters were established in Pincher Creek where the secretary of the Company, H.E. Hyde, was the manager of the Union Bank branch, and 200,000 shares were offered on the market. For $700, RMD purchased a cable tool drilling rig in Canadas oil capital, Petrolia, Ontario, and had it delivered along with Alex Calvert, an experienced driller, to Fort Macleod. From there the pieces were waggoned some 45 miles cross country to Cameron Creek where Calvert erected a 45 foot-high derrick. The crew began drilling in November of 1901 and ten months later, in September of 1902, struck oil at a depth of 1,020 feet. After an initial gush of approximately 300 barrels per day, the flow ebbed to a trickle before the well collapsed, trapping the tools until the well was recovered in the following year. The showing was enough, however, for RMD to christen the well Discovery No. 1 and lay out the townsite of Oil City on its property. Two more rigs were purchased and RMD rushed a glowing new prospectus into publication. On an associated map covering south-west Alberta, Oil City was high-lighted in black and connected to the wide world by a proposed gravity-actuated pipeline to Lethbridge and the North West Coal and Coke Railway Company line to the CNL at Pincher Station. Excited by suggestions that the Alberta Railway and Coal Companys St. Marys River Railway Company would be extended from Spring Coulee through Cardston and on to the new townsite, property prices at Oil City spiked upwards. The Post Office approved a local bureau and a small hotel on a concrete foundation was soon arising amid a scattering of shacks and cabins.
Ten years after A.P. Patrick staked claims on Cameron Brook, William Aldridge did the same. Aldridge had been in the Waterton country since the 1880s when he came up to Alberta from Utah and began farming with his Mormon brethren. For extra cash he and his son, Oliver, packed for Kootenai Brown. They soon became interested in the oil seeps in the region. Near one reliably flowing seep they dug a pit and channelled the petroleum thereto where they sopped it up with burlap sacking and squeezed out into a vat. Up to 40 gallons a day they captured in this manner. They boiled the squeezings to drive off the water and found that the resultant fluid tended to separate into its constituent components. The very lightest and clearest they bottled in old whiskey flasks and sold as medicine, the heavier oils and grease they sold as machinery lubricants or cattle-dips to local settlers. In 1899 Aldridge decided he had better protect his livelihood and staked leases on the Cameron. In 1902, reports de Mille, with Rocky Mountain Development hard at work and Oil City beginning to bloom, Aldridge imported a few cable tools from Vancouver, set up a derrick and began to drill. His play showed enough promise that a group of Vancouver investors formed the Western Oil Company in 1904 and bought him out. They were soon broke and withdrew to the Coast. Disappointed, too, was the Western Oil and Coal Company which in December of 1903 sunk three well in Seepage Creek in the vicinity of Cameron Brook, but succeeded only in creating the Wests first oil spill, polluting the waters as far downstream as Lethbridge, 60 riparian miles away.
Having recovered its trapped tools from Discovery No. 1 in 1903, Rocky Mountain Development cleaned out the well, installed a pump, and built a set of three 2,000 gallon collection tanks. A simple refining apparatus was built and come the autumn of 1905, under the direction of chemist Julius K. Rickert, RMD was breaking the crude down into benzene, gasoline, various weights of oil, and tar. The residue from the operation was sold to local ranchers as cattle dip to control mange and parasites.
In 1905 John Drader organized the Pincher Creek Oil and Refining Company and sought to drill on leases adjacent to Rocky Mountain Developments. Drader had been in the employ of RMD, and had had a violet falling out with John Lineham. Unfortunately, the only route into Pincher Creek Oils property was across the RMDs leases, and danged if Lineham was going to allow it. Though ordered by the courts to permit Drader to move equipment to his lease, Lineham ordered RMD crews to impede him in any way they could until Drader threatened them with a firearm. In the long run it might have been cheaper for Drader to have stayed home. He laboriously got his well drilled to 800 feet and found nothing. Losing patience he hired a couple of coal miners to prepare a torpedo which was then lowered into the well and detonated. The blast wrecked the well and Drader gave up.
Over the years RMD drilled a couple more disappointing wells, the last on what is now the Waterton townsite in 1907. By then Oil City was but a fading dream. The postal bureau had never opened, and the only building to have a concrete foundation was the Oil City Hotel. Those who had bought property on speculation swallowed their losses and moved on, as did the property owners who had actually lived and worked on the site.
The hunt for petroleum in the Waterton area didnt end with the bursting of Oil Citys bubble. The year that Rocky Mountain Development packed it in, 1907, the Canadian Northwest Company of Victoria, BC, set up its rig on the Castle River west of Pincher Creek. The outfit reportedly drilled one hole to 1706 feet and found nothing, changed its name to the Canada West Oil Company and tried again. In 1910 the second well was down to 3,000 an amazing feet when operations were halted. In 1914 the Original Discovery Oil Company bought RMDs holdings with the intention of bringing in advanced drilling equipment and trying the old properties one more time. The cash crunch that crippled North Americas entrepreneurial endeavours at the beginning of World War I caused Original Discovery Oil to suspend operations until 1919. A year later, trapped in the financial mire of the post-war recession, the company called it quits. In 1932 Oil City Royalties Company set up a rig on the site of RMDs Discovery No. 1 and over the next four years ground the well down to 2500 feet and got nothing. In those years, and through WWII 20-odd other attempts were made to find paying quantities of petroleum in the region, but it wasnt until companies brought in deep-drilling rotary rigs and advanced geological method that efforts were rewarded.
The influential editor of the Calgary-based Daily Oil Bulletin, Carl Olaf Nickle, wrote in his 1952 monograph, The Story of Pincher Creek, that in 1941 the Canadian Gulf Oil Company, using sophisticated seismographic and gravitometric techniques, had identified a ridge in the porous Madison limestone formation deep in the bedrock. The companys contractor finally spudded in the Pincher Creek No. 1 wildcat well on April 22nd, 1947, and on December 28th, at a depth of nearly 12,000 feet hit a deposit of what was estimated to be 2400 billion cubic feet (68,000 million cubic metres) of wet gas, 24 until then the largest field in Canada. The pressure was also the highest then recorded in Canada; 4800 pounds per square inch, and was capable of producing 45 million cubic feet per day of gas and 1670 barrels of light crude. Pincher Creek No. 1 sparked a stampede of drillers into south-western Alberta, but it wasnt until 1957 that Shell Oil, at a depth of two miles, discovered the Waterton Field, and two years later the British-American Oil Company located the Lookout Butte Field. Thus has Pincher Creeks modern fortune been founded.
Probably in the summer of 1884, cowboy William Ducharme got off his horse to relax on the banks of Pincher Creek some 12 miles south south-east from the settlement of Pincher Creek. Reports Mary McLintock in her aforementioned report, Historical Assessment of Beauvais Lake District, Ducharmes attention was draw by an outcrop of black rock. He loosened a lump, dropped it into his saddlebag and sometime later produced it as a curiosity while visiting Lebels store. The specimen interested Andrew Christie enough that he paid Ducharme $20 to show him where he found it and surrender all claim to the find on what turned out, after the region was surveyed a decade later, to be on sections 10 and 11, township 5, range 1 west of the 5th meridian. A marginal operation at best, building contractor Christie had it worked for several years, selling the coal locally. In 1902 J.H. Good opened a mine on the section east of Christies. In 1905 the Alberta Railway and Irrigation Company acquired Christies mine and worked it until 1911 when J.H. Owen acquired the property, and Goods mine, as well. He linked the mines under ground and achieved his peak production in 1916 with seven men employed. In 1927 Owen suspended operations and then sold the works to the president of the big Crows Nest Pass Coal Company, W.R. Wilson. Wilson and his son, B.A., mined the site until 1946 when Big Oil began pushing King Coal off the energy throne.
As noted by McLintock, at various times several other mines operated on properties roughly arcing north-west from the Christie Mine. Among them were the Crescent, the Beauvais, the Lees and the McKinnon. They were small, sporadic endeavours, relying on the demands of the local market.
Unarguably, Pincher Creeks most attractive building is the Lebel Mansion, set on the top of the Kettles Street hill at Hewetson, overlooking the downtown strip of Main. The T. Lebel and Company, with general stores in Beaver Mines and Brocket, as well as its famous emporium in Pincher Creek, did so well for its owner that he was able to build in 1909 the beautiful, turreted, red brick residence. The Mansion, carefully preserved and treasured, is now home to the towns art council gallery and music studio. Radiating warmth in the last rays of an orange summer sun, its windows gilded by Sol, it is an architectural jewel, one of the few remaining in Pincher Creek. Of the pioneer buildings that do survive, many were likely not beauties to begin with, and so perhaps the cosmetics that disguise many of the facades on Main Street actually is an improvement. Standing out from the crowd on Main is the building that Timothé Lebel and his partners raised in 1904 to house their department store. Guarding the west end of the central business district, its solid sandstone block front and rubble-built side walls stand proudly bare, having survived the loss of their top floor in 1915, about the time Timothé retired from the business. It serves now as the Legion Hall.
The Town suffered a severe mauling from its Creek during a couple days in June, 1995, when the Mountain-born streams were swamped trying to contain a rapid snow-pack melt within channels which were comfortable with much less water. The Creek, desperate to move its flow down to the Oldman River at Brocket, raged at any impediment that had been carelessly constructed within its domain. These included bridge abutments, several of which were seriously compromised, an entire pedestrian bridge right uptown, and the levies which presumptuous town-councils had built up over the years. Ripping through its northern embankment, the Creek washed away the municipal park and campground and flooded the Kootenai Brown Historical Park which occupies cheap lots in the Bottoms north of uptown.
The Historical Park has been greatly improved in the late 1990s with the addition of a great log-built administration building which receives the parks visitors, archives bequests and contributions, and prepares visitors for what theyll discover outside. The Museum boasts a collection of 12,000 artefacts housed in eleven structures of at least 80 years old which have been carefully extirpated from their original settings in the region and emplaced in the Park to live the remainder of their lives behind an eight-foot-high chain link fence. Kootenai Browns cabin is there, and Father Lacombes original chapel, and the Walrond Ranch house from up in the Oldman River valley north of Cowley. Complimenting the Park, but harder to view, is the Old Man Antique Equipment and Threshing Club at Heritage Acres and Crystal Village, on Secondary 785 out beyond the Oldman River Dam, nine kilometres from 785s intersection with the Crowsnest Highway. Only a few times a year do the club members meet to demonstrate obsolete agricultural skills and equipment: with luck a visitor will arrive in town when a bee is underway.
The traveller eastbound out of Pincher Creek has two choices besides the direct route on the No. 6 to Pincher Station on the Crowsnest Highway.
Main Street crosses Waterton Avenue and continues eastward as Secondary 507, jogging its way along the fence lines to eventually tee into 810 at the Waterton River. Turning due north, it is only 35 up and down kilometres past wind turbine farms into Fort Macleod.
Alternatively, two blocks north on Waterton Avenue/No. 6 from the Main Street intersection, Secondary 785 leaves town as Macleod Road. Following the creek for five or six kilometres past Colonel Macleods old Kyleakin Ranch, it finally swings northward to cross on a 1989 bridge before continuing to the Crowsnest Highway. Its a nice exit.
Away from Pincher Station, the Crowsnest Highway drifts slightly north on its way due east. Some six kilometres from the Station the Highway intersects 785. North on it 1.2 kilometres nested a covey of curious, eight Vertical Axis Wind Generatorsfour long, narrow vanes bowed out from the top to the bottom of a central vertical shaft perhaps 100 feet high rising from a buried concrete bunker housing the generator. They looked like egg beaters sticking up out of the ground. Experimental, they proved not the most efficient of designs to spin electricity from wind, the Prairies one constant, and are were ever for sale. Where they went, your Guide does not know: only that in the autumn of 2006 all that remained were the concrete foundations. The controversial Oldman Dam is some three Kay beyond the egg beaters, and crossing it, the 785 sends Secondary 510 off westward to travel some 24 kilometres to Cowley, passing the Three Rivers Rock and Fossil museum about half-way. From the Dam, 785 arrows five kilometres due east past Heritage Acres and Crystal VillageBrockets former United Grain Growers elevator landmarking the location for travellers on the No. 3before losing its hard surface as it wanders across the toes of the Porcupines to eventually brush by the Head-Smashed-In World Heritage Site on its way to tee into Highway 2 north of Fort Macleod.