Blackfalds’ early settlers and businesses
By Judy Carleton, President –
Blackfalds & Area Historical Society
From 1902 and on, in the earlier days of settlement, Blackfalds was a busy village in central Alberta, located on the main CPR line between Edmonton and Calgary, and there were roads both east and west to the large territory lying as far east as Stettler and west to Rocky Mountain House.
It was from this village that freight and workers were sent out to these then outlying points, and an enormous business was conducted. The hotel, livery, and other businesses flourished, and the town grew rapidly. But with the coming of the two railroad lines that were built that ran east and west from the Lacombe and Red Deer areas, Blackfalds’ growth and prosperity slowed considerably.
Town first called Waghorn
Blackfalds was initially known as Waghorn, after some of the early pioneers, Mrs. Sarah Waghorn and sons, William and Walter, and Walter’s wife, Elizabeth, who originally came from England to this area around 1889. Mrs. Waghorn Sr. is believed to be the first white woman to cross the Red Deer River. They farmed the land just north of the Blindman River, directly south of the existing town, on Section 14.
Walter Waghorn would meet the stage on the C & E Trail at the Blindman River crossing and pick up the mail, which he distributed from a small store he had on his farm.
Railroad called Blackfalds, school district named Blindman
There was a trinity of names for the area, the railroad called it Blackfalds, the school district was named Blindman, and the post office had the name Waghorn. With the coming of the railroad in 1891, the community started to grow up around the present location of the town.
The railway siding stop was known as the 11th siding, and it was about 1902 before it became known as Blackfalds. The origin of the village name is that it came from a young CP engineer, a Mr. Campbell from Calgary, who felt the terrain was very similar to where he had come from in Blackfaulds, Scotland, located in the county of Perthshire, north of Perth.
Early pioneers: Promise of fertile land and low prices
Other early pioneers were Arthur D. Gregson, Thomas Ramage and family, John Shaw and family, C.T. Daykin, Isaac N. Burdick, Mr. and Mrs. David Jamieson, Hugh Mitchell, William Lawton and family, and Frank M. Stephenson and family.
The first few years of the 1900s brought a large influx of people from eastern Canada as well as many parts of the United States, England, Scotland and Europe, to settle the area, prompted by the homesteading companies advertising the promise of fertile land and low prices. Blackfalds was a jumping off point for settlers travelling to points east and west of the village.
An early settler to the Blackfalds area from around 1903, Roy H. Trout, is recorded as saying “I believe that this particular section of Alberta offers more opportunities to the home seeker than can be found in any other part of Canada or the United States”.
He was often known as “Mr. Blackfalds” in those early days, willing to do anything that would benefit Blackfalds. He ran a dray between Blackfalds and Burbank, and farmed where the Wadey house used to be, in the south-west corner of town, growing wheat, barley, rye and timothy hay, as well as raising Yorkshire hogs.
Need for a school and more services
The need for services in Blackfalds in those early years brought the building of a school, post office, stores, churches, liveries, a creamery, a lumber yard and a railroad station house. From the Collector’s Roll of the Blindman Public School District No. 255 of 1897, which encompassed five square miles from the first school, there were 42 taxable-party names listed, and taxes were $16.00 per year, per quarter section. There were 43 listed in 1898, 45 in 1899, 54 in 1900, and 70 in 1901.
Robert Shular was given credit as being the key man in the original building of the village. He owned all the land between the C & E trail and the C.P.R. tracks where the village was located. John McKay built the first store, which is still in use today as “After the Grind”.
Just to the north across the street was the first hotel, the Imperial Hotel, built by William Spurrell in 1902. Mr. Spurrell also was the founding member and president of the Blackfalds Creamery.
Blackfalds Butter and Cheese
Later, the Blackfalds Butter and Cheese Manufacturing Association Ltd. was formed and shares were sold for $1.00 each. In 1907, Joseph Barron was the president and Percy Gregson was the secretary.
Other new businesses started popping up after the turn of the century, Mr. Beard and Harold Ward opened a harness shop around 1902, and later a harness shop was run by Hugh Tyrell, as well as one by D. F. Miller. Malthen Maybank opened a drugstore, and A.E. Brethour was a druggist also at Blackfalds. Lloyd A. Hill opened a lumber yard and building supplies store, Mrs. Beth Wetherby ran a bakery and Mr. Weatherby ran a dray business before 1905, and a real estate business was run by William Trukenmiller. William Plowright, another Englishman, had an office on the main street and offered his expertise as a music professor of the banjo, mandolin, and the guitar.
The Blackfalds Mercury
Percy Gregson ran a weekly newspaper from 1903 to 1904, called The Blackfalds Mercury. Business ads found in the Blackfalds paper for 1904 was the Grant Hardware, J.B. Hunter’s Grocery, Geary’s Drug Store, A.N. Hull Contractor and Builder, and Shular and Nelson Real Estate and Insurance.
Blackfalds Fire Brigade
There was a Blackfalds Fire Brigade and Jas. Pennington was the captain, with N.A. Nelson as Vice-Captain. Blackfalds had a Board of Trade that J. E. Grant was the president of, with secretary/treasurer Percy Gregson, and the executive of M. R. Maybank, J.B. Hunter, N.S. Nelson, W. Waghorn, and H. Taylor. The area had the services of a physician, a Dr. W.H.T. Peake and later a Dr. Thomas Hicks.
Commerce in Blackfalds
There was a Northern Bank in operation in Blackfalds in 1906, as well as a Royal Bank.
In 1903 Frank Stephensen built a livery barn just to the north of the Imperial hotel. He lived in Blackfalds with his wife, Mae, and brother, Charles, and his family. By 1913, he had rented out the livery to Roy Trout, who purchased it later that year. There was another livery on the south side of Moore St. which was an old time relic when it was finally demolished in March of 1942.
Families immigrate to Blackfalds and area
The following is from a pamphlet issued by the Blackfalds Board of Trade in 1905:
“This thriving little town – barely three years old – is situated north of Calgary and south of Edmonton, on the Calgary and Edmonton Railway, and is the trading centre of a rich agricultural and ranching district. It consists of three general stores, lumber yard, blacksmith shop, harness store, drug store, hotel, boarding house, butcher’s shop, creamery, three implement agencies, shoe shop, three livery barns, restaurant, billiard hall, bakery, laundry, telephone call office, barber shop, post office, express office, chop and feed mill, electric light plant, 75 barrel flour mill in course of erection, public school, two churches, three resident clergymen, one doctor, one lawyer, auctioneer and JP, with numerous other buildings and residences enjoying a well-drained site overlooking the junction of the Blindman and Red Deer Rivers.”
Families immigrate to Blackfalds
The early part of the 1900s saw more immigrating families to the area, contributing to the growth and prosperity of the village and surrounding district.
The names of some of these people were John McKay and family, James McNicol and family, John Albert Martin and family, Joseph Capron and family, Philip McLennan and family, the Millers (father John F. Miller and sons Dick, Fred, Jim, Chester and Pat and families, and daughter Anne), Bert Fackler and family, George Wadey and family, Walter and Frank Barnes, Michael Madden and Simon Taylor, Frederick James Bills and family, Ephraim Matthias and family, Samuel Farewell and family, John Atsinger and family, and Percy Gregson. Most were farmers, S. Farewell and J. McNicol were teachers, J. McKay and J.A. Martin ran a store and sold machinery, M. Madden built railroads, and Percy Gregson practised law from his home on mainstreet and was secretary-treasurer for the village.
Bert Fackler and Ed Shull were carpenters and had a hand in the building of many of the various structures in the village, (the school, the hall, and others), as well as many houses and barns in the surrounding area.
Blackfalds becomes a village
Blackfalds was incorporated as a village in June 1904. The registered incorporation is dated in Regina on Friday, June 17, 1904, and reads: “Under the provisions of The Village Ordinance, His Honour the Lieutenant Governor, by and with the advice of the Executive Council, has been pleased to Order the establishment of that portion of the south-west quarter of Section 26 lying west of the Calgary and Edmonton trail, as shown by a survey made by George P. Roy, Dominion Land Surveyor, in the year 1886, and the south-west quarter of Section 27, all in Township 39 Range 27 west of the Fourth Meridian as a Village under the name Blackfalds: that Monday the Twenty-seventh day of June, 1904, be the day fixed for the election of an Overseer of the said Village, and that Percy B. Gregson, of Blackfalds, Alberta, be appointed to act as Returning Officer at the said election. John A Reid, Clerk Executive Council – Gazette, June 30, 1904.”
Blackfalds has ‘best town site on railway line’
In 1909, in a write-up in the Lacombe Western Globe, meant to attract settlers to Central Alberta, Blackfalds was listed as having one of the best town sites on the railway line.
Its pure water and excellent drainage, together with the picturesque scenery of the district makes it an ideal spot for residential purposes. The area is a rich agricultural and ranching district and the town has always done a steady business.
The trade of the place is done by three general stores, one hardware store, one drug store, one lumber yard, one butcher shop, one boot and shoe store, blacksmith shops, livery barns, an implement store, a creamery, a feed and chop mill, a hotel, several boarding houses, a school, and three churches.
The above advantages, as well as the close proximity to an electric power plant and low taxation, all contribute towards making Blackfalds a town of considerable importance, and a trading centre of great advantage to the surrounding district.
Victoria Day was celebrated as a traditional “Blackfalds Day” in those early years. The main street would be filled with the local folk and others from the surrounding districts. Bands would play and there were baseball games with teams from central Alberta.
Early baseball games were played at the ball park which was then located about where the curling rink was built, now the Blackfalds Christian Fellowship church.
There were athletic contests in the standing long jump; the standing and running hop, step, jump; the standing and running high jump: the pole vault; shot put: men’s and boys’ 100-yard race; ladies and girls 50-yard race; and a men’s and boys’ three-legged race, with good prizes in all events.
There were picnics with an abundance of home-made pies. In the evening there was a dance at the community hall.
Blackfalds’ first councils, school
Starting in 1904 until 1909, the new village of Blackfalds had an overseer who ran village affairs: 1904 – Nels Nelson, 1905 to 1907 – James McNicol, 1908 to 1909 – George Shore.
From 1910 to 1913 the overseer was changed to chairman: 1910 and 1913 – Walter Waghorn, 1911 – Andrew Shular, 1912 – Lloyd Hill.
From 1914 to 1934 the title of overseer was changed to reeve and the town also had a secretary and two councillors.
In 1935, Reeve was changed to mayor.
The consistent growth of the village of Blackfalds was surely an exciting time, but when those times slowed in the 1920s and 30s, everything else decreased with that. Blackfalds would not start to thrive again until the mid to late 1950s.
Blackfalds first school
As the community of Blackfalds started to grow in the early 1890s, settlers realized the need for a school, and in 1892, farmers from the district gathered to discuss the formation of a school district.
Notices were sent out to the then sparsely populated area, and on Oct. 4, eight farmers attended a meeting of which D. Jamieson was elected chairman and A.D. Gregson was appointed secretary.
Later that fall at another meeting, the Blindman School District was formed, with the first board members being W. Waghorn, C.T. Daykin, and A.D. Gregson.
The following spring, plans for a school building were discussed, and the first Blackfalds School was built east of Hwy 2A and just north of the present A & W Restaurant, on land then owned by W.H. Lawton.
Records in 1893 showed payments totalling $520 to the Matthias brothers, from Lacombe, for building this one room school, which they completed by August of that year. The school was 30 feet long and 22 feet wide.
The first teacher in 1893 was Miss Alice Grigg, followed by Sarah McKinley, Peter Talbot (who later became a member of parliament and a senator) Evelyn May Perrin, Samuel Farewell and James McNicol.
From reading the stories that Annie (Shaw) Farewell wrote about her life (she came to the Blackfalds area as a young girl, with her family in 1893) she tells of the first school having 14 pupils, and the first teacher being a young girl from Ontario, who was pretty, with a good voice. (That would be Miss Grigg, from Exeter, Ontario.) She taught them to sing, and the girls benefited from her good manners and lady-like ways.
The second year there were 25 students. Annie speaks of bringing the teacher wild flowers – roses, tiger lilies, goldenrod and wild asters, which all grew in abundance.
By 1901 Sam Farewell was the teacher and his salary was $320 for the year. He received a raise to $330 the next year!
This first school was also rented out on a regular basis to the Methodists and Presbyterians for their Sunday services, before the churches were built in the village. This first school was torn down in the spring of 1927.
In July of 1909, a contract to build the new school was issued to a Mr. Hamilton and a Mr. Cannon from Lacombe, for the sum of about $5,000. A new, two storey school, with two large rooms, was built just north of the Wadey farm on the south side of the village.
The two teachers starting at this new school were Miss Ida Gaetz and Miss Carr, who earned a salary of $50 per month. Earl Ansley taught from about 1928 – 1934 and was the principal, he later became the Minister of Education for Alberta.
By 1949 another new school was built and the old two storey school was torn down. This school was a four room, stucco building, built just across Broadway Avenue to the west of the United Church. The official opening of the new school was Aug. 31, 1949.
Ralph Wadey an early bus driver
Bussing the children to the school started in the Blackfalds area in 1949. Ralph Wadey was the bus driver for the first few years, and his drive took him through the countryside north and west of the village for about 20 miles, in one of the most concentrated routes in the school division at that time.
The bus brought the children to the Blackfalds school, and then carried on to Lacombe, with the senior high school students of Grades 9, 10, 11, and 12, as the Blackfalds school only went up to Grade 8, and later to Grade 9.
Blackfalds quickly outgrew this new school of four rooms, and another four rooms were added on the south end in 1958.
In 1960 Blackfalds had its first kindergarten run by Mrs. Dorothy Ruff.
Blackfalds early community groups
Community spirit strong ever since the town’s beginnings
Church-Ladies Aid – First started in 1907, with goals of helping the community in its various needs and fund raising. They met in member’s homes.
Other early groups and organizations in Blackfalds from about 1903 to 1930:
Blackfalds Board of Trade, The Blackfalds Park Association, The Temperance and Moral Reform Society, The Modern Woodmen Lodge, The Quadrille Club, The Orange Lodge, The Cricket Club, The Blackfalds Cadet Corps, The Blackfalds Young Peoples Association, The Blackfalds Tennis Club, Blackfalds Baseball Team, The Blackfalds Company of Frontiersmen, The Blackfalds Women’s Institute, The Blackfalds U.F.A., The Blackfalds Sunflower Girl’s Club, the Blackfalds Badminton Club, The Blackfalds Mutual Telephone Co-op.
Other earlier organizations
The Village Fire Brigade was formed in 1937.
The Blackfalds Rural Electrification Association was formed in 1946.
The Parent/Teacher Association was formed in 1949.
The Blackfalds Cubs and Scouts was formed in 1953,
The Blackfalds Curling Club was formed in 1953, when a curling rink was built in the village.
4-H clubs were also formed in the 1950s.
The Blackfalds Recreation Club was formed in 1955.
The Blackfalds Golf Course, called the Overpass Golf Club was built in 1955.
The new teen club called Teen Town was started in 1957.
In 1960 the ladies club called the Blackfalds Fire Bugs was started, to support the volunteer firemen.
Blackfalds had distinction of being fastest growing village or town in the province
One of the long time landmarks of the town was the hotel that stood on the east side of Broadway Avenue, on the corner of Park Street. It was built in 1902 and was reputed to be “one of the best along the C & E Trail. It changed owners and names several times, before being finally torn down in 1978.
Blackfalds has had the distinction of being the fastest growing village or town in the province and even the country, several times, the first being in 1958.
To celebrate Canada’s centennial in 1967, Blackfalds constructed rodeo grounds and an outdoor arena, and held an annual Jackpot Amateur Rodeo during Blackfalds Days until about 1974.
The village built a tall, green water tower in 1958, and it was a visible landmark in the town until it was torn down in 1991.
On Sept. 20, 1992, an arsonist started a fire in the C.E.C. United Church hall that also damaged the 90-year-old adjacent church. Both buildings had to be torn down and a new church was built in 1992.
In the early morning of March 2, 1991, the post office, then located on the corner of Broadway Avenue and Moore Street, was destroyed in a gas line explosion that levelled the building.
A railway station was built in Blackfalds in 1904 and served the village for 64 years before being torn down in about 1968.
The town’s first public hall was built in 1906 and was the site of many dances, concerts and meetings before it burned to the ground in 1946.
One of the oldest houses in town is located at 4806 Broadway Avenue. It was built in 1903 by Percy B. Gregson, who ran his law office from his home.
Percy was also the secretary for the village, secretary for the school division, and operated Blackfalds’ first newspaper in 1904, called the “Blackfalds Mercury.”
This house was also the first Natural History Museum in Western Canada, as Percy was a founding member and president of the Northwest Entomological Society and the curator of its vast insect collections.
Blackfalds historian preserves local history
Special thanks to Blackfalds historian Judy A. Carleton
Judy Carleton became very interested in local history and so she started collecting Blackfalds history from about 2001, while she was writing books for her family tree. Her great grandfather, John Miller, came here in 1905 and farmed, as did her grandfather, Chester Miller and her father, Donald Miller. When she learned that Blackfalds’ 100th anniversary was coming up in 2004, she thought it would be a great project if someone wrote a history book for the town.
“I didn’t know who might do that, and so I decided to try doing it myself,” said Carleton.
“So, without any previous experience, I wrote ‘Blackfalds Recollections’ published in 2003, for the town’s centennial. It was about two years of hard work, but I enjoyed the learning experience and the results so much, that I formed the Blackfalds & Area Historical Society in 2005, and the rest, they say, is history!”
Carleton is committed to continuing to collect and preserve the town’s history by operating the Blackfalds Archives and spearheading many projects, most notably the building and unveiling of the Blackfalds Veterans Memorial at the Abbey Centre, the Heritage Signage Project which recently installed six history signs around the town, and she has also written three more history books on different topics of local interest.
“We have enjoyed having the archives and an office to work out of in the Blackfalds Public Library for the last 12 years, and will miss the great people there,” said Carleton. The archives is open every Wednesday at its new location in the Wadey Centre.