Lacombe Blacksmith Shop preserves pioneer traditions

Museum offers engaging tourist attraction while enriching the community

CAREFUL CRAFTSMAN – Karl Beller inspects a piece as he shapes it with hammer and anvil at a blacksmithing demonstration on July 1 at the Lacombe Blacksmith Shop Museum.

CAREFUL CRAFTSMAN – Karl Beller inspects a piece as he shapes it with hammer and anvil at a blacksmithing demonstration on July 1 at the Lacombe Blacksmith Shop Museum.

Lacombe is well known for its historical ties and preservation of its local history.

As such, the City is dotted with many historical buildings, some of which have been converted to museums.

One such building is the Lacombe Blacksmith Shop Museum, which functions both as a historical museum and a functioning smithy.

Bill Marquardt, who manages the Lacombe Blacksmith Shop Museum, said that he believes having a museum like this acts as a tourist attraction for those interested in history and also enriches the community.

“I think it’s important,” said Marquardt. “(When communities) have something of historical value, people come in.”

Marquardt added that being able to learn about history in a hands on way, such as how the Blacksmith Shop offers, is more valuable than learning about it from a history book or other document.

He said he enjoys being able to pass on the knowledge to the visitors of the museum and hopes he encourages them to pass on those histories as well.

“If you can get someone interested in this type of thing, they can do the advertising for you,” said Marquardt.

He added that, just as people go to school to learn reading and writing from teachers, museums and those knowledgeable in their background are needed to teach local histories.

“I guess in a way I am teaching people about where these different things come from,” said Marquardt.

Lacombe’s Blacksmith Shop is one of the oldest in Alberta.

More importantly, it is one of the oldest working blacksmith shops in the province and even still uses its original forge.

In fact, the shop has been working and active since it was built in 1902, said Marquardt.

He added that, while there are older blacksmith shops in Alberta, he knows of none that have been active for the amount of time Lacombe’s has.

While the Lacombe Blacksmith Shop Museum still functions as a working smithy, it has not been used for commercial purposes since 1987.

In 1991, the Lacombe & District Historical Society purchased the shop and restored it as a museum.

Today, the Lacombe Blacksmith Shop still houses much of its original equipment. It is also housed in its original building, which follows the typical ‘boomtown front’ design of many of Alberta’s smaller communities.

For the building to be operational since its construction in 1902 is also a great feat.

Alfred Jacob Weddle was the original owner of the shop but the shop changed hands several times in the first seven years of its existence.

At that time, there were few tools in the shop, said Marquardt. There were only two anvils, some hammers and forges to heat up the metal.

Over the years however, the amount of equipment in the shop grew.

Marquardt said that tools were often hard to come by and needed to be designed for a specific purpose.

“The blacksmith, being what he is, made his own tools,” said Marquardt.

Some tools, Marquardt went on, were so specific that they might only be used once or twice a year.

He added that some of the tools blacksmiths were commissioned to build were also custom-made.

Marquardt said he first developed an interested with metal work by visiting the blacksmith shop with his dad as a kid.

That interest, as well as a desire to preserve history, led Marquardt to his involvement with the Lacombe Blacksmith Shop Museum.

While he had experience with welding before, Marquardt said he had no experience as a blacksmith prior to getting involved with the Blacksmith Shop Museum about 25 years ago.

“Blacksmithing is a little bit different,” said Marquardt. “What blacksmithing is, is re-shaping the metal.”

By the time Marquardt first tried his hand at blacksmithing, he was well into his adulthood at the age of 65.

He said he didn’t know what he was doing at first and ended up wrecking a lot of pieces, but eventually found a book that had step by step instructions on blacksmithing techniques and so he taught himself the trade.