The City of Lacombe is beginning to set itself apart as being known provincially for preserving and recognizing its historical structures and heritage.
Continuing on that legacy is the City’s Municipal Historic Resource Program.
This past Saturday, during the Lacombe Culture and Harvest Festival, dignitaries, Lacombe and District Historical Society representatives, volunteers and members of the public gathered on the doorstep of the City’s newest historical resource, the Lacombe Blacksmith Shop and Museum located along 49th St. in the downtown core.
This building, that functions both as a museum and a fully operational blacksmith shop, with industrial metal siding and original wood floors, is now marked as significant in the development of what the Lacombe region has become today.
Mayor Steve Christie, City Councillor Bill McQuesten, MLA Ron Orr, Lacombe County Reeve Paula Law and MP Blaine Calkins gathered to commemorate the special occasion. A plaque was placed in front of the building, a testament for all to see the historic significance.
“Right here in Lacombe we take great pride in our heritage and we place great value on the preservation of our historical buildings,” said Christie. “It is my honour to be here and to celebrate this municipal designation and historical treasure right here in Lacombe.”
The Lacombe Blacksmith Shop was established in 1902 by A.F. Weddle. The building sits on its original site and has already received a provincial historic designation in 2011. The shop was purchased by the Lacombe and District Historical Society in 1991 and was then restored as a museum.
In its early existence, the building changed hands quite often, but was consistently used as a blacksmith shop until around 1939 when it became a welding shop and a place for general metal working.
“Over the years there have been many additions and changes to it, but the original forge continues to be used for blacksmithing,” said Christie. “I wonder if Weddle and many other blacksmiths that worked in the shop in the early days realized the significance of their contribution to our community. I know they would be very proud that their legacy has been preserved, is being honoured and celebrated today, more than a century later.”
Executive Director of the Lacombe and District Historical Society Marie Peron also acknowledged the importance of the shop in the community’s history.
“In the context of the Province of Alberta, this is the oldest operating blacksmith shop in the province today, so it is a gem that really makes our community stand out province-wide,” she said. “You can really be proud that we’ve done a great job preserving it and we are still able to operate the original forge too during our public demonstrations for the community.”
Lacombe and District Historical Society President Jennifer Kirchner said she was pleased to see the shop being recognized by the community. “It is a really important place,” she said.
Noting that it may not be, on the exterior, as aesthetically pleasing as other buildings in the City, it does hold much significance.
“It’s a little rougher than what we are used to,” she said. “It’s not the glorious Flatiron building or one of the beautiful homes in the community. It’s an industrial building and those don’t typically get protected by communities or by the province. They tend to disappear.”
She said the group of volunteers who operate the shop are still using the same skills that blacksmiths of a century ago would be using in the very same building. Once a month the group of hard working volunteers get together in the shop to work on projects and learn the historic skill of bending iron and forming it into shapes by heat and trip hammers.
“I can’t help but wonder what farms in the County still have tools that were made in the shop,” said Kirchner. “I wonder what homes, what pieces of furniture that were actually built with nails that the blacksmiths made here. It’s curious to see how this building helped build the whole community, helped support the agriculture community, helped build the businesses, helped build the downtown and the whole community that we get to enjoy and love today.”
This was the second Municipal Historic Resource designation made by the City of Lacombe. The first building in Lacombe to receive the prestigious designation was St. Andrew’s United Church this past year. The designation was noted as a milestone for the City, already known as a community that recognizes its history.
In 2009, the City began documenting its heritage resources in Lacombe through the creation of a Municipal Heritage Survey. St. Andrew’s United Church and the Lacombe Blacksmith Shop Museum were two of the 55 buildings/resources identified in the Municipal Heritage Survey and the Municipal Heritage Inventory to be preserved.
The municipal designation will ensure the blacksmith shop, and other buildings that are later designated, will be preserved and protected. The designation also enables the shop to receive funds from grant programs and other initiatives to assist in repairs and restoration efforts towards the 113 year old building.