Today, Blackfalds Alberta is one of the fastest growing communities in Canada and is in the middle of a population boom. The first time this happened was after the establishment of a railway line to the community in 1891, long before the town's incorporation in 1904. The arrival of the railway brought a swell of settlers, and the community rushed to fill their needs, leading to the rise of hotels, general stores, community centres, and other businesses. This tour, starting on Gregg Street before continuing south down Broadway, pauses at the sites of some of the earliest businesses and community centres that once made up the beating heart of Blackfalds downtown. While many of these businesses and buildings have now disappeared, these historic photos give us a glimpse into the earliest days of Blackfalds as a pioneer prairie community.
This project is a partnership with Blackfalds & Area Historical Society
Frank and Florence Tayles moved to Blackfalds after the Second World War and bought land along the north side of Waghorn Street, where they built their home in about 1947. Mr. Tayles was the school custodian, as well as the cemetery maintenance and groundskeeper. He planted many trees on his property, and after both their passing, their family later donated the land to the town for the site of the Blackfalds Civic & Cultural building. The park is called Tayles Water Spray Park.
Blackfalds’ first public hall was built in 1906 by George L. Gregson, who rented it out over the years, before selling it to the Ladies Aid Society in 1936. The hall was run by a Community Hall Board and was heavily used for many community functions including dances, meetings, plays, box socials, turkey suppers, concerts and club activities. The actual hall was on the upper floor and was accessible by an outdoor set of wooden stairs on the south side of the building. Old timers had memories of dances going late into the night and early morning hours. The hall burned down in December of 1946.
This photo shows the newly built Blackfalds community hall in 1948. The Blackfalds Community League wanted to replace the old public hall that was destroyed in a fire in 1946, so by April of 1947, an active campaign was under way to build a new hall. Many fundraising efforts were held and donations were accepted, so that along with the insurance from the fire, work got under way for the new building by October of 1947.
With many hours of volunteer labor, the new community hall held its grand opening dance in May of 1948. It boasted an excellent maple dance floor and a large stage. In 1973 an addition was built onto the back of the hall that became the Cheemo Hall. By the mid 1980s, the original hall was torn down, and later the Cheemo Hall was torn down as well. The whole area is now a paved parking lot. The present Community Hall, built in 1985, is located on Womacks Road.
Alberta’s population boom after the turn of the century created a need for milled lumber in many towns, for building. Atlas Lumber was an early business on Broadway Avenue, started by Mr. L. A. Hill in 1902. They had a small office and storage yard for their business to accommodate the early settlers. In the 1920s, this building became the post office, up until about 1959. It later became the Blackfalds Variety Store, owned by Norm Ellestad from 1963 to 1973. The store changed hands to the Stol sisters who ran it for a few years before the building was torn down
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This building served as the Post Office from about 1920 to 1953.
Frank Stephenson’s livery stable was built in 1903, just north of the Imperial Hotel on Broadway Avenue, which was also the C & E Trail. Being the main road between Edmonton and Calgary, it saw a lot of early wagon traffic. By 1913 Frank had rented out the building to Roy Trout, who later purchased it and ran a dray business as well. It is unsure how long this building remained on Broadway Avenue, but it was probably gone before the 1930s.
Blackfalds’ first hotel was built on Broadway Avenue in 1902 by William Spurrell. It became the Imperial Hotel, and was known as being one of the best stops along the C & E Trail, serving excellent meals and drink.
The hotel's rates in 1904 were from $1 to $2 per day. There were many ups and downs during the town’s prohibition, from about 1913 to 1928, before things settled back to normal. The hotel changed hands and names over the years, until 1958, when the newest addition on the east side was moved to be part of the hotel along Hwy. 2A. This hotel was torn down in 1978.
This is on Broadway Avenue, looking north from the Park Street intersection, in 1906. The west side of the street had Ward’s Harness Shop, W. Ritson’s Grocery Store, M. Maybank’s Drug Store, W. Trukenmiller’s Real Estate business and a Royal Bank. The east side of the street had the Imperial Hotel, the Stephenson Livery Stable, L. A. Hill’s Lumber business and the Public Hall. Things look very different today.
This store is the oldest standing building in Blackfalds, built by John McKay in 1901 as the Pioneer Store.
The building changed hands several times until 1918, when John A. Martin took over the store, and he ran it until 1941, when Mrs. Martin took ill. General stores of this time sold all manner of food, goods, hardware and novelties. Several people ran this store over the years, until 1989, when it was purchased by the Blackfalds Cornerstone Fellowship Church. In 2007 it was purchased by Youth With A Mission (YWAM) and it became the After The Grind coffee shop.
John Eggen built his service station and fuel warehouse in about 1938. By 1939 he had installed 2 electric fuel pumps at the station and by 1942 he had built the building that still stands today, although it has been renovated over the years and added on to. Mr. Eggen sold his business in 1949 to W. Cadger and it sold again in 1957 to Al Green. The gas station has changed hands and company names several more times over the years, but it is still a gas station, currently Centex.
This hotel, located along Highway 2A, was built in 1958 by Mr. Kline, who had moved the newest, east section of the old hotel on Broadway Avenue and built onto that, and called it the Haven Hotel. It consisted of a coffee shop, beverage room and hotel rooms. In 1961 it was purchased by Ron Harrison, and re-named the Nu-Way Hotel, and over the years it has changed hands and names. In the 1970s there was a bar addition and rooms added to the south side, and sometime later, a liquor store. It has been called the Blackfalds Motor Inn for quite some time and in 2019 the entire length with all the additions had a face lift that gave the exterior a new look. Two restaurants operate out of this location as well.
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Looking NW from Highway 2A and Indiana Street, in the early 1960s.
Blackfalds’ water tower was put up in 1958, when the village put in water and sewer lines. The village office was built beside the tower in 1962. The water tower was a town landmark for many years, before it was torn down in 1991. When a new town office was built on Waghorn Street, this building has since housed a barbershop, restaurants, and a flower shop. It is currently Sabrina’s Pizzeria.
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The south side of the town office and water tower in about 1980.
This is on Broadway Avenue, looking north from the Indiana Street intersection, in about 1907. On the east side, at this time Blackfalds boasted four general stores in a row, filling the block south of Park Street and the hotel. From the closest and moving north, they were the W. R. McDowell store, Bergstrom & Son General Merchants, Larson’s Store and McKay’s Pioneer Store.
This house was built in about 1903 by Percy Gregson, brother to Arthur and Leopold Gregson, part of the earliest family that came to this area in the 1890s. Percy was a solicitor, church warden, Justice of the Peace, village secretary, secretary for the school board and secretary for several companies in the village. He also started Blackfalds’ first newspaper called the “Blackfalds Mercury”. This house was also the first Natural History Museum west of Ontario, until 1907, when Percy went back to England. His vast insect and plant collection was donated to the Provincial Museum in Edmonton. Jack and Margaret Martin lived in this house when they ran the general store until the 1940s.
The first church was built in 1902 by the Presbyterian’s who served this area from Lacombe. The land and most of the funds and labor were donated by the Blackfalds and district pioneers, who built this wooden structure that held about 120 people. It stayed a Presbyterian denomination until 1922, and by 1925, when the union occurred, the Presbyterians joined with the Methodists to form the United Church, and Blackfalds formed their United Church in September of 1925.
In 1960, a Church Hall was built on the next lot north of the church, a 26’ by 60” building named the Christian Education Center. In 1980 an A frame front entry was added to the church and in 1982, the church and the hall were connected by a passageway. Devastation hit in 1990 when a fire broke out, set by an unknown arsonist, that destroyed both the church and hall to the extent that the congregation decided to re-build. The new building that stands today held its grand opening in 1992. By 2019 the United Church, which had been operating and holding services for 117 years, closed its doors and sold to the Seventh Day Adventists.
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The church and church hall with the connecting link and the A frame front porch, in the mid 1980s.
As Blackfalds grew, so did the need for a new school, so in 1949 the official opening was held for a large 4 room building, with large windows and a full basement, along Broadway Avenue. Stuart Brown was the principal of the school at the time. An addition was added to the south side in 1958 and a gymnasium was built in 1965 and a larger gymnasium in 1983. More classroom additions followed, before newer schools were built after 2000.
Blackfalds’ second school was contracted to be built in 1909, for the sum of $5000.00. The wood stove didn’t cover the heating of the two storey building too well, as an early comment was that “the school is proving to be more of a refrigerator”. The first two teachers here were Miss Ida Gaetz and Miss Carr. A third teacher was added in 1936 and more room was added with the addition of a small building for the elementary grades. Many times the schools were closed for influenza, infantile paralysis and sometimes for winter storms. When the new school was built in 1949, this school building was moved away.
Two grain elevators used to stand tall along the railway tracks. The National Elevator Co. elevator was built in 1922 and the Home Grain Co. elevator was built in 1927. At one point Searle Grain Co. took over both of these, and later one became a Federal Grain elevator and the other ran by the Alberta Wheat Pool. Top yielding years were 1963 and 1964 and the lowest yield was in 1934. In May of 1973, fire levelled one of the elevators and the remaining elevator was torn down in the spring of 1978.
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The Alberta Wheat Pool elevator being torn down in 1978.
The owner/operator of this livery stable (upper right hand corner of photo) is unknown, but it was located on the south side of Moore Street. The men and their teams of horses are gathered to head to work on the Blindman River Bridge in about 1905. This building was called an old time relic when it was torn down in March of 1942.
Henry Sleeman built this 2 storey building in 1904, to become a boarding house for the early settlers to the area. He and his wife, Charlotte, had purchased a new village lot in 1903, and they were eager to accommodate the early settlers to the area with a warm meal and a bed. In the early winter of 1906, a pregnant Charlotte was visiting east of Blackfalds via horse and buggy, when a severe winter storm came up and Charlotte went into premature labour on November 12 of 1906. Both her and her baby died due to the extreme cold weather on that day. Henry found it difficult to go on due to his loss, and soon had the house up for sale. The Larsons, at some point, took over the boarding house, and sometimes the building stood empty, until 1951, when Homer Martin and his family moved in and did extensive renovations. Other families have lived here, but for about the last 5 years this building has stood empty. Here’s hoping the town does not lose this old landmark.
This little machine shop was built in the 1940s by Vance Capron, who ran a small business out of here for a few years before selling to Ed Zirk. Ed Zirk came to town in the early 195os and built a house along the east side of Broadway Avenue and started a Welding business along the west side, on the corner of Moore Street. This building was later moved off the corner and in 1968 a new post office building was built here, with Mrs. Dorothy Gwin being the post mistress. Dorothy retired in 1972 and Arthur Johnston, Sam Gillespie, Barry Robinson and Ellen Trowsse followed as post masters. On March 2, 1991, the post office was destroyed by an explosion that was felt up to 5 km away. About 100 residents were evacuated and mail was scattered for hundreds of metres. The cause was soon found out to be a gas leak that was ignited by the furnace pilot light. The Servus Credit Union Bank now occupies this location, built in 1998.
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The welding shop on parade day, after the trees were removed.
The new post office built in 1968.
The aftermath of the post office explosion in March of 1991.
This garage opened in 1924, and was originally called the Blackfalds Garage. It was built by Robert McKay and William Barron, constructed of bricks, and measured 40’ X 60’ with a domed roof. Expert mechanical work was offered for all vehicles. They also sold gas, oil, and tires. Jack Martin ran his machinery business out of this building until the mid 1970s. This building has been built over and around the original, and is now the site of Mainstreet Hardware.
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*Mr. Plumb parked in front of Barron’s Garage in the 1920s.
This little building along Broadway Avenue served as an early blacksmith shop, transitioning from horses to vehicles and later, also operated as a small gas station. By the late 1940s, Joe Miller owned this site and rented it out as a small house for a few years, before it was torn down, making way for newer buildings.
The Calgary & Edmonton (C & E) Railway laid tracks from Calgary to Edmonton in 1891, and the stop along the way, at Blackfalds, was called the 11th Siding. As the village started to grow after the turn of the century, a Railway Station was built in 1904. Rail travel was one of the main ways to transport new settlers and their goods to the area. The mail also came by rail. This line was purchased by the CPR in 1912. There used to be stockyard corrals and a platform weigh scale beside the station, used by farmers to transport their livestock.
This station closed in 1967 and was later torn down. Granden Auto is at this location now.