Entrepreneurs and Innovators - Part 1

On now until February 2, the Galt Museum and Archives presents an exhibit celebrating southwestern Alberta businesses, inventors and researchers. Entrepreneurs and Innovators features photos from the Galt Archives's holdings, and can be seen in the lower gallery, outside the archives. This blog post will be the first of a series based on the exhibit.

Communities thrive when people initiate successful businesses, programs, opportunities and events. Innovators bring new or better ways of doing things to the benefit of others.  In southwestern Alberta there is a strong history of entrepreneurs capitalizing on available opportunities and innovators solving the particular problems of this area to improve economic opportunities for everyone.

Though government surveyor John Palliser stated this area was unsuitable for agriculture in the 1850s, the work of many people made farming Palliser’s Triangle possible.  Agriculture was much improved with the extensive irrigation systems constructed by companies such as the Galt’s Alberta Railway and Irrigation Company.  Lethbridge Research Station staff like Asael Palmer developed better methods for irrigating crops and reducing soil erosion through trash cover.  This research complimented the development of better farm tools such as Charles Noble’s cultivating blade and Andrew Briosi’s beet harvester.  The Knight’s Sugar Factory helped make the development of irrigation more profitable by producing sugar beets at a good return per acre.

This exhibit illustrates a few of the individuals who saw a need in the community and developed a way to meet that need by supplying products and services or new and better ways of doing things.  It also celebrates those who faced hardship and developed strategies to overcome these conditions.

I. G. Baker and Co.

I. G. Baker and Co. store, Lethbridge.   Courtesy the Galt Museum & Archives: 19891046021-022

I. G. Baker and Co. store, Lethbridge. 

Courtesy the Galt Museum & Archives: 19891046021-022

Isaac Gilbert Baker and his brother George formed a mercantile and grocery company in Fort Benton, Montana in 1866. As the Montana gold rush fizzled out, the I.G. Baker & Brother Company looked for new customers. In 1869 the brothers outfitted their brother-in-law Alfred Hamilton and John Healy to go into Canada. Healy and Hamilton went north with wagons loaded with liquor and repeating rifles and established a trading post at the junction of the Oldman and St. Mary Rivers. Their initial profits from trading whiskey and other goods for buffalo robes were good, but the whiskey trade ended when the North West Mounted Police arrived in 1874. I. G. Baker & Co. then began selling and delivering supplies to the police. The company operated a number of other general stores in the area which were eventually purchased by the Hudson’s Bay Company.

George Houk

George Houk and Co. Wholesale Liquor.   Courtesy the Galt Museum & Archives: 19891046033

George Houk and Co. Wholesale Liquor.

Courtesy the Galt Museum & Archives: 19891046033

George "Daddy" Houk is regarded as the first person of European descent to visit the location that would later become Lethbridge. After serving as a sheriff in Montana, he came to southern Alberta in 1864. Houk married Victoria, a Niitsitapii (Blackfoot) woman, which helped him develop a vital trade connection with her people. In the Oldman River Valley, where he settled, he engaged in mining, ranching, hunting buffalo and trading liquor for buffalo robes. He joined Hamilton and Healy, helping to build Fort Whoop-Up. Houk would later say of himself and other whiskey traders: "It’s a wonder they didn’t get an army and kill every one of us. We deserve[d] it.” Houk operated a legal liquor business, George Houk and Co. Wholesale Liquor from 1902-1906.

By Sven Andreassen

Sven Andreassen is a recent graduate of the University of British Columbia's Master of Archival Studies program. He has been volunteering in the Galt Archives since the summer and curated this exhibit.