Early Blacksmiths: A Lost Art

At one time the blacks­mith was considered to be one of the most useful and skilled tradesmen in his community. Every district had one or more blacksmiths who went about, shoeing horses, trim­ming their hoofs, sharpening, making and tempering plow shares and repairing wagon and buggy wheels. The early settlers all depended strongly on their village blacksmith to keep their machinery operational at all times. Spare parts were not readily available like they are today and he was called upon to make various repairs whenever they were needed.

His blacksmith shop gen­erally was equipped with a forge, a blower (used to sup­ply oxygen to the burning coal), an  anvil used f or pounding purposes, a drill press, a trip hammer and other needed equipment. The blacksmith used  a variety of tools such as different sized hammers, hot and cold chisels, and many different shaped blacksmith tongs.

Some of the early blacks­miths used a blacksmith bellows to supply oxygen to the coal burning forge. This de­vice resembled a bull fiddle and was made from wood and leather. It remained in a flat position near the forge with its funnel facing the burning coal. The upper part of the bellows was attached to a rope which was suspended from the ceiling and when the rope was pulled up and down it created an air flow which  was led into the forge. In later years this awkward arrangement was replaced with a hand turned blower. In making repairs the blacksmith first had to heat the metal until it became red hot; he then hammered and shaped it with his anvil. Later it was cooled and tempered by dipping it in cold water.

Blacksmithing has always been considered one of our oldest crafts. It began hun­dreds of years ago when man first began pounding on cold metal to shape his iron tools. Later man discovered metal would pound and shape easier it was first heated.  Some of our first settlers brought  blacksmith equip­ment with them when they settled in our district, others didn't and so they had to depend on the general blacksmith for their machinery re­pairs.

Two blacksmiths who came to the Elk Point district prior to the 1920s were Joe Blaine and W.A. Wardrope. Mr. Wardrope's had a blacksmith shop where our United Church now stands about 1916. His blacksmith shop was advertised in the Elk Point Agricultural Fair booklet of 1918 reads "WA. Wardrope, Elk. Point, Alta.  General Blacksmith, horseshoer and woodworker  All  kinds of repair work done." Apparently Joe Blaine was owner of the first blacks­mith in Elk Point, when it was still a hamlet.

Other blacksmiths in later years were William Soldan, Nick Sakowsky, and Paul Petrosky. Still later came  Paradowski and Harry Prusak. William Soldan took W.A. Wardrope's shop over in 1924. He sold it in 1925 and in 1927 he built a large garage building on Main Street. Part of this building contained a blacksmith shop which was operated by Nick Sakowsky. The last of our blacksmiths was Harry Prusak. He came to the Elk Point district from Waskatenau, Alberta in the late 1940s.

At one time all blacksmiths final blow came when electric wel­ders were introduced to our district. Many farmers bought their own welders and no longer had to depend on the blacksmiths for their repair work. Today, the blacksmith trade is fast becoming a lost art, about the only blacks­miths who still ply their trade are those employed in places such as Fort Edmonton Park or the Ukrainian Cultural Village where they demon­strate their work to tourists as well as school groups who visit these establishments. In past years the blacks­mith was a well established tradesman. However during recent times methods of re­pairing farm machinery have changed and the old blacks­mith trade as we remember it no longer exists.