William Springbett 1941. (Photo by Red Deer Archives)

William Springbett 1941. (Photo by Red Deer Archives)

DAWE: The Springbett family legacy

One of Red Deer’s earliest pioneer families, and one of its most respected, was the community’s first blacksmith, William Springbett, and his wife Christina.

William Springbett was born on December 23, 1868, in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, the second child of Edward and Annie Kale Springbett. When he was two years old, his mother passed away in childbirth. His father found it impossible to manage with three small children. Consequently, the baby was adopted by a neighbouring family who left shortly thereafter for California. William never saw or heard from that sister again.

At age 15, he apprenticed as a blacksmith, first in Sault Ste. Marie, and later in Thessalon, Ontario. In 1890, he decided to try his prospects in the Canadian West. He moved to Lethbridge where he worked for the Northwest Coal and Navigation Company. However, after four months he decided to go into business for himself and moved to the Red Deer Crossing settlement where Fort Normandeau was located.

In the spring of 1891, when the Calgary-Edmonton Railway Company established the new townsite of Red Deer, William relocated to the new community. He built a shop on the southwest corner of corner of Gaetz Avenue and Mann (49th) Street.

In May 1895, he felt established enough to marry Christina McQueen, a bright and lively young woman he had met while in Thessalon.

The McQueen family had experienced tragedies as well. When they emigrated from Scotland, their ship caught fire and all but Mr. McQueen and an infant daughter drowned. The father remarried and Christina and another sister, Mary, were born. However, both parents died when the girls were very young and the sister who had survived the shipwreck did her best to raise them, even though she was not very old herself.

The Springbetts became very active in their new community. In 1896, William was elected as overseer for the village. He was then elected to the Public School Board and served as chairman. William chaired the meeting at which the incorporation of Red Deer as a town was formally launched. In the spring of 1901, he was elected to the first Town Council and served for five terms.

Both William and Christina were very active with Knox Presbyterian Church. Christina also served Worthy Matron for the Order of the Eastern Star. William served as Worthy Master of the Masonic Lodge and was an active member of the Board of Trade for three decades. He sang in the church choir and played in the Red Deer Community Band when it was established.

William and Christina became well known for their kindness and generosity to others. William frequently accepted eggs, vegetables or chickens as payment for his work when his customers had little money. If he felt they were totally destitute, he did the blacksmith work for free.

On one occasion, a young girl, who was working for the Springbetts while Christina was ill, proved to be a total failure at bread making. When William found out how upset and frightened she was, he quietly went off to the bakery to get the replacements, even though he was rather short on cash. Whether Christina knew what had happened or not, she never said anything to anybody about having to use store-bought bread when money was tight.

In 1941, as William entered his retirement years, the Board of Trade held a special appreciation banquet for him. A very large crowd turned out to publicly thank the Springbetts for all that they had done for Red Deer.

In January 1945, William suffered a severe heart attack. He passed away on May 8, 1946. Christina passed away on July 9, 1963. They are buried in the Red Deer Cemetery.

The Springbetts had five children, a daughter Annie and four sons, James, Edward, Douglas and Bruce. It was of great pride to them that three of their children became teachers, one becoming a distinguished university professor, while another son became a dentist. Their granddaughter, Lynn Seymour, became an internationally acclaimed ballerina with the Royal Ballet.

Springbett Drive in Red Deer is named in honour of William and Christina Springbett.

Michael Dawe is a Red Deer Historian and his column appears on Wednesdays.