These days, a store is just a store. But once upon a time, it was a place to barter and trade, a place to catch up on community gossip — even a place to receive phone calls and rent cooler space.
During its 71 years of operation, the century-old Dickson General Store was “a real hub in the community,” said Sharon Lightbown, who now manages the original 1909 building as a museum.
The historic role of the rural place of business, once known as the Carl Christiansen and Sons general store and later as Christiansen Bros., is being recognized in an original 100th-anniversary play called Once Upon a Dickson.
The play was commissioned from Ghost Stories of Alberta author Nancy Millar and will be performed under a tent in Dickson on Aug. 1 and 2 as a dinner or dessert theatre.
The plot deals with events that really happened — such as the time a boy borrowed a large empty box from the shop in order to smuggle his girlfriend into the house in which he was billeted. The scheme was quashed when the matron from the girl’s dormitory noticed her absence and alerted store owner Carl Christiansen.
The play “will talk about the store and about how the store wasn’t just a store,” said Lightbown. For instance, not only did the commercial outlet sell “absolutely everything,” from lumber to china, but for several years, the Dickson General Store also contained the only telephone in the district and one of the only radios.
The new-fangled devices led many residents to hang around long after their shopping trips were done.
The Christiansens, who lived above the store, performed another valuable community service by taking eggs in trade from area farmers and marketed them in Calgary, she added. They also accepted meat in trade from cash-strapped rural residents and opened their own adjacent processing plant, where they made sausage for sale and rented cooler space to area families.
“I think the store survived so long because of who ran it and how good they were to people,” said Lightbown, who believes the Christiansens empathized with hardship.
They were willing, for example, to let farmers take home badly needed items in the spring that they couldn’t pay for until the fall harvest came in.
The store, located 3.2 km south of Spruce View, was owned by two generations of the Christiansen family, starting with Danish immigrant Carl and his wife, Laura, and then continued by their sons, Homo and Gordon.
The Dickson General Store was so special that Lightbown said the community couldn’t let it go when the business was finally closed for good in 1980. Central Albertans can find out why by attending Once Upon a Dickson, which will be directed by Central Alberta Theatre member Harvey Brink and staged with local players on Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 1 and 2.
The Saturday show is a dinner theatre starting at 6 p.m. Tickets are $30 each. The Sunday show is a dessert theatre, starting at 3:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 each or $60 for a family of two adults and two children.
For more information about the play and the free family events taking place in Dickson that weekend, including children’s games and a picnic, call the museum at 403-728-3355.