Some families are so important to the history of Red Deer that more than one place or street in our City is named after them. One example of this is the Piper family after whom Piper Drive, Piper Creek and Piper Mountain are named.
William Piper was born in 1840 in Tipperary, Ireland, the son of an Anglo-Irish estate manager. When he was two years old, his mother passed away. His father remarried a local Irish woman, despite a prohibition against such unions by the English landlords. Consequently, the family was forced to emigrate to Canada. They settled first at Strathroy, Ontario, and later moved to the Parry Sound district.
In the early 1890s, times were very tough in the lumber camps and small farms of the Parry Sound area. In the summer of 1891, three men, including William Piper, made an exploratory trip to see what the prospects in Alberta were. They were impressed by what they saw. They subsequently lined up almost 500 settlers to move to a new colony in the West.
The Parry Sound colonists embarked in the spring of 1892, traveling west along the C.P.R. and then north on the newly constructed Calgary-Edmonton Railway. The destination was the area around Fort Saskatchewan. However, William Piper and John McCartney liked the Red Deer district much better. They therefore got off the train early. All fifty residents of the new hamlet of Red Deer gathered at the station to greet them.
William Piper bought thirty acres along the creeks at the foot of the South Hill. He had been a brick maker back in Ontario and the quality clay and ample water on the site offered him an excellent prospect for starting a new brick making business here. Meanwhile, his son Frank went out into the Balmoral district to claim a homestead.
The new brickyard got a tremendous boost when the Federal Government bought almost all the bricks the Pipers could produce for two years for the construction of the Indian Industrial School west of town. A brief lull followed in the mid-1890s, but the ever-resourceful Pipers turned to undertaking to supplement their income. By the late 1890s, however, with new settlers flooding into the Red Deer area and new markets opening up in Calgary, Edmonton and the Kootenay region of British Columbia, the brickyard was soon a roaring concern again. By 1904, there was sufficient demand to open a second brickyard on the west side of town, next to Waskasoo Creek.
The two yards were soon producing 50,000 bricks a day. In 1906, they produced three million bricks. In 1907, one yard alone produced four million bricks. The brickyards were by far the largest employers in town, pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into the local economy at a time that $2 per day was a good wage.
Unfortunately, the boom times eventually came to an end with the outbreak of the First World War. With building permits dropping as low as $600 per year, the brickyards ceased operation. After the War, production began again with a welcome boost from the construction of a new Alberta Government Telephones building. It was to be the last major contract. The gas-fired brickyards at Redcliff, Alberta, were now providing a higher quality and cheaper brick than the wood fired kilns in Red Deer could produce. In 1922, the Piper brickyard was closed permanently.
Today there is little trace today of the old brickyards. Even most of the brick buildings built with Piper Brick, have been torn down. Nevertheless, the names of the creek, the roadway in the Pines and the clay hillock on the south side of the downtown provide an enduring reminder of the Pipers and their major contribution to our City.
Michael Dawe is a Red Deer historian. His column appears on Wednesdays.