Blacksmith Shop takes visitors back in time

Staff ~ The Southwest Booster
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Visitors to Doc’s Town were treated to a once common display on the Canadian prairie.

Stephen Philp gives a demonstration in the blacksmithing trade at Ball's Blacksmith in Doc's Town. Sunday marked 100 years since the shop was built in Valjean.  It was donated to Doc's Town in 1981.

Blacksmiths from around the province gathered with visitors at Ball’s Blacksmith Shop to commemorate the building’s centennial anniversary.

“It’s great that we have this building,” said Swift Current resident Stephen Philp, one of the many blacksmiths demonstrating the trade to interested observers.  “It’s an original building and the tools that are in it are original to the shop.  That’s unique in a lot of respects.”

The original shop owner was William “Billie” Ball who started up in Valjean, roughly 100 km east of Swift Current.  Ball, like most prairie blacksmiths, earned his living by repairing farm equipment, although he also repaired wagon wheels, created branding irons for local ranchers and built sleigh runners.  He would also occasionally shoe horses.

Ball’s grandson Dennis was on hand for the ceremony and said he was pleased to see the work that was done to preserve the building.

“It’s very nice.  It’s preserved for history and for other people and generations to see, so it’s good.”

Dennis’ father continued to run the shop until the late 1950s.  By then it had more modern tools, like an electric welder and an acetylene torch welder.

Philp said most blacksmiths didn’t hesitate to change their ways in order to work faster.

“Blacksmiths were progressive in the fact that they embraced new technologies,” he said.  “If there was an easier way of doing it, they found it.”

However, the current shop doesn’t have many modern luxuries.  The caretakers have kept to the original version as much as they can, which makes it an interesting place to visit.

“I find it great to work in,” Philp said.  “You can almost sink back in time.  You can go back, maybe not back to 1914, but back to the ’20s anyway.”

While blacksmithing is a fascinating process, it is time consuming.  Philp said you need lots of patience to be successful.

“If you’re into instant gratification, it’s really not the hobby or the career you want to get into,” he said with a chuckle.  “Blacksmithing does take time.”

While blacksmiths are no longer needed on the prairie, the techniques and traditions are still being passed down from masters to beginners.  For the visitors on this day, they hope the same can be said of Ball’s Blacksmith Shop too.

Geographic location: Saskatchewan

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