Local businessman and philanthropist Stewart Ford has penned a new book that details his family’s business that served the Central Alberta region for more than a century.
Ford was the third and last generation of one of Central Alberta’s earliest businesses, Stewart Brothers (later Stewart Supplies (Penhold) Ltd.
In 1902, brothers Norman and Tom Stewart (Stewart’s grandfather) obtained a $600 loan to start a machine agency.
That business – called Stewart Brothers and later Stewart Supplies (Penhold, Ltd.) – transitioned through three generations and provided everything from farm machinery to lumber and building supplies and served Central Alberta’s settlers, farmers, and contractors for more than 100 years.
A launch for Stewart Brothers: An Alberta Family Business History, which includes some 250 images as well, was held late last month at the Red Deer Museum + Art Gallery.
Beyond exploring the influential business, the title also examines an array of topics from the lumber and building supply industry to the development of the province to Stewart’s own life experiences.
All proceeds from the book will go to the Ford Family Scholarship at Penhold Crossing Secondary School.
“I’m excited to share this labour of love with friends, former staff and colleagues, customers and anyone with an interest in the history of our area’s settlement, development, and built environment.
“I (also) look forward to many good conversations at the book launch,” said Stewart, 80, who worked in the business for 51 years and eventually closed it when he retired.
Over the years, he explained that information about the business had been collected and stored in archives which he had been steadily working on.
Plus, he had amassed his own set of writings about it as well. It was ultimately a matter of compiling reams of information and organizing a narrative – a process Stewart enjoyed immensely.
“When I retired, I was the last person standing who had been active in the business,” he said. “I had all the archives from the Ford side of the family. I also had all the Stewart stuff – all of their early ledgers up until 1910, and photographs and records from the 40s and 50s as well. I also had my own materials from the 60s on.
“I started then to archive – and that was a 10-year, disjointed effort because I would be doing things and all of a sudden I would find more stuff,” he added with a laugh. “Then I’d discover more.”
His own personal memories would often pop up during this time of reflecting as well.
“And as you go back of course, you think of other vignettes of working with your grandfather and him telling you something, of working with customers or of hearing stories from your father. And then there are your own little tidbits along the way.”
In the meantime, Stewart had also been thinking about penning some stories from his own life experiences.
“I got started on that, maybe half a dozen pages – and I suddenly realized that my life is about the business, so I had better write the business story.”
It’s clear that Stewart is thrilled to hold the finish product in his hands, and to know that a lasting tribute to his dedicated and hard-working grandfather and great uncle has been recorded for future generations.
“The essence of it is the story of the two brothers,” he explained. “And what they did to help the community move ahead particularly during the Great Depression.”
Looking over the books, it’s clear the brothers indeed had a heart for lending a helping hand.
“In one of the ledgers, there are 600 accounts. And those are what you could call ‘banker’ accounts – people who had promissory notes or a credit account. That’s in a business in Penhold that had a population of 124 people,” he added.
Meanwhile, he’s looking forward to the book launch as his family will be there to celebrate the milestone, and it will also be a superb time of catching up with friends and neighbours.
“It’s about the importance of that pioneer family that came out here in 1884. And about the two sons who grew a business and basically helped bring a large part of this community through the Depression.”
The book will be available for sale at the Museum’s reception desk, at other Central Alberta booksellers, from the author, and is now available on Amazon.