Where DID all the anvils go?

By Sandra L. Brown

December 8, 2016 12:00 AM

Smithies were the heart of the community

I often get asked where my ideas for this column come from.
Today’s idea came from an old television series I was watching.
The characters referenced various cartoons and heatedly debated the burning question of “where DID all the anvils go?”
And a column idea was born! 
Providing essential services for the Barr Colonists, the first blacksmith business opened in 1903. 
The “smithy” was often the first metalworker in the community and made objects out of iron or steel.
This was during the age of “horsepower” and blacksmiths were vital in their maintenance. 
Making more than just horseshoes, the blacksmith also created household tools such as fireplace and cooking utensils, hoops for barrels and rims for wagon wheels.
Blacksmiths made or repaired almost anything brought into their shops for domestic or farm use. 
Blacksmiths played an important role in history with the dawn of the Industrial Age. 
Though a definition of what a blacksmith is varies, they were nevertheless part of the business core in Lloydminster’s early days.
They were borne out of necessity forging specialized tools and making repairs for farm and townsfolk alike.
The advent of the automobile had an impact on the blacksmith forcing them into a non-traditional role.
Their shops were transformed into precursors for automobile repair garages. 
“Black,” refers to the oxides in the metal turning black after being heated and “smite” means to hit an object. 
Pieces of wrought iron or steel were heated in a forge until it glowed red and became pliable enough to be shaped using a hammer and other hand tools such as chisels. 
The striking and shaping of the heated iron or steel was done on the anvil. 
Historically, made of iron or steel, the anvil was the primary tool required by the blacksmith.  Its appearance has evolved through the years. 
The front end with the horn shape allows for more precise forming whereas the flat surface or “face” of the anvil is where most of the hammering occurs. 
The opposite end also has a hole (or two) which aids in bending, hole punching, or storing a tool.
A May 1910 advertisement for blacksmithing services included shoeing, shearing and repair work.
“At Mr. A. Leader’s shop we hear the anvils ringing their merry old tune from morning until night.
The most up-to-date shop from North Battleford to Edmonton, and the best workmen kept that can be got in the country to handle it.” 
He also employed a machinist who had built engines. 
By October, this same blacksmith and machine shop was advertised for sale. 
The complete outfit of tools, two fires, turning lathe, trip hammer, machine drill, gasoline engine, circular saw—all were stated in good shape. 
A termed lease was also possible for the business. 
Mr. J. Whitbread bought the blacksmith shop later that year.
He enlarged it with a 30 x 20 foot addition, which provided more room for his increasing business. 
The name of his shop was “The Forge” on Broadway. 
He installed a cold tire setter capable of handling tires up to three-in by 5/8 in without having to be removed from the wheels. 
He also reminded farmers of getting their discs sharpened promising them better results. 
In my humble opinion, the apparent disappearance of anvils is really indicative of technological advancements made through the years. 
Sadly, each advancement means the loss of or the diminishing of “how it used to be done.”
Sometimes the old way worked just fine or simply needed to be tweaked first before replacing it completely. 
It’s like tearing down a historical building of infinite value and character; replacing it with something as mundane as a paved parking lot and calling it progress. 
Eventually most objects become obsolete with time or have a need to be reinvented. 
Anvils were unceremoniously cast aside due to industrial advancements through the years. 
Fortunately for us, the spirit of what anvils truly represent is kept alive in museum exhibitions and through traditional heritage demonstrations. 
Blacksmithing courses, schools and guilds exist. 
On today’s prairie, blacksmithing is more of a traditional art form. Symbolically, anvils aren’t really gone at all and truly represent the obsolete objects used in Lloydminster’s early days.

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