The 101 Cowboy Hat Collection
One of southern Alberta’s hidden gems is the Bert Sheppard Library and Archives, located in the Cochrane Ranche House. Operated by the nonprofit Stockmen’s Memorial Foundation, this unique non-lending library houses much of the early history of Alberta’s livestock industry. Alongside an extensive collection on Alberta’s registered cattle and horse brands, they also have an impressive display of western headgear, known to most of us as “cowboy hats”.
The cowboy hat collection originated about 50 years ago at the local Cochrane feed store operated by Jill Wong. One sunny day, one of her local rancher customers came by to purchase a new hat. Hats were an important part of a rancher’s apparel as they shaded them from the sun while haying, and kept the rain and snow off while checking on stock in inclement weather. This rancher felt that his current hat had some value and wanted to negotiate a “trade-in” on a new hat. When the deal was done the rancher had a new hat, and the rafters of the feed store saw the start of a historical collection. A number of years later the feed store closed and the collection was moved to the Stockmen’s Library.
Now there are about 100 hats hung neatly on the log beams of the library, each with the name of its original owner attached. If these hats could tell their own stories, I am sure the adventures would fill many volumes. Each hat has its own distinctive crease and brim shape, reflecting the personality of the owner and giving an idea of the experiences they endured. To help visitors fully appreciate the history of the hats, the foundation volunteers have prepared a collection of stories from their donors. These stories capture pieces of history from a number of well-known Albertans, as well as some of the not so famous. They all shared the common practice of wearing a cowboy hat that became part of their personae, and a unique part of our memories of these individuals.
The hat collection is not yet complete. The library still accepts hats from foundation members, as well as other westerners with a hat that has a story worth sharing. There are hats of all shapes and sizes including straws, felts, and a fur hat once worn by cattle dealer Dorsey McDaniel on his winter journeys. Enjoy a rare and fascinating look at Alberta history by visiting The Bert Sheppard Library and Archives located at the Cochrane RancheHouse on the site of the historic Cochrane Ranche.
A small sample of the collection includes:
1. Bert Sheppard
The library is named for Bert as he was a keen collector of Alberta history and a former owner of the OH Ranch. This 130-year old working ranch was recently donated to the Calgary Stampede. Bert wrote a number of books about early ranching history.
2. Neil Harvie
Neil was a local rancher and an early supporter of the Beefbooster cattle breeding program. His ranch, the Glenbow, was recently preserved as a provincial park.
3. Hugh Wearmouth
Hugh hailed from an early ranching family and spent most of his life on the Wineglass Ranch, established at its present location in 1885.
4. Bert Fox
As a returning veteran of WWII, Bert ranched in the Grand Valley west of Cochrane. Bert’s hat was donated to the library by his son George, a well-known Canadian country music performer.
5. Wilf Carter
Although Wilf was not known as a rancher, he was well known as an entertainer and songwriter who captured much of the spirit of the west. Wilf got his start as a guide and packer in support of trail-riding tourists in the Canadian Rockies.
6. Edith Edge
The past president of the Stockmen’s Foundation, Edith has lived part our ranching heritage. She served as Miss Calgary Stampede in 1953 and has been involved in livestock production her entire life. It is believed that Edith’s brother Don contributed the first hat to the collection.
– By: Don Hepburn