Barbara Teghtmeyer and the Bragg Creek Trading Post Hold their Ground along the Elbow River
by Ann Sullivan
The Elbow River rages during the 1963 flood.
Over a lifetime of living on the banks of the Elbow, Barbara Teghtmeyer has seen the river in every state, from slow and meandering to full-blown raging. She can reel off a list of flood years: 1932 (“the mother of all floods”), 1948, 1963, ‘67, ‘68 and 1995. In her lifetime, though, the biggest and most destructive flood hit just four years ago, on June 20, 2013.
On the day the Elbow River came crashing through Bragg Creek, Teghtmeyer was up early to open the family-owned Shell gas station in the hamlet. At 5:30 that morning, the river was unusually high and unlike anything she’d seen. “I have never seen the river black, and there were vertical waves,” she said. “I thought, ‘This is bad. This is really bad.’”
Across the river from where she stood, water was already running around the far side of the old wooden dance hall. That had never happened. “The dance hall was impermeable,” she said. “In past floods, people ran to the dance hall for safety and shelter.”
The Round Hall (dance hall) appears in the background of this photo from the flood of 1963.
Teghtmeyer knew immediately that her family business – the Bragg Creek Trading Post – and her home, which is attached, were in trouble. She and her family called around for sandbags and started piling bags of wood against the door inside the store. Response to their call was swift. When asked who came to help, Teghtmeyer chokes up as she answers: “Everybody.”
As the water continued to rise, Teghtmeyer and the crew kept working. “At first we lifted everything up. Ha ha,” she says, shaking her head at the futility. When the water kept coming, they hauled desks and furniture out of the house to higher ground. At one point her son told her to forget the furniture and just grab the drawers, many of which were filled with business documents, journals, papers and photos from the early days of Bragg Creek. She’s grateful that her son’s quick thinking saved the contents, but she still laments losing some “very poignant” photos from the flood of 1932.
The Bragg Creek Trading Post was devastated during the 2013 flood.
As anyone who saw images of the flood knows, the Bragg Creek Trading Post suffered huge damage. The log fireplace and the roof held (along with the two chairs that were sitting on an upper balcony), but the contents of both the store and the house were left floating in four feet of water and, after it receded, mud and debris.
At one point, Teghtmeyer considered simply walking away from the mess. “The thought crossed my mind,” she said, but she added, “It felt worse to walk away from it than to face it even though it was so challenging.”
Because of her family’s long history in the Bragg Creek area, Teghtmeyer feels a certain responsibility to the community. She still regrets losing some historical documents and photos in 2013. “That was the worst feeling I had after the flood,” she said, “that I had let the community down. I felt like I had forsaken them somehow.”
In true pioneer spirit, the Teghtmeyers worked to rebuild the Trading Post and their home. For historical reasons, they kept the same footprint when they rebuilt and were also able to use logs from their own property. Two years after the flood they moved back into their home. The store has reopened – minus the antique Shell hand pump, which was uprooted in the flood – and continues to serve residents and visitors.
The Teghtmeyer family rebuilt the Bragg Creek Trading Post after the 2013 flood.
Even though the store is newly rebuilt, it carries an aura of history. No wonder – the same store has been in continuous operation since 1927 and run by Barbara’s family for 85 of those 90 years. Her parents, Jack Elsdon and Mary Blair, bought the building in 1932 from the original owners, Tina and Guy Coates, and moved it to its current location in 1940. The building is located close to what Teghtmeyer refers to as Stoney Crossing, a part of the river between the hamlet of Bragg Creek and Bragg Creek Provincial Park. First Nations people played a large part in the early years of the Trading Post, Teghtmeyer says. “My dad always said that without them, we wouldn’t have made it.” She remembers First Nations people bringing in furs on Sundays: beaver, mink, otter, tree marten and, in later years, squirrels.
In addition to the Trading Post, Teghtmeyer’s mother also ran up to 15 summer cabins in the Bragg Creek area, half of them close to the family’s store, the others near what is now Elkana Estates and Ranch. In the 1940s and ‘50s Bragg Creek was a holiday destination for city folks, and during the summer the local population tripled with “cabin people.”
Barbara Teghtmayer's father, Jack Elsdon, built numberous foot bridges across the Elbow River during his lifetime.
Living beside the river was just like living on a beach, Teghtmeyer says. “It’s the same mentality as being at the beach – you played in it, you sat beside it and you went to sleep listening to it.” That being said, she notes that she’s never really been a water person. Her dad, on the other hand, took up tubing on the river at the age of 70!
Teghtmeyer’s father created a swimming hole in the summer (which became an ice rink in the winter) by damming the river. He also hand-built a multitude of bridges over the years that crossed the Elbow from the Trading Post to the dance hall, which the family also owned, on the other side. His most elaborate bridge, built in 1967, boasted 2 by 6 wood decking and a handrail. It was lost in spring floodwaters the following year. In later years, Jack Elsdon built his bridges on wagon wheels so that he could launch them in the summer and pull them out before freeze-up. He pulled out his final bridge in the fall of 1973, the year before he died.
The dance hall – or Round Hall, as it’s also known – was the site of Saturday night dances run by Teghtmeyer’s mother from the mid-1950s to the early 1970s. (In fact, that’s where Teghtmeyer met her husband, Robb.) Barbara’s family owned the hall, but closed it in the 1980s because the building was deteriorating. The Teghtmeyers were partway through a renovation of the Round Hall when the 2013 flood happened. Again, the family persevered and the hall has been completely restored and rebuilt. It hosted its first community event in May 2016 – a meeting of the Bragg Creek Historical Society.
The Round Hall is back in operation in 2017, after extensive renovations by the Teghtmeyer family.
With all the local knowledge she possesses – in her memory as well as in photos, journals and newspaper and magazine clippings – Barbara Teghtmeyer is a historical society unto herself. She insists she’s not as talented an archivist as her mother, but between running her businesses, she spends many hours sorting through and cataloguing information. She’s currently helping compile a list of cabin people, among other things.
Barbara Teghtmeyer loves to travel, but it’s likely you’ll find her at the Trading Post between May 24 and July 1, the time of year she refers to as “flood season.” Like her father, she respects and acknowledges the vagaries of the Elbow River. “You can never, ever say with certainty what the river will do,” she says. For that reason, she said, her father never ordered stock for the Trading Post before flood season was over. Earlier this year she put in a big order of jackets, but she says, “I don’t think I’ll unpack it until after. I’ll sell from it, but I won’t unpack it.”
The Bragg Creek Trading Post, now in its 90th year in business, continues to serve the hamlet of Bragg Creek and surrounding areas.
A thank-you sign still stands in front of the Bragg Creek Trading Post to acknowledge everyone who helped rebuild the historic local business.