From Feed Store to Grapevine: the House on Market Place
The house on 139 Market Place played very much a minor character in my last post on Prince Rupert’s Sunken Gardens. Admittedly, adding it at all was actually an afterthought. I decided to include something on the house after perusing through the photographs I had taken of the gardens when I came across a picture of the plaque dedicated to Bud Pierce. I became interested in 139 Market Place, the home Bud Pierce was said to have been born and raised in, as an intersection of home and work in the way that where he lived was situated on the very ground he worked. I felt it important to acknowledge the contributions that Bud Pierce made to the Sunken Gardens. What I failed to see at the time was that the plaque dedicated to Bud Pierce tells only one story in a larger narrative of 139 Market Place. Indeed, the plaque tempts a monolithic story of the past that can be difficult to detach from. There is a certain comfort to be found in the story of Bud Pierce; a man with strong roots in one place who proudly served his city in his work as groundskeeper of the area. The story of 139 Market Place would reveal itself to be a story far more complicated than I initially believed which warrants a post all to itself.
139 Market Place began not as a house at all, but rather, as a feed store. The feed store was pioneered by Theo Collart who purchased the lot for $1300 in 1909. Originally hailing from Belgium, Theo Collart had spent five years farming in Cowley, Alberta before arriving in Prince Rupert. Shaped by his experience in Cowley, Mr. Collart recognized an opportunity to fulfill the need for a feed store in Prince Rupert. Construction of the feed store completed sometime around May of 1910 with the first advertisement officially announcing Collart’s Feed Store appearing in the Prince Rupert Optimist on May 3, 1910. The store offered an array of oats, hay, and other feeds that accommodated the livestock of Prince Rupert as well as garden seeds and supplies for its human patrons. Prince Rupert in the early twentieth century looked much different than it does today with the main roads being made of wood and horses in high numbers used for transportation and labour. It was also common for families to be in possession of chickens, donkeys, and other livestock vital to everyday life in Prince Rupert. Attached to the feed store were stables for horses and an apartment above. Hints of Prince Rupert’s horse past can still be seen today as evidenced by the tunnel under the Sunken Gardens which was built to accommodate horses and buggies.
Collart’s Feed Store had a tenure of almost twenty years before it was sold. An interesting event within that time to consider is what transpired in May of 1915. It was announced on May 2, 1915 in the Prince Rupert Journal that “Th[eo] Collart well known in Prince Rupert will leave this evening for the South with the object in view of proceeding to Belgium to serve with the army of that country. Mr. Collart is a Belgian by birth. His parents are residents of that country suffering the loss of practically all when the war broke out.” Collart returned less than a year thereafter in March of 1916 due to a shell injury. Despite his absence, Collart’s Feed Store stayed in business and would remain so until 1929 when the Pierces became the new owners of 139 Market Place.
Herman L. Pierce purchased 139 Market Place in 1929 with the clear objective of transforming the feed store into the Pierce family home. As if H. Pierce taking on the project without any hired help was not a feat enough, as Ed McCarter details in the audio clip below, the pressure to complete construction of the house was heightened due to Mrs. Pierce being pregnant with her thirteenth child and the family living in a tent during construction.
Albeit only just, construction of the house completed in time for the arrival of the newest member of the Pierce family. Ed took me to the front room where the birth took place. It is a small, cozy room now carpeted and filled with pictures of members of the McCarter family.
Perhaps most is known about the Pierce occupancy of 139 Market Place as a result of Bud Pierce who took ownership of the home from his parents. Bud occupied the role of groundskeeper of the nearby Sunken Gardens and Prince Rupert Courthouse which he held for 33 years. Ed spoke to the fact that due to the relationship Bud had to the grounds, people often assume that the house is related to the gardens or courthouse, but this is untrue.
The McCarters came into ownership of 139 Market Place in 1989. The home was purchased from Jim Blythe who briefly occupied the house in between Bud Pierce and the McCarters, but for whom I could not find much information. The McCarters have maintained the integrity of the home only removing some walls for a more open concept living space reflective of modern design aesthetics and functions. During my visit at the home with Ed I expressed my admiration for the hardwood floors, I am an absolute fiend of old hardwood, and Ed told me that the floors are original. In fact, when the bowling alley by 3 Ave W and 6 St was built, the leftover hardwood was donated and used as flooring throughout the home. The McCarters also enlisted the help of friends to transform the rugged backyard into a gorgeously landscaped sanctuary. In the backyard sits a small greenhouse which is home to a grapevine. I was shocked when Ed told me they grew grapes, so is everyone else, he told me. No one believed it was possible to grow grapes in a place like Prince Rupert, but there they flourish.
When speaking about some of the quirks that come with living in the home Ed recalls the time a horseshoe was discovered in the front garden — a reminder of the property’s multifarious identities.
Engaging with the history of 139 Market Place illustrates clearly why we need to ask questions of history. While plaques and other public commemorations to people and places can be useful we need to treat them as springboards to further dialogues and investigations of the past. Not only do we need to ask questions of history, but we need to reconceptualise the way in which we go about trying to find answers. While the archives are plentiful and an invaluable resource in conducting historical research, we must also see the value in non-traditional ways of conducting historical research like oral testimonies. Moreover, through collaboration and interdisciplinary approaches, we can further enrich the process.
This I know to be true: history dwells in everyday people. For those comfortable and desirous to share in these histories, we can engage in acts of good faith which honour and validate often ignored truths.