Ron Long with tools from his grandfather’s blacksmith shop

Ron Long was born and raised in Ottawa, but his most cherished boyhood memories from the late 1940s and early 1950s aren’t of Canada’s capital city, with its imposing Parliament Buildings and stately, well-manicured tree-lined avenues.

Rather, they’re of a dusty little prairie town with a one-block business district.

Long’s maternal grandfather was a blacksmith who had a workshop on Langham’s Main Street. That’s where Long and his brother spent their summer holidays, an experience straight out of a W.O. Mitchell novel.

Langham blacksmith shop in 1911

“I was a city kid with the great good fortune to have Ben Kargut as my grandfather,” said Long. “To have had the opportunity to hang around the blacksmith shop with all the noise and the steam, and to run loose around town, make friends with the local kids, play around the elevators and the parked boxcars at the railway track, and snare gophers with a loop of string around the top of the hole; well, what better entertainment could a couple of small boys ask for?”

For the past four years, Long, a professional photographer who was educated in Toronto and now lives in Vancouver, has been collecting and retouching vintage photographs of Langham. Late last month, Long unveiled his portfolio of restored images at a gathering of seniors in the Langham Museum. In an interview prior to his presentation, Long outlined why the project is close to his heart.

“My mother grew up in Langham, and both my paternal and maternal grandparents lived in Langham,” he said. “My maternal grandfather, Ben Kargut, arrived in Langham in 1911. He was a blacksmith and operated his shop on Main Street until he retired in 1965.

“My maternal grandmother died in 1945, so I never knew her; and my grandfather lived with his son and daughter; my aunt and uncle; neither of whom had married.

“We’d come out every summer. It was the highlight of my life,” he continued. “In those days, when we drove out, and we got to Dalmeny, we knew we were almost at Langham, and the tension and excitement in the car was almost unbearable. My brother and I were so anxious to get to the blacksmith shop. It was our favourite place to hang out.

“So when we finally pulled up in front of the house, we’d say ‘Hi’ to our aunt and uncle and then set off running down to the shop.

“By the time we got to the corner by the old Bank of Commerce, we could hear the anvil, and then we’d just run that much harder. One time we came rushing in. Grandpa paused for a second at his forge, took one look at us, and without a word he took each of us by the arm and turned us right around and marched us back out onto the street and straight next door to the barber shop. He wasn’t going to have his grandsons looking so scruffy on his watch.”

Long said the blacksmith shop was one of the earliest businesses established in Langham and was an integral part of the farming community.

“The Power brothers founded the business and my grandfather got a job with them when he first arrived in 1911,” said Long. “He worked for them until 1918, when both of the brothers went farming and Grandpa bought the shop, and it was his business from then on until the mid-1960s.”

Langham line elevators in the early 20th century

In addition to fixing and manufacturing parts for wagons and farm implements, the shop was also a dealership for the American Abell steam traction engines. The rear part of the building consisted of a woodworking shop.

The Langham Museum is located in the former train station

Long said the photographs portray everyday life in Langham during the first half of the 20th century; a period when prairie towns were booming.  Langham was typical of communities its size, but it was also unique because it had its own challenges and successes over the years.

Langham train station and elevators in the 1920s

“The pictures show how dynamic this community was at that time,” said Long. “Seeing Main Street lined with one and two-storey businesses and vehicles and people everywhere. That’s the way I remember it from when I was a kid. There’s not a lot of evidence of that now if you just drive through town.

“But I hope people will see these photographs at the museum and start to appreciate what a great history this community has.

“You have to know your past to understand the present and prepare for the future.”