In 1911 it took considerable courage to leave home to settle in the harsh badlands of Alberta and like many of the intrepid settlers who came to call the Valley home, this man was no exception.
Born in 1884 near Kingsville, Ontario, Nels B. Vickers lived alongside his five brothers and four sisters at the family farm.
At sixteen he began working at a hardware store, and then as a brakeman for Michigan Central railway.
In 1910 his brother Howard moved to Verdant Valley and started a farm. He soon wrote to Nels insisting they should open a hardware store in what would become Drumheller.
In 1911, with his wife Bertha and one month old daughter Margaret in tow, Nels made the journey out west. They took the train to Calgary and then proceeded by wagon the rest of the way. Upon arriving near the Greentree homestead Nels tore up his return ticket.
Nels and Howard opened their store, Vickers Brothers, and it prospered. Nels was in charge of the store, while Howard continued farming. Two years later Howard sold his share in the store and it was renamed N.B. Vickers Ltd.
The business supplied a wide variety of items, including groceries, hardware, crockery, sporting goods, furniture, and even coal oil.
Business was primarily from local farmers, native Americans, and the miners as they began to pour into the Valley.
The store became not just a place to purchase goods, but was one of the early social hubs. Friends and neighbours would huddle around the stove on a cold day or around the cookie barrel any other day. The radio would attract large crowds to the store during large events, such as championship fights.
Nels was also keen on keeping current on the latest technologies. The first telephone was installed in 1912 and two years later the first switchboard.
In response to the rise of the automobile Nels opened the first Ford dealership in Alberta. Store deliveries were made by a truck instead of horses. The dealership was eventually sold to Charlie Longmate in 1919.
By the early 1940s the store had increased in size nearly tenfold, becoming the largest store between Calgary and Saskatoon.
Nels’ determination to run his business was legendary.
In 1913, as business was growing, farmers and miners began to have accounts with the store, because they could not afford to pay. This led to complications with suppliers, who demanded cash. A receiver from Calgary took the keys to the store and closed it up. Nels did not give up and rode on horseback to explain the situation and collect money from account holders. Soon after the store was his again.
When the Great Depression struck the store soldiered on. Prices were reduced on goods and large amounts of credit were extended to customers. The store nearly went under.
Between 1937 and 1941 the store burned down twice. Each time the store was rebuilt.
In 1946 Nels purchased a farm by the Horseshoe Canyon and became interested in full time farming. His time at his farm gradually increased and he developed a herd of Hereford cattle.
In 1952 the grocery side of the business was separated. In 1961, its 50th anniversary, N.B. Vickers Ltd. was sold to Ashdown’s Hardware.
Not only was Nels a prominent businessman in the Drumheller Valley, he was deeply involved in the community.
When Drumheller officially became a town in 1916, Nels was one of the first councillors.
He was one of the charter members of the Drumheller Rotary Club, which built the first swimming pool in town. He was also a member of both the Masons Symbol Lodge A.F. & A.M. and the Shriners Al Azhar Temple.
Nels also was an avid hunter. He served as president of the Fish and Game Association and helped to introduce pheasants to the Drumheller Valley.
As the business grew so did Nels’ family. Aside from his daughter Margaret who made the long trek with him, Nels had two sons with Bertha.
Bruce was born in 1913 above the store. Bruce would take charge of the grocery store that split from N.B. Vickers Ltd. in 1952. Bruce and wife Sena Rodseth had four children, Don, Doug, Robert, and Richard.
In 1920 Blake arrived in the family. Blake would help his father in the hardware store until 1961 and would afterwards become a partner on the farm. Blake married Jenny Serkownak and they had five children, Billy, Nelson, Mary, Jack, and Joan.
Bertha, who had been by Nels’ side since 1910, passed away in 1924. Six years later Nels married again to Nellie Whitacre from Iowa.
Only a year after the business he had helmed for fifty years was sold, Nels passed away on September 3, 1962.
Nels Vickers embodied the spirit that helped Drumheller to grow and thrive. His charity, which saw many families through the hard times of the Great Depression, his love of the community, and his determination serve as an inspiration to those who inhabit the Valley today.