History reveals store’s many faces

A booming pizza business has become the latest chapter in the fascinating story behind the Pendryl General Store

WINFIELD, Alta. — Kim Butters recalls the day she and husband Jerry Zimmerman took over management of Pendryl General Store from a shared arrangement with her parents, Marilyn Butters and Emile Snoxell.

It was Jan. 13, 2000, a bitter cold day. Kim was doing inventory, tediously counting items of fishing gear.

“Mom walked out from the back and said, ‘remember what I said would have to happen for you to get this store?’ ”

Their dream talk of winning the lottery came to mind, but it turns out the dream became reality. Marilyn Butters was the sole winner of a $1 million Western 649 lottery jackpot.

Marilyn and Emile retired to Rimbey, Alta., and Kim and Jerry took over the store.

Later that year, they added two pizza ovens. Proofed, ready-to-cook dough is topped with fresh ingredients and transformed into specials with names such as Junk Yard, Lois Lane’s and Pendryl Loaded, in addition to the usual favourites.

“When we get pizza slammed, it’s chaos,” says Jerry. “But it’s good. The pizza business saved us.”

Zimmerman said the period from the May long weekend to September Labour Day weekend is busy with campers and anglers heading the west to nearby Buck Lake or east to Pigeon Lake. They stop at the store for staple groceries, snack foods, toiletries, and the fresh pizza.

“In winter, we slow right down,” says Kim. “The locals keep us going.”

The old Pendryl store with the nurse’s cottage at the back and old Pendry Hall at right can be seen in this 1957 photo. | Packhorse To Pavement photo

The owners are always prepared to repay the locals for their support whenever they can. “Even if people need something on Christmas Day I open up,” says Jerry.

The kids have left home, for the most part. The couple raised nine children between them.

“I was basically a stay-at-home mom with a job,” says Kim. All of them spent time working in the store and now come back with the grandkids to visit and help out.

Pendryl General Store’s history goes back a century, when the first white settlers arrived in wagons on narrow rutted trails. Times were hard and work was scarce. At that time the Canadian Homestead Act gave 160 acres free to any farmer who agreed to cultivate at least 40 acres and build a permanent dwelling within three years.

Sam Weaver and his wife Dorothy first opened a store about 1920, which initially took their surname but later became Pendryl General Store. Weaver’s brother, Harold, and wife, Sarah, already ran the post office, which they gave the same name in honour of historical Pendryl Hall, from back in their native England.

Sam’s sudden death in April 1923 left Dorothy with two small children and the store to run. She moved the business to the Swan quarter nearby, which she inherited from the old homesteader, Mr. Swan, due to her kindness in nursing him before he died.

In the mid 1920s, Dorothy sold the store and land to a Swedish couple, Gust and Anna Bjur.

Jerry Zimmerman is generally either putting a pizza in the oven or taking one out. Customers coming for a few items or to check their mail often grab a single slice to go. | Maria Johnson photo

A local history book titled Trail Blazers states “Buying the store was quite an undertaking, as neither Mr. or Mrs. Bjur could speak or write English very well. Mrs. Bjur made bread which she sold to hunters stopping there and also the bachelors in the district…..They also farmed the land and had cattle, pigs, and chickens in order to make a living.”

A decade later, Bjur built a larger store across the road with living quarters in back. He later added a dance hall. Community dances offered much anticipated socializing and generally lasted well into the early morning hours.

In 1955, Bjur moved the store again, along with the nurses cottage, about three kilometres north to its current location, known then as Rachue Hill, on the improved Highway 13 between Winfield and Buck Lake.

Shortly after, Henry Bjur, Gust and Anna’s son who was running the store at the time, went to start a fire in the cookstove with what he thought was coal oil. It was gas. The ensuing explosion killed his wife who was standing nearby.

The shock and strain of the tragedy caused Henry to be admitted to Edmonton’s psychiatric hospital, Provincial Mental Institute; Oliver, where he passed away in the late 50s.

Bjur sold Pendryl Store to Harry (Jim) and Leta McNaughton in late 1956. The McNaughtons, musicians, also owned Buck Lake Hall, which a few years earlier was booked solid with movies, dances, weddings, and similar social events from the area’s bustling oil industry.

Matt McNaughton recalls the revelry. “Mom played accordion. Dad, the saxophone and clarinet. Uncle Joe played the drums and Aunt Beulah, the piano.”

With the oil industry boom over by the mid 1950s, the hall was quiet.

Pendryl Store needing replacing. Rather than incur the expense of new construction the McNaughtons moved Buck Lake Hall over the winter ice up to Rachue Hill in about 1959.

Matt was about 12 years old at the time.

“A moving company came and jacked up the whole building and pulled it over the lake. They used two 70 foot long, two-foot x two-foot timbers.”

Renovations began. It was March 1962 when the family moved to the new Pendryl Store. They proceeded to dismantle the old. The McNaughtons continued with community dances, in the back of the new store.

In 1976, they sold Pendryl Store to Jack and Lylas Gwin. It changed hands again just three years later to Shirley Long, a well-known area resident.

“We bought the store from Shirley in 1996,” says Kim. That was 23 years ago. She and Jerry plan to carry on with the status quo.

Kim says, “I love the work. I love the people. There’s no plans for retirement yet.”

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