AN ARTICLE IN THE GLOBE LEADS TO MORE:
Made in Canada: Handcrafted cowboy hats with century old equipment
The Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Jun. 26 2014, 7:14 PM EDT
Last updated Wednesday, Jun. 25 2014, 6:24 PM EDT
Back in 2005, Calgary’s most famous headwear was under threat. Smithbilt Hats, which still handmakes (on 100-year-old equipment) the white cowboy hat synonymous with Cowtown, ran into some financial trouble.
The original owners, the Shumiatcher family, who started making the fancy chapeaux in 1919, had long since sold out and a succession of owners had run out of cash. A group of five volunteers on the Calgary Stampede rodeo committee offered to take the reins. “We just decided that this legacy in Alberta should not disappear,” says vice-president and co-owner Byron Hussey. Oilmen and veterans of the city’s business elite, they had the capital to make Smithbilt a full-on hat factory, but decided the value of their high-end handmade brand would trump volume.
Today, you can still get a hat made just for you: “We probably make somewhere in the order of 20,000 to 30,000 hats a year,” says Hussey. Committing to low-tech charm has also made Smithbilt a destination for Alberta’s corporate team-building events (watching your VP pound out a hat for you is good for morale, it seems). But the Stampede is still “cowboy Christmas” for these prairie milliners, without whom this little corner of Canadiana would be just another legend of the Old West.
The Smithbilt legend was born in 1919. A century later, it’s still a Smithbilt.
The year was 1919. After doing research on what type of business to open, a young Morris Shumiatcher went to his local bank and borrowed $300 to buy Calgary Hat Works, and Smithbilt Hats was born.
Smithbilt concentrated on the local market and soon gained a reputation as the best hat maker around. Smithbilt made outstanding dress hats and soon started making premium cowboy hats for local ranchers.
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In 1946, Morris created the first white cowboy hat. Little did he know the White Hat would become the internationally recognized symbol of the Calgary Stampede and the City of Calgary. In 1949, Mayor Don Mackay donned a White Smithbilt and on a mission to promote Calgary and began handing out the White Hat to visiting dignitaries. The City of Calgary continues this tradition today. white hat The Famous Smithbilt White Hat Morris’ son Judah took over the business and continued the tradition of service, quality, and respect for the people who wear western hats. Responding to growing trends, Smithbilt produced many unique styles and variations on the original western hat. Today, the company is owned & operated by a group of Calgary area businessmen, all of whom are associated with the Calgary Stampede. Dedicated to the promotion of western values and traditions they are committed to moving the legendary Smithbilt name forward with an emphasis on quality and service.
There is a great amount of pride in being part of the icon that has come to symbolize the traditions and hospitality of Calgary and all over the world…the Smithbilt White Hat.