Smithing for 78 years 

Patricia Lavoie 

Seventy-eight years ago, in 1944, Réal Lavigne set up his black- smith shop. It is still standing today, tucked in behind the Auberge Knowlton. His father had been a blacksmith in Waterloo and Réal followed in his footsteps in Knowlton. His son, well-known local blacksmith, Alain Lavigne, began smithing in 1962. And finally, his son Jeff joined the Lavigne family business. A dynasty of four generations. 

Entering Alain’s shop is like stepping back in time. The walls bear witness to history as well as current practices – every kind of horse and ox shoe imaginable. Think of the shoe for a Clydesdale – 10 inches (25.4 cm) across. Or a rope shoe to ease the horse’s footing on cobblestones. There are traces in the cement floor where unhappy clients stamped and kicked to protest their shoeing. Alain can testify to a broken jaw from one such occasion; the work is not without risk. The tools of the trade – wrenches, hammers, tongs, bolts of every possible size – hang quietly, no longer as relevant. There is even a ‘trap’ buggy with a hidden seat in the back, no doubt the precursor to the rumble seat. 

Back in the day, the local blacksmith could build and repair almost anything made of wood or metal: sleighs, buggies, sulkies, buggy wheels, yokes, gates, grills, shafts, railings, and any type of agricultural equipment that came his way. If anything broke down, it was off to the forge. Blacksmiths always, and often ingeniously, found a way to fix equipment. When farmers began using tractors, smiths continued to work on metallic or wooden parts, everything but the motor. 

The art of smithing has evolved. A master at his craft, Alain not only served the Eastern Townships but also shod clients’ horses at the Blue Bonnets racetrack in Montreal for fifteen years. The Lavigne shop now serves mainly as a storage area as the forge is mobile, fueled by propane. Jeff’s visits to shoe horses are done in the client’s stable. 

No longer is there the possibility of catching up on town gossip as your horse’s shoes are shaped at the local blacksmith’s. Alas, changing times have certain disadvantages.