Walter Ingram, winner of the 2019 Chamber Legacy Award, sits at his second floor desk, which overlooks the interior of his cavernous Home Hardware Building Centre in Fernie. The store contains every imaginable piece of hardware and building material, as well as home décor and seasonal decorations. Ingram has the laugh of a gentleman who has the integrity to sort out his priorities. His generous attitude, reflected is the result of decades of toughing it out in the business world. His journey to Elk Valley business icon began as a teenager in Fort McMurray in 1965.
“It was a winter road,” he said. “We grew up there. It was a small community, a northern community. In the spring, you didn’t get to go to Edmonton, because that was the closest big centre. The access out of there was plane or train. In winter, of course, there was a road. They didn’t put in what they called an ‘all-weather road’ until 1966.”
Ingram said that his high school was typical, with one exception.
“One of the neatest things was that in the Northland School Division, a lot of the teachers were from Commonwealth countries,” he said. “Because in those days, they could teach tax free as long as they were in the Northland School Division for two years. We had teachers from South Africa, England Wales, Australia, and New Zealand.”
The defining moment of Ingram’s youth was when he applied to the RCMP.
“They told me to grow up and come back,” he said with a laugh.
He began working for “an old man with a sawmill.”
“I was working with him skidding logs and canting logs,” Ingram explained. “It’s not very common anymore. We flipped logs with a cant hook, which is a long stick with a piece of curved steel. We wore chaps because you wore out your clothes. Then, when I finished high school, I worked full time washing the floors at night so I could get extra money.”
Ingram then began working for Beaver Lumber in Fort McMurray.
“Then I went out to Leduc as an assistant manager,” he said. “Then back to McMurray. And then in 1975 I got married and took over my first store in Redwater, which is just north of Edmonton. Then I went back to McMurray in 1978, and ran the store there until 1982.
Later in 1982, Ingram franchised his first store in Lanigan Saskatchewan.
“We sold everything we had, that we could get together, for money and we left,” he explained. “We had mixed farming in that area, along with large grain operations, and the potash mine. It was a small community of 1500 people. Then we came to Fernie in 1988.”
Ingram reflected before offering advice to a new generation of entrepreneurs and business people.
“It’s going to be a lot of hours,” he said. “Make a budget, make your goals, and stay within them. It’s so important to carry that on every day. And take advantage of the opportunities that you might be given. Because they are going to come from time to time. Sometimes you are going to make business decisions that are not based on feelings. Sometimes you have to put your feelings behind you.”
There have been many happy moments in Ingram’s life.
“In business, the happiest day was when we finished this store and got it going,” he said. “There were many other happy days as things changed. We moved along and there were always things to work through. But of course getting married and having children, those are all happy days. Grandchildren…those are happy days, too.”