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Saturday, April 1, 2017

Two Cowboys: Renewal and Reinvention With the Third Generation of Buckle Makers at Olson Silver, High River, Alberta

Renewal and Reinvention

If there is an incentive for people to produce, then what is the driver for it to happen?

In 2013 High River was one of the small towns in Alberta devasted by flash flooding. The nearby Rocky Mountains had a larger than usual snow pack. Spring arrived early with the first rains. Everything melted faster than usual.

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Overnight, rivers and creeks turned into raging torrents. Like many other communities in the Foothills of Alberta, High River was in the way. Its downtown core and many of its small businesses, which already faced economic uncertainty from a faltering oil industry and globalisation pressures were caught in the deluge. We thought that the town will never recover. The character of High River, which was the pinnacle stop on the Canadian Cowboy Trail would forever be altered.

It is now almost four years after the floods. The good news is that High River recovered and reinvented itself in the process. It now stands as a symbol of the enterprising nature of the people of Alberta. It is open for businesses once again.

Albertans find new ways to move forward when they face adversity. They are builders that work with their fellow community members to reinvent and take charge of their destiny. They make lemonade when they have lemons. Brew beer and distill Whisky when the oil price is down. They build better towns when those are destroyed by flooding.

Olson Silver Company was one of the businesses severely affected by the flood. They are located in High River. The company has grown from a hobby of Jim Olson’s in the early 1960’s into the largest belt buckle manufacturing shop in Canada. The third generation is still making everything in the same shop, with very little reliance on outside suppliers.

Olson belt buckles are some of the most sought after trophies at many rodeos, from small town amateur events to the Canadian Finals Rodeo and all levels in between. It is an authentic and inspirational business that reinvented itself after the floods and as a consequence of it.

It now combines the traditional, tried and tested approach of high-quality craftsmanship with new talent and designs. Two young brothers joined Greg Hitchner's team, after the flood. Greg is the owner, custodian and chief maker currently presiding over the company's legacy of beautiful and famous Cowboy style buckles and silverware. With new talent comes a new energy for tradition. They also bring an enthusiasm for inventing, new designs and for the art of making something beautiful, valuable and authentic that is from Alberta, our home.


Greg and his team made beautiful decorative buckles for us that we wear proudly.

It is a symbol of the tradition and values that we stand for as the Two Cowboys & A Camera. The buckles are tokens of our commitment to the makers in our communities. It showcases the integrity, tradition and authenticity that comes from buying and using local products. These are people we support and that supports us.

Manufacturers in foreign markets can churn out thousands of buckles an hour. Making buckles is no longer an art only reserved for a select few talented artisans. Some of these factories may even come close to the quality and design of what Olson Silver produces. If it was only about the buckle, it would probably not have mattered when one buys a cheaper version made elsewhere. However, it is not only about the buckle. Buying something made by a local artisan comes with a much bigger story.

Wearing an Olson Silver buckle tells the story of the company, its people, the town of High River and the resilience of the many makers in our communities. We hope to encourage more people to shop locally with these and other makers. If we support local producers we are creating employment, character and capacity for growth. We are building our community. We are ultimately investing in ourselves.

Order your buckle from Olson Silver Company. It is something personal, and they will make it exceptional.

Hendrik van Wyk
Silver Cowboy

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