Updated: Jan 28, 2022
For the ranch and beyond!
If you’re looking for a pair of authentic western boots, Alberta Boot Company has got you covered. For the past 42 years, the multi-generational business has crafted quality western boots for locals and tourists alike.
Ben Gerwing, president of Alberta Boot Company, was always fascinated with the family business. “I remember going down to visit [the store] when I was younger, walking through the doors and getting that smell of leather every time,” says Ben. When Ben was 13 years old, he familiarized himself with the ins and outs of the company. Alongside his father, Tim Clement, Ben helped out around the retail store and in the factory where he eventually learned how to craft a quality pair of western boots.
Alberta Boot Company started with Ben’s grandfather, Clement Gerwing, who was also a Canadian veteran. When World War II broke out, Clement joined the Royal Canadian Airforce as a SPITFIRE pilot, flying tours in Burma and Ceylon.
After the war ended, Clement returned to Canada, married the love of his life and started raising a family of six. Clement and his family moved to Calgary, AB in 1963, and 5 years later purchased a wholesale footwear company.
Clement, dissatisfied with the quality of boots he received from the manufacturers in Quebec and Mexico, he decided to work on his own pair of western boots. Set on perfecting the western boot, Clement gathered the equipment and tools to start up his new venture. For two years, Clement continuously refined his boot-making technique and in 1978, he put it to the test. “He made a pair of boots, put them on, [they] fit him like a glove and so the Alberta Boot was born,” Ben says.
What goes into making a quality boot?
The Gerwing family’s recipe for an exceptional pair of western boots is a process that entails over 200 steps. But the first step is to always start with a good piece of leather.
Leather is the material of choice for a number of reasons. For one thing, it’s water-resistant, light, and breathable. What’s also unique about leather is that the more you wear it, the better it looks. “The other nice thing about it is that it’s very flexible and pliable. Most man-made material you can’t stretch or work,” Ben says.
Once the components of the boot are cut, the leather is handsewn together and then hand-lasted. Hand lasting is the process of stretching leather over a last or mold in order to customize the width, size and toe style of the shoe. Then to finish off the boot, the insole, outsole and heel are stitched and nailed together.
But one of the most crucial attributes to the longevity of a western boot is what’s called a “Goodyear welt.” A Goodyear welt construction is designed so that the sole of the boot can be replaced multiple times.
Over time, the sole starts to deteriorate and eventually will need a replacement.
“You can bring them to us and we can do a full brand new outsole on there with a new heel, shine them all up, make them look brand new,” Ben says.
With Alberta Boot’s meticulous craftsmanship and quality build, their boots often last 10 to 15 years before needing a new sole. Some customers have a pair of boots that are as old as the company itself.
“We’ve got people out there that are still wearing our boots that are 40 years old and still going strong,” he adds.
Alberta Boot’s legacy
From its humble beginnings, Alberta Boot has gained recognition throughout the years. Since 1999, Alberta Boot has been the official manufacturer for the RCMP, providing the Strathcona High-Brown Police Boot to Mounties across the country. The company has even outfitted famous musicians, hockey players, political figures and celebrities.
“We’ve put footwear on some pretty famous feet over the years,” Ben says.
During Prince William and Kate Middleton’s royal tour of Canada back in 2011, the Alberta Boot Company fashioned western boots for the newlyweds. Additionally, Prince Charles also owns a pair of boots from the local company.
“We’ve done a lot of different movies [as well],” Ben states. “Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Brad Pitt—they are all names that have our boots.”
When the Calgary Stampede rolls around, locals and visitors from out of town turn to the Alberta Boot Company for the perfect fit. Over the last couple of years, Ben says the most popular boot is the oil-tan leather style. The oil-tan leather boots have a dark brown and worn appearance. They are especially popular among first-time buyers.
The western boot isn’t only reserved for the Calgary Stampede season. Everyone from ranchers and trades workers to oil and gas executives wear them all year long.
“They might have a suit on and a pair of cowboy boots. In southern Alberta, you can get away with having that boot on anytime of the year and nobody’s really going to look at you funny,” Ben says.
Although Alberta Boot Company have been around for over 40 years, how they craft their boots have never changed and they continue to build long-lasting quality boots.
“We don’t expect people to wear them for a year or so, have to throw them out and get a new pair. That’s not how we do business,” Ben states.
“We expect them to have them for a long time and just kind of add to the collection over the years.”