Molly’s Coffee Bar, a local historic hot spot

Michael Dawe

Michael Dawe

Over the years, a great many businesses operated in the old Village of North Red Deer.

One of the most popular of those businesses was Molly’s Coffee Bar, which stood for several decades on the southeast intersection of Riverview (54) Ave. and Clive (60) St. at the foot of the North Hill.

The success of the business was in a large part due to the very warm and friendly nature of the owner, Molly Cosgrave Herbert. She was born in 1903 at the Siksika First Nation (Blackfoot Reserve) near Gleichen, Alberta.

Her grandfather, Francis Cosgrave, had come out from Ireland in 1881 with a family of eight children to start a stock and grain farm at Whitewood Saskatchewan.

Francis had served with the militia during the Riel Rebellion of 1885 and had also been a member of the jury that found Louis Riel guilty of treason. It has been written, however, that Francis felt that Riel should only have been sentenced to prison, not executed, as he had “Been fighting for freedom and to hold his country and birthright.”

Molly’s father, William ‘Pat’ Cosgrave had come to Alberta as part of a Dominion Land Survey crew in the early 1880s.

He then got a job as a farm instructor on the Siksika Reserve. Molly’s mother was Eva Notter Cosgrave, who worked at the Anglican Blackfoot Mission for Archdeacon J.W. Tims.

In 1907, Molly’s parents started a small store in Gleichen. Tragically, Molly’s father passed away shortly thereafter, leaving her mother as a single parent with two little boys (Frank and Dick) and two little girls (Nora and Molly) to raise.

Molly’s uncle Dick Notter came out to help run the store, but in 1912, Eva got married to Alan Lindsay. The following year, Molly got a new brother, Neil.

Disaster struck in 1916 when the store in Gleichen burned down. The family moved to Calgary to start a new life, but soon bought a new farm at Cheadle, Alberta.

Molly’s brother Dick became very active in rodeo and chuckwagon racing. He won the chuckwagon championship at the Calgary Stampede ten times and later became the Stampede’s arena manager and the manager of the Stampede ranch near Rosebud.

Meanwhile, Molly married Harry Herbert. They had three daughters, Gwen, Evan and Dixie. Tragically, Harry passed away leaving Molly as a single mom with three little girls.

In 1938, Molly’s older brother Frank Cosgrave moved to North Red Deer from the Drumheller area.

In May 1939, Frank built a coffee shop/restaurant alongside the upgraded Calgary-Edmonton Highway at the foot of the North Hill. Molly and her daughters moved up from Calgary to run the business and to live in a small residence in the back.

The site was an excellent one. The coffee shop was soon packed with travelers, truckers and all kinds of people from the community. The meals were cooked on a wood and coal stove. Water came from a well outside and was heated on top of the stove, next to the endless pots of coffee.

In 1946, Molly sold the business to move to B.C., but was soon back, in 1948, to take over the restaurant again. She also married Fred Percy.

In 1951, Molly sold the business once more, this time to Lena Robson, and moved to Calgary. The Percys later moved to Lethbridge.

Lena Robson renamed the coffee shop and restaurant Olly’s, after her daughter Olly Robson-Webb, who later served as a member of Red Deer City Council.

In 1962, Lena sold the building to Jack Yee and moved Olly’s Coffee Shop to a new location at 5221 Gaetz Ave.

Lena’s husband Fred Robson passed away in 1966. Lena remarried Charles Howell, but she passed away on Christmas Day, 1977.

Meanwhile, Jack Yee started the OK Grocery in the original coffee shop building. In the 1970s, Big Jim’s Trading Post operated out of the premises. The old Molly’s/Olly’s building was later demolished in the early 1980s. The site is now occupied by a 7-11 convenience store.