Search This Blog

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Riders Fans Love the Aylesbury Hotel

Riders fans gathering in front of the Aylesbury Hotel, 2019. Photo courtesy of Prairies North Magazine.

“Among northern Saskatchewan Roughriders fans, driving past the Aylesbury Elephant Bar on game day is considered a sin.” So wrote Austin M. Davis in his story about the 90-year-old Aylesbury Hotel in the Regina Leader-Post on May 19, 2017.

Rider Pride was alive and well in Aylesbury during the late 1980s when the hotel owner Nigel McAlpine put up the hotel’s well-known “Rider Priders” highway sign. When Terry and Shannon Scott took over the hotel in 1997, most of the town’s 55 residents would turn out to watch the game in their bar. But it wasn’t until after siblings Lana and Lyle Hodgins took over the Aylesbury Hotel in 2000 that the hotel became an iconic gathering point for Riders fans travelling south on Highway 11 to Regina on game day. Legend has it that what started as an occasional pit stop for one of the fan buses soon became a game-day tradition for vehicles of all descriptions.

Sign on Highway 11 just outside Aylesbury, 2008. Source

Ten times a year, thousands of cars, trucks, vans, and buses packed with Riders fans make their way south down Highway 11 to watch the Saskatchewan Roughriders play football at Regina’s Mosaic Stadium. Part of the game-day travel ritual for many of those fans is a stop at the Elephant Bar and Grill located in Aylesbury’s only business, the hotel.

Inside the Elephant Bar, so named for Lana’s huge collection of elephant figures prominently displayed in the establishment, the green-clad throng order drinks, admire the hundreds of photos lining the walls of Riders fans who have stopped in over the years, and sign a Roughriders flag laid out on the pool table. Many Riders flags adorn the hotel bar’s ceiling.

Photos of Rider fans who have visited the bar cover the walls of the Aylesbury Hotel. Photo by Michael Bell, Regina Leader-Post, May 19, 2017.

The five-month-long football season sustains the Aylesbury Hotel’s bar. “People need to keep in mind that small-town bars like that, particularly a place like Aylesbury where there is no gas station, there is no convenience store, the only reason people stop there is for a beer and some fun at the Elephant Bar,” Rider fan and customer Gillian Lloyd told the Leader-Post on May 19, 2017. “The only time that those guys make really any money is on game days.” People care about the little bar, she pointed out, so they tip generously.

The two-storey, ten-room Aylesbury Hotel was built in 1928 and opened in 1929. The village had another hotel before that, but it had burned down. In 1943, owner E. J. Pallansch applied for a license to sell beer in the hotel. Subsequent owners included Mrs. Morin (1940s), Fred and Zita Meger (1960s) and Al and Christiane Sapieha (1970s). 

Postcard of Aylesbury, no date. Source

When the provincial government allowed live music in beverage rooms in 1979, the Sapiehas renovated the hotel beverage room, increasing the seating capacity to 52 seats from 44, and installing a dance floor with a mirror ball on the ceiling. Al Sapieha noticed a change in their clientele. “Instead of a few people coming in and drinking a lot,” he told the Leader-Post on November 10th, “we have a lot more people drinking less. People don’t drink as much because they’re too busy dancing.”

Star-Phoenix, Feb. 27, 1989
The Aylesbury Hotel is a meeting place for residents of the village. In 1989, after Canada Post closed the community’s post office, hotel owner Nigel McAlpine took over the mail service as a franchise operation. The new post office was in the hotel lobby next to the coffee shop, replacing green metal group mailboxes. “The new service is 200 percent better,” Mayor Henry Watkins said in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix on February 27. “Those old green boxes were rather cold and unfriendly. They never said hello in the morning.”

Today, the Elephant Bar and Grill in the Aylesbury Hotel is still going strong under the co-ownership of Glen Schroeder and Lyle Hodgins. Lyle’s sister, Lana, passed away from cancer in October 2014. Her remains were cremated and Lyle found a perfect receptacle for her ashes – a ceramic elephant cookie jar now on display behind the bar.

Lyle Hodgins holds an elephant figurine containing the remains of his sister Lana at the Aylesbury Hotel. Photo: Michael Bell, Regina Leader-Post, May 19, 2017.
©Joan Champ, 2019

Thursday, 5 September 2019

Biggar's Two Old Hotels

Biggar's two hotels, c1910. Source

Two hotels were built in Biggar in 1909: the Empire Hotel on the corner of First Avenue and Main Street, and the Biggar Hotel at 115 First Avenue West.

 Empire Hotel Becomes the Eden


The Empire Hotel was first owned by a Mr. Heather and the Fisher Brothers. Sometime before the hotel opened in August, Quebec-born Charles Neil bought the Empire. Neil advertised that his hotel had forty well-furnished rooms and a first-class dining room, serving the finest wines, liquors and cigars for their guests.

Ad in the Star-Phoenix, Nov. 30, 1912.
In 1912, Louis Perilmuter, his wife Sarah and their three children bought the Empire Hotel. Russian Jews from Poland, the Perilmuters came to Canada in 1888 and first settled in Winnipeg. The Perilmuter family lived in the hotel for several years along with four staff members – three waitresses and the hotel porter. in 1912, Perilmuter placed an advertisement in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix stating that he planned to remodel the hotel. The ad also said that special attention would be given to commercial travellers, as Perilmuter had been a commercial man himself so he knew just what service was expected.


Biggar was a railway town, and the hotel saloons were always full of single men working on the railway. When Prohibition hit Saskatchewan in 1915, times were tough for Biggar's hotels. “Railroadin’ in the early days was based on a bottle of whiskey,” one Biggar old timer told Heather Robertson for her book, Grass Roots (1973). “Bootleggers were thrivin’.” As for the hotels, he said that “you could commit murder in them and if you didn’t let the blood run out under the door nobody’d say anything.” Prohibition ended in 1924, and things settled down.

Star-Phoenix, Sept. 26, 1950
The Empire later became known as the Canada Hotel and finally as the Eden Hotel. Mrs. R. S. (Betty) Spooner owned the Eden during the early 1950s. In September 1950, Mrs. Spooner’s barking dog was credited with saving her life from a fire that burned through several rooms of the hotel before it was brought under control. Mrs. Spooner, daughter of C. T. Oldcroft of Saskatoon, was a recent bride and lost all of her wedding gifts in the fire. She sold the hotel to two businessmen from Humboldt, Ben Ackerman and Sid Greenberg.

Mr. and Mrs. John Woodworth of Landis were proprietors of the Eden Hotel during the early 1960s. The Woodworth’s priority was to redecorate the hotel’s rotunda on the main floor.

“The beer parlour of the Eden Hotel is always full, and it’s jammed to the rafters on a Saturday night,” Heather Robertson wrote about her visit to the Eden Hotel in 1972. “With its sophisticated bordello-red-and-black décor, two shuffleboard tables, and plush red carpet, the beer parlour is the most lavish establishment in Biggar.”

The Eden Hotel in the 1950s. Source

In 1973, John McLeod, former assistant manager of the Saskatoon Centennial Auditorium, and R. D. Love, former manager of Belmac Supply in Saskatoon, bought the Eden Hotel from Ralph Chicoine. The two men moved their families to Biggar and renovated the hotel once again. 

Fire destroyed the Eden Hotel on July 14, 1982, caused by some type of equipment malfunction. The building was evacuated quickly, but it took the Biggar volunteer fire department 18 hours to fight the blaze. The hotel's site remained vacant for 25 years until the Fields Department Store (now Red Apple) was built on the corner lot.  

Hot Times at the Biggar Hotel 

Biggar Hotel, c. 1914. Source

Eugene Baron, a native of France, built the Biggar Hotel at 115 First Avenue West in 1909, just down the street from the town’s other hotel, the Empire, built that same year. The original three-storey hotel had a wrap-around veranda on the first two floors. According to the 1911 Canada census, Baron, a widower, lived in the hotel along with the porter, the bartender, and four domestics (chambermaids and waitresses). Baron built an addition onto the right side of his already roomy hotel due to increasing business. In January 1910, the first school classes in Biggar were held in the second storey of the hotel.

Mr. and Mrs. J. Markling owned the Biggar Hotel through the Prohibition years and into the 1930s. In January of 1925, the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix reported that the people of Biggar held a surprise party for the Marklings, presenting them with gifts (a gold watch for him and a diamond ring for her) and “thanking them both for their efforts in making their hotel ‘A Home Away from Home’.”

Star-Phoenix, January 25, 1927

On January 24, 1927 a fire broke out in the Biggar Hotel, thought to have been started by a cigarette stub. Fortunately, a travelling salesman staying at the hotel, J. L. Mulligan, was a former member of the Calgary fire department. According to the Star-Phoenix, Mulligan “resumed his old role of smoke-eater and commanded a one-man brigade which probably saved the Biggar Hotel from destruction and certainly saved the local brigade a tough battle.” Mulligan grabbed the hotel hose, unwound it and battled the flames. “When the local brigade arrived,” the newspaper recounted, “Mulligan was ‘all in’ and full of smoke, but the fire was practically out.” Markling was thankful that he had been entertaining “an angel” unawares.

In August of 1938, the Star-Phoenix wrote that the Biggar Hotel, still operated by the Marklings, had “48 well-furnished guest rooms where standard beds and bedding such as is found in best class hotels, bed reading lights and other equipment are most conducive to rest and comfort. Hot and cold water and shower bath always available. … Sample rooms for commercials. Modern refreshment parlor. Porter meets all passenger trains.”

Several owners followed. In 1941, Mr. R. P. Hassard was proprietor of the Biggar Hotel. Owner George Hilsenteger spent 1964 to 1968 doing renovations to the hotel. The business was sold to Ida and Ewald Hicke in 1968, and they ran it for four years. The Victor Derbowka family owned the Biggar from 1980 to 1985. The Dewbowkas opened a new entertainment spot in the hotel called The Cave. After that, the business was co-owned by Irvin and Jane Bayda and Wally and Gloria Piowerbeski.

A Streaker!

One of the more exciting things to happen at the Biggar Hotel was the day a streaker ran through the beverage room in March 1974. The Star-Phoenix reported that the streaker, who wore only a mask to cover his face, let out a yell from the back entrance of the hotel then ran through the premises and out the front door where he was picked up by a friend in a waiting car.

In 2004, the newly upgraded Biggar Hotel was advertised for sale, asking $475,000. According to the real estate ad, the main floor of the hotel included a one-bedroom living quarters for the owner, a kitchen, a café, a steak pit, a lobby, and a bar. The second floor was closed, but the third floor had five modern guest rooms and eight non-modern guest rooms (meaning no bathroom facilities). The ad also stated that the hotel was “possibly a heritage site."

Today, Biggar's old hotel is almost unrecognizable. Now a bar only, the building's front is completely covered with brown metal siding.

Biggar Hotel, shown here in 2017, is now a hotel in name only. Source
©Joan Champ, 2019 

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Colourful Characters at Oxbow’s Alexandra Hotel

The Alexandra Hotel in Oxbow, c. 1910. Source


Oxbow's First Hotel - The Palace

The Palace Hotel. Source: Furrow to the Future (1984)
Oxbow's local history book, Furrow to the Future (1984), tells us that the Palace Hotel was built on the corner of Railway and Main by a Winnipeg firm in 1892. Peter Powell came from Ontario to Oxbow in 1897 to operate the hotel until he sold it to Harry Gleiser, also from Ontario.

In 1904, Harry Gleiser and his family took over the Palace Hotel. Gleiser enlarged the hotel’s dining room and built an addition at the back, giving the hotel 34 guest rooms. Gleiser’s son Percy opened a jewelry store in the hotel.

On August 14, 1907 a fire started at the rear of the Palace Hotel, sweeping through the business section of Oxbow, destroying many buildings including the hotel. The cost to Harry Gleiser was $25,000.

In 1908, with financial assistance from Oxbow businessmen, Gleiser replaced the Palace Hotel with a three-storey, 40-room, brick hotel called the Alexandra. It had a good-sized bar. Percy Gleiser opened a jewelry and watch repair store in the hotel. Two years later, Percy died of blood poisoning, and his sister Ruby took over his business. Several years later, Ruby took over the operation of the Alexandra Hotel.

Ruby Gleiser 


Ruby Gleiser. Source: The Indianapolis Star, Oct. 10, 1937

Ruby Gleiser was a force of nature. When her father Harry died in February of 1927, Ruby took over the operation of the Alexandra Hotel. By that time, she was living in Estevan. “Who shall say what made Ruby Elizabeth Gleiser great?” a Regina Leader-Post editorial asked shortly after her death in August 1953 at age 62. “She had courage and even high daring from the beginning.” As a girl in Oxbow, Ruby played hockey and baseball, rode horseback, and won medals for her shotgun marksmanship. She was an avid hunter and became known as one of the best shots in Saskatchewan, man or woman. Ruby was also an accomplished musician. "She played the clarinet and saxophone at a period, surely, when most young ladies were occupied with piano lessons," the Leader-Post noted. "As a member of the Oxbow town band, she toured to fairs in North Dakota, Regina and Brandon exhibitions. In 1913, when she moved to Estevan, she was saxophone soloist with a band that toured from Winnipeg to Vancouver." 

 Ruby developed a strong head for business. Not only did she take over her brother’s and father’s businesses in Oxbow, she also operated the Delight Theatre at Estevan; a taxi service; and the Estevan Dairy which she purchased in 1933. Gleiser was the first woman in Saskatchewan to hold a motion picture operator’s license and the first woman in the province to obtain a chauffer’s license. She owned her first car at age 16, and according to the Leader-Post, by 1936 she owned 17 cars. 

Leader-Post, Sept.24, 1936
A member of the local Rebekah Lodge, Ruby Gleiser's most notable achievement was when she became president of the international Association of Rebekah Assemblies in 1936, the highest office possible in that benevolent society. At the outbreak of the Second World War, Gleiser was named Saskatchewan director in charge of welcoming and placing children evacuated from England – the “Guest Children” as they became known. “[A] church so filled with flowers and friends that not an inch remained, with people standing outside and along the streets, must indicate that the day of Ruby Gleiser’s funeral was a sad day for all of Estevan,” the Leader-Post’s editorial concluded.

The Indridasons 

Brothers Sveinn and Thorstein (Stone Sr.) Indridason bought the Alexandra Hotel from Ruby Gleiser in 1936. Originally from Iceland, the brothers and their families first settled in Gimli, Manitoba, then moved to North Dakota. Two years after moving to Oxbow, Sveinn and his family moved to Wolseley where they leased a hotel for three years. Stone Sr. and Stone Jr. continued to operate the Alexandra Hotel until 1942 when they moved to Alameda to operate a hotel there.

Sveinn Indridason and family. Source: Furrow to the Future (1984)

In 1942, Sveinn and his wife Oliva regurned to Oxbow with their four children and bought the Alexandra Hotel. Their son Lorne continued to operate the hotel after he had spent a few years at university, from 1949 until at least 1984.

The Oxbow local history book contains the reminiscences of Margaret (Indridason) Grisdale about
Ab Salter, 1957. Source: Furrow to the Future
the years her family owned the Alexandra Hotel at Oxbow up to 1984, the year the book was published. “Since Oxbow did not have an old folks’ home it seemed a lot of bachelors came to the hotel to spend their last years,” Grisdale writes. One of them was Albert (Ab) Salter, who had come to Cannington Manor, Saskatchewan from England in the 1880s as a 17-year old stable boy. After a stint with American rum runners, Salter, “a likeable old guy,” moved into Oxbow’s Alexander Hotel where he did odd jobs.

According to Grisdale, the 1950s were good years for the Alexander Hotel. In addition to rooms filled with oil workers, the hotel had one of the first televisions in Oxbow which, thanks to the antenna on the roof, could pick up a TV station in Minot, North Dakota. Grisdale remembers that the hotel lobby would be jammed with kids who came to watch television after school.  

When the oil companies left and the Bow Manor Hotel was built in Oxbow, business declined at the old Alexandra Hotel. “Today there isn’t much business for the rooms, but the bar is still a regular ‘watering hole’ for many people,” Grisdale concluded in 1984.

A vacant lot now holds the space where the Alexandra Hotel once stood.

©Joan Champ, 2019