Saturday, 19 January 2019

A Second Look: The Kyle Hotel

The day I stopped to take a look, September 5, 2006. Joan Champ photo.

“Don’t drive by, not every time. Stop for a second look. Look around. Take a breath. It’s later than you think.” These are the words of the late Cam Fuller (1963-2018), a long-time columnist for the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, written shortly after a fire destroyed the hotel in Kyle on May 16, 2018. “There’s a lesson for me in the Kyle Hotel fire,” Fuller mused. Perhaps there is a lesson there for all of us. Source

On May 14, 2018, Fuller was driving along Highway 4 between Swift Current and Rosetown. For some reason – a reporter’s curiosity perhaps – he decided to stop for lunch in Kyle, a town he had passed by on that stretch of highway many times. He knew about the statue of the 12,000-year-old woolly mammoth, unearthed at Kyle during highway construction in the 1960s.

“And then,” Fuller wrote, “I can’t even say why, I take a picture of the hotel on the corner — ‘Suites with kitchens, daily, weekly and monthly rates’ — a plain white stucco building with a sign advertising ice for sale, the lettering on the word ‘ICE’ topped by snow.” Two days later, he was shocked to learn that the Kyle Hotel was gone – destroyed by fire – “72 years of history gone in 90 minutes.” 

Some History

“New Hotel is Opened at Kyle,” the headline read in the December 31, 1940 issue of the Regina Leader-Post. “The owners, Hesla Bros., have spared no expense in making this one of the most comfortable hostelries in the province,” the story reads. The hotel had 15 guest rooms, a dining room, and a beer parlour. Lunch was served on opening day, the paper reported, and the hotel’s doors were thrown open for all those who wished to inspect the new building.

Roy and Henry Hesla, sons of Thor and Thea Hesla from Norway, were born in Outlook and grew up on the family farm near Kyle. Roy was the owner/proprietor of the Kyle Hotel for 20 years before moving with his family to Penticton, BC in 1968. The dining room at the hotel was managed by Mr. and Mrs. O. Anderson during the 1960s.
Saskatoon StarPhoenix, October 24, 1964.

On October 17, 1964, a bulldozer operated by a road construction crew unearthed the biggest thing ever to hit Kyle - rare fossils of a woolly mammoth determined to be about 12,000 years old. During the subsequent dig that fall, about 20,000 people, including archaeologists, newspaper reporters, and curious spectators flooded into the small town of approximately 500 people. It must have been great time for business at the Kyle Hotel. In 1981, “Wally” the Woolly Mammoth was erected across the street from the hotel as a roadside attraction to commemorate the find. The bones of the woolly mammoth are now housed at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Regina.

"Wally" the Woolly Mammoth, across Railway Avenue from the former Kyle Hotel. Source

Shortly before it burned down, the Kyle Hotel offered five two-bedroom suites, four modern rooms, and twelve semi-modern rooms – meaning they only had “the basics.” Catering mainly to hunters, the hotel featured a coin-operated laundry, movie rentals, and a walk-in fridge/freezer for game. In addition to beer and spirits, the hotel beverage room had a steak pit, takeout food from the Kyle Cafe, VLTs, and offsale. 

The Fire

At 5:30 p.m. on May 16, 2018, the fire broke out in the Kyle Hotel. Strong winds hampered the efforts of firefighters, and by 8:00 p.m. the building was reduced to ashes.

Fire destroys the Kyle Hotel, May 16, 2018. Source

After the fire, the town’s mayor, Doug Barker told the Leader-Post that the hotel had been a mainstay in the community. “At six o’clock in the morning the men always went down there for coffee,” he said. “Then at 10 o’clock the women all took over.” Long-time Kyle resident and business owner, Wanda Brown, told the newspaper that its destruction was “a terrible blow” to the community. “It’s a meeting place. It’s a gathering place,” she said. “When I was young … that’s where we were all so excited to have our first legal drink.”

So, next time you’re driving past a small town, heed the words of Cam Fuller. Stop in and take a look around. You never know what you’ll find. Or when it might be too late.

In memory of Cam Fuller, a man I never knew, but whose columns I read with relish, and whose writing I greatly respected.

©Joan Champ, 2019

Monday, 19 November 2018

Hotel “Sample Rooms” for Commercial Travellers

Garment salesman in the sample room of a rural Alberta hotel, 1910. Source

In the early 1900s, hotels were an essential feature in Saskatchewan's commercial landscape. The settlers who homesteaded on the prairies had to travel to the nearest village or town to buy provisions such as flour, sugar, salt, tea, and cloth. Storekeepers relied on “commercial travellers” or travelling salesmen to keep their shelves stocked with dry goods. The commercial travellers, in turn, relied on the hotels they stayed in to provide them with “sample rooms” – temporary showrooms where local merchants could view the salesmen’s wares and order goods. The salesmen found the sample room set-up preferable to showing their products in stores where their clients could be distracted by their own customers.

Illustration from "All Things to All Men" by Timothy Spears, American Quarterly, December 1993.

In smaller hotels, sample rooms were often just a spare room furnished with a few tables and chairs. Some hotels had purpose-built sample rooms combining overnight accommodation and display space. Regardless, the commercial travellers came to see this amenity as an indispensable service. Sample rooms remained a fixture in Saskatchewan’s small-town and city hotels well into the 20th century.


Trunks Full of Wares

Commercial travellers went by train prior to the 1950s. When they arrived in a town or village, they hauled their trunks and sample cases to the hotel where they rented both a room and the sample room – if it wasn’t already rented by another salesman. In the evenings, local shopkeepers came to the hotel to see the sample goods and place their orders. The next morning, the travellers boarded the train to the next town, or to return to the city from whence they came.

An article in the February 15, 1949 issue of MacLean’s, McKenzie Porter profiled Bert Thorne, one of Canada’s 40,000 commercial travellers. “For Warwick Brothers and Rutter Ltd., wholesale and manufacturing stationers of Toronto, [Thorne] covers 25,000 miles a year, mostly by train but some by car,” Porter writes. “He books orders for writing pads, cashbooks, paper napkins, gift wrappings, pencils, rulers, erasers, bridge scorers, artists’ water colors, thumbtacks, rubber bands, fountain pens and a few thousand other items from small-town druggists, booksellers and general stores. The biggest order he ever booked was $4,000 worth of Christmas cards, his smallest 25 cents worth of sealing wax.” Thorne travelled with two big trunks containing some 4,000 articles. It took him an hour to unpack the trunks and lay the items out on tables around the sample room before inviting the local storekeeper to view his wares.

Ad in The Simpson Lance, October 31, 1918.
Hotels placed advertisements promising travelling men comfortable accommodations and “good sample rooms.” Sometimes, the accommodation was less than comfortable, with a bare floor and a jug of frozen water by the bed. “One of the mysteries of the commercial traveller,” Frank Phillips wrote in the June 1, 1926 issue of MacLean’s magazine, “is the way he manages to keep spruce and well groomed after a long course of small-town hotels, rising before daybreak to catch a mixed train, bolting a breakfast that will haunt him for the rest of the day, making his toilet minus hot water in a cold, bare room with a distorting mirror and yet emerging from the process neat, clean, smoothly shaven.” 

Illustration from "Couriers of Commerce" by Frank Phillips, MacLean's, June 1, 1926.

The Carnduff local history book recounts that commercial travellers often arrived at the Clarendon Hotel with ten to fifteen trunks full of merchandise. “They carried a sample of each item they sold; fifty different kinds of shirts available meant they carried fifty samples around with them.”

In a story about the Pense hotel in the Regina Leader-Post on March 27, 1943, Arthur Tims recalled the days when he worked as a porter shortly after the hotel was built in 1904. One salesman would tip him a dollar for taking his sixteen trunks from the train to the hotel’s large sample room. “Travellers used to leave shirts in their rooms,” Tims told the paper. “They never came back for them. We kept them for a while, then I’d get the ones that fitted.” 

In 1940, the Government of Saskatchewan passed legislation which, among other things, empowered city, town and village councils to provide sample rooms for the convenience of travellers, and to fix the fees for the use of such rooms.

Changing Times

The economic boom times of the 1920s gave way to the Great Depression, then the 1940s' war-time economy gave way to more boom times in the 1950s. Travelling salesmen were vulnerable in terms of the market’s increasing scale. As Timothy B. Spears writes in the December 1993 issue of American Quarterly, "The rise of mail order houses, the increased importance of branded products, the emergence of corporate selling organizations … and other related factors reshaped the commercial traveller’s professional identity and his role in the marketplace.” Specialization was one strategy adopted by salesmen. Instead of carrying several products and product lines, they would carry just one line which enabled them to make better time between sales calls.

In addition, improvements to Saskatchewan’s roads in the1950s meant that commercial travellers could switch from trains to cars to get from place to place. Unfortunately for hoteliers, automobiles enabled salesmen to move more easily between towns and get home more quickly, cutting into the hotel business. Then, in 1960 when mixed drinking was allowed in Saskatchewan, many hotels turned their sample rooms into beverage rooms. Commercial travellers were not longer hotel-dependent.

© Joan Champ, 2018

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Ivan Buehler's Story of Growing Up in the Queen's Hotel at Moosomin

Ivan Buehler at the front desk of the Queen's Hotel, 1963. This photo, taken by a classmate when Ivan was in grade 12, was used in an advertisement for the hotel in his high school yearbook. Submitted photo.

Thank you to Ivan Buehler for his generosity in sharing some of his childhood memories in this blog.

Growing up in a small-town Saskatchewan hotel sounds like a cool experience, doesn't it? For a kid, imagine how thrilling it must have been to be able to run the hallways and staircases in such a unique place, and to eat every meal in a cafĂ©. At the very least, living in a hotel with a bar and a restaurant must have offered youngsters the chance to meet all kinds of people. 

Ivan Buehler contacted me recently and agreed to share his memories of growing up in Moosomin's Queen's Hotel. I was three months old when my family bought the Queen’s and 22 years old when it was sold,” he writes. Ivan and his three brothers enjoyed all the play and learning experiences that life in a busy hotel had to offer, exploring the areas inside and around the massive, three-storey brick building.  As a youth living in a hotel,” Ivan remembers, “I felt that most days were remarkable childhood experiences.” 

The Queen's Hotel in Moosomin, 1960. Two hotels merged into one, with only one direct interior passageway between the two buildings above ground level with a double-wide steel fire door between them. On the ground level, people had to exit one building to get to the other. The Buehler family lived in a 3-bedroom suite on the ground floor of the "Grosvenor" section on the left. Photo: Morris Predinchuk Collection, Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan.

Located on the corner of South Front Street and Main Street in Moosomin, the historic Queen’s Hotel was an amalgamation of two old hotels that had existed side by side in the early 1880s – the Grosvenor and the Queen’s. When Ivan’s grandfather, Karl Buehler, his father, Leo, and his uncle Alfred (called Pete), sold their hotel in Fairlight, Saskatchewan and took over the Moosomin hotel in December 1946, the Queen’s was, according to Moosomin’s local history book, “in desperate condition.” In the years that followed, the Queen’s saw continuous improvement under the management of the Buehlers, “so that it came to be as comfortable and modern as any rural hotel on the prairies. 

The Buehler family lived on the ground floor in a suite that took up the whole back section of the former Grosvenor. “My three brothers and I all worked in the hotel as children,” Ivan recalls. “Most of my work was at the front desk, but also included demolition during renovations and some bookkeeping as I grew older.” 

Modernization of the Queen's Hotel

In 1953, Leo and Bertha Buehler became the sole operators of the Queen’s Hotel. From that time until they sold the business in 1967, the Queen’s was not only a community gathering place, but the owners were respected community leaders. They were also one of Moosomin’s main employers, with as many as twenty people on staff, and with many workers hired to help with building renovations over the years.  

I grew up believing that small-town Saskatchewan hotels had carpenters as permanent staff because there was always something changing at the Queen’s,” Ivan writes. “The work was so intense that we had a carpenter and a painter living in the hotel and working full time for seven years.” Denizens of the hotel included a significant number of immigrants. “At one time,” Ivan recalls, “three sisters who had made their way from East Germany worked for us. We had a cook who emigrated from Greece as a teenager. … One of our permanent guests was a public health nurse from South Africa. 

Work at the Queen’s varied as much as the workers who did it. The most dramatic structural change Ivan remembers was the removal of a weight-bearing wall in the lobby that was replaced with a steel beam inserted through the new wall of the building. Lath and plaster walls were dismantled, replaced by Gypsum board. Pipes ran to new plumbing fixtures in the guest rooms. A telephone switchboard was installed in the lobby and each room got its own phone. The heating system was upgraded at least twice. “The whole of the main customer service area – lobby, dining room, kitchen, bar, and beverage room – was totally changed,” Ivan states. “Our suite along with three others on the ground floor were gutted and modernized. 

Lobby before renovations, 1957. The tin ceiling and archway were removed. Photo: Morris Predinchuk Collection, Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan
Lobby after renovations, 1957. Photo: Morris Predinchuk Collection, Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan.
Dining room before renovations, 1956. Morris Predinchuk Collection, Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan.
Dining room after renovations, 1957. Morris Predinchuk Collection, Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan.


Changes to Liquor Laws Improve Business

The biggest changes Ivan Buehler witnessed at Moosomin’s Queen’s Hotel were those to Saskatchewan’s liquor laws. When women were finally allowed into licensed premises in 1959-1960, not only could his mother now legally enter the bar of the hotel she owned, but renovations were required to segregate the men-only section from the “Ladies and Escorts” section. More significant for young Ivan, who was working at the hotel’s reception desk, was dealing with the fall-out of unhappy male bar patrons. “Before ladies could go into the bar, men could go in and have a complete men’s only experience,” Ivan explains. “There was no phone in the pub, so the men were unreachable. It was not unusual for me [as a minor] to go to the door, open it and yell a man’s name only to have him reply ‘I’m not here!’ Once women were allowed in, the hideaway was breached. The only sanctuary they had was the men’s only area which was visible from everywhere in the pub, so not a real sanctuary at all. 

Official opening of the beverage room at the Queen's Hotel. L to R: Bartender Frank Wright, Bertha Buehler, Moosomin mayor Lloyd Bradley, and Leo Buehler. The carpet marks the dividing line between the Men's area and the Ladies and Escorts section. Photo: Morris Predinchuk Collection, Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan.

According to Ivan, other changes to provincial liquor laws throughout the 1960s helped to improve the hotel’s business. When the sale of food and beverages other than beer were permitted in bars, when people could change tables with their drinks, and when games like pool and shuffleboard could be played in the bar, the Queen’s beverage room was expanded. 

Royal Visitors 


The Royal couple chatting with Moosomin residents during their 10-minute stop on July 24, 1959. Source: Regina Leader-Post.

The biggest event Ivan can remember happening during his childhood years at the Queen’s was – appropriately – the Royal Visit of 1959 when the train carrying Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh across Canada stopped at Moosomin. “Dad and Mom met our royal visitors because Dad was on the town council,” Ivan writes. “Prince Phillip stopped in front of the four Buehler brothers and spoke to us, getting only open-mouthed stares in return.” After the Royal couple departed, a special meal for the community was arranged in the dining room of the Queen’s Hotel. Things did not go according to plan. “Our cook, who lived in the hotel, chose the early hours of the morning to skip town,” Ivan recalls. “Dad called on the aid of a local woman who had cooked for us before to come and take his place. She did a good job but could not prepare all the dishes that [the cook] had planned because they were strange to her.” 

Christmas Parties

Ivan remembers that, for many years, Christmas Day at the Queen’s Hotel was remarkable. No restaurants opened in Moosomin on that day. “Dad, primarily, cooked breakfast for all the permanent and temporary hotel residents. It was a party that lasted a couple of hours and included close Moosomin friends as well.” 

The Buehler family and staff members at the Christmas party, 1955. At least 11 staff members lived at the hotel, along with the Buehler family of six. Photo: Morris Predinchuk Collection, Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan.

The Buehler family and staff members at the Queen's Hotel Christmas party, 1955. Ivan is standing to the left in front of his parents. Can you spot the other three Buehler boys? Long-term resident Jim Fraser standing in front of the ladies to the right. Photo: Morris Predinchuk Collection, Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan.

Hotels have always provided dependable living spaces for many, including teachers, doctors, dentists, and most particularly, single men. The Queen’s Hotel in Moosomin was no exception. “The longest resident was Jim Fraser who immigrated to Canada from Scotland,” Ivan writes. “Another Scot, John Wilson, a baker, was there in my earliest memory and remained there for about twenty years.” The number increased in the winter when some farmers moved into the town's hotel from their farmsteads. 

The Buehlers sold the Queen’s Hotel in mid-December 1967, marking the end of 54 years of hotel-keeping in the province for the family. Both Leo and his father, Karl Buehler, were made honorary life members of the Hotels Association of Saskatchewan. 

Fire at the Queen's Hotel, 1969. Photo: Morris Predinchuk Collection, Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan.

In January 1969, two years after the Buehlers left, the Grosvenor section of the Queen’s Hotel was destroyed by fire. Three long-term residents – two farmers and Ivan’s old friend Jim Fraser – died in the building when it burned. After the fire, the name of the hotel was changed to the Moosomin Hotel. The hotel, now called the Uptown, is less than half the size it was during the Buehler years. It no longer rents guest rooms.

The Uptown Hotel (formerly the Queen's) as it looks today. The "Grosvenor" section is gone. Source
© Joan Champ 2018