Sunday, 26 October 2014

Elfros Hotel Fire

Greg Madsen photo. Source

An early morning fire on October 9, 2014 gutted Tequilas Hotel hotel in Elfros, a small community in east-central Saskatchewan. The owner Justin Thordarson told CTV News that the fire started around 4 a.m. No one was inside the hotel at the time. The RCMP and the provincial Office of the Fire Commissioner said the fire was not considered suspicious, but they were continuing to investigate to determine a cause. Thordarson said he is not sure whether he will rebuild the hotel.

Greg Madsen photo. Source

There had been an earlier hotel, the Golden West, in the early 1900s.   

Golden West Hotel, 1913 Source

Golden West Hotel, Elfros, c. 1912. Source: From Prairie Trails to the Yellowhead, 1983.

The hotel that burned in 2014 had been a fixture in the community since 1933. In the 1930s, Choy Tin Joe applied for a liquor license for the hotel in Elfros. In 1947, George Kirtzinger from Lashburn, Saskatchewan, and his uncle, Otto Lingle, bought the Elfros Hotel. George managed the hotel while Otto was away racing horses. In the fall of 1949, George married Edith Taylor. They moved to Cudworth to farm for two years and then back to Lashburn with their family of four children.

Tequilas Hotel, c. 2012, Google street view,.

Thordarson has owned the hotel, now called Tequilas, since 2007. After the fire, he was not sure whether he would rebuild the hotel.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Gun Play, Tar and Feathering, and Other Stories

 

Accidental Shooting at the Aneroid Hotel


Front Street (now Main Street), Aneroid, c 1912. Source

In December of 1914, Constable Buck of the Royal North West Mounted Police was in Aneroid on business, staying at the Aneroid Hotel. Newly married just two weeks before, Buck wanted to visit his good friend Bertrand Gossett who worked at the hotel. The two men were both from nearby Vanscoy.  Once he was off duty, the policeman went into the hotel bar to see Gossett, who was working as the bartender.  Gossett asked his friend if he could see his gun. Constable Buck took off his belt and holster and laid them on the bar. As he took his gun from its holster and passed it across the counter, the gun discharged. Gossett fell to the floor behind the bar, killed instantly by a gunshot wound to his head. Sources: Morning Leader and Aneroid: The Rising Barometer (1980), p. 10. 

 

The "Rabbit Cafe" at the Bulyea Hotel


Hans Johnson built a hotel in Bulyea in 1906. It was situated close to a poplar bluff that was full of "an endless supply" of rabbits. Johnson's daughters used to stand out on the doorstep of the hotel with 22 rifles and pick off rabbits for fresh meat. "The oldtimers used to relate how rabbits showed up on the menu disguised in so many ways that they were never quite sure what they were eating," the Bulyea history book says. The Bulyea Hotel's dining room got to be referred to as the Rabbit Cafe. Source: Between Long Lake and Last Mountain: Bulyea, Duval, Strasbourg, Vol. 1 (1982), p. 194.


 

Tar and Feathering at the Langenburg Hotel


On a warm Saturday evening in early August of 1937, Henry Jackson went swimming with a married woman, Mrs. Mary Ann Berger, owner of the Langenburg Hotel. When they returned to the hotel, the two were accosted by four masked men who began smearing Jackson with tar. Jackson, "advanced in years," fought back, ripping the mask off one of the men. Mrs. Berger, who was in her late 50s, went into the hotel and emerged swinging a heavy club. The four men fled, and were later charged with aggravated assault. Source The hotel, once called the Imperial, had been built by Mary Ann's husband Richard Berger, who died in 1916. Mary Ann, who had four children from her marriage to Richard, never remarried


Rum Runners at the Cadillac Hotel

Prohibition-era postcard. Source

Robert and Annie Stanley bought the 3-storey Cadillac Hotel in 1920. As Prohibition was in full force in Saskatchewan, the Stanley's turned the dining room into a general store. The former bar became a warehouse of the store. The Stanley's son Robert Jr. recalled that running the hotel was a real adventure. "Rum runners from the States came up through the prairie trails from Montana and stayed at the hotel. They loaded their cars [with bootleg liquor] and set off for the south, usually on a Sunday morning. ... I remember one of the bootleggers in particular would arrive with his wife and a couple of children who would act as a camouflage for the liquor. He was a fantastic jazz piano player. When he was in town the word soon spread and it was a night for dancing. Then came word that he had been killed in a gun battle with revenuers [US federal revenue agents involved in liquor law enforcement]." Source: Cadillac:A Prairie Heritage (1987), p. 226.


Off the Rails in Redvers

Bird's eye view of Redvers, no date. Source

In 1936, when P.R. and Sadie Johnson bought the King's Hotel in Redvers, the place was closed and boarded up. No sooner had the couple cleaned the place up and reopened the hotel for business, then a disaster - or perhaps a windfall - occurred. On May 2, 1936, one mile west of town, a freight train jumped the rails. Twenty-three cars left the track, killing one of the many hobos who rode the rails during the Depression years. Within hours, scores of railway men from the eastern and western divisional points (Souris, Manitoba and Arcola) arrived to clear the track. As a result, the King's Hotel was full to capacity for several days, with many of the railway men sleeping on the floor. The Johnson's hotel business was off to a good start. Source: Redvers, 75 Years Live (1980), p. 15.


© Joan Champ 2014


Saturday, 22 March 2014

Yesterday and Today: Photo Essay

 I thought I'd take a break from writing, and feature some photos of hotels past and present.

Cupar

The windows had awnings back then. 

 

1918. Source

Joan Champ photo, 2008.

Kerrobert

The third storey has been removed.


c. 1925. Source

Google Street View, 2013.

 

Kisbey

This hotel has disappeared since I was there in 2006.  You can tell from my photo that it was on its way out.

 

1917. Source

Joan Champ photo, 2006.

 

Limerick

Sometimes they just closed off the third floor.

 

Source

Google Street View, 2012.

 

Morse

Looks like it was a popular place back then.

 

1913. Source

2011.  Photo courtesy of Kristine Montgomery

 

Shellbrook

Verandahs were considered a fire hazard, so they were removed. 

 

c. 1912. Source

Joan Champ photo, 2011.

 

Whitewood

During Prohibition, the hotel in Whitewood ran a den of iniquity known as the Snake Room where liquor was illegally served.  It still had a thriving bar when I was there last.

 

No date.  Source: Whitewood local history book (1992)

Joan Champ photo, 2006.

 


Sunday, 16 March 2014

"Your Home on the Range:" The Commercial Hotel at Maple Creek

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Guest post by Royce E. W. Pettyjohn, Coordinator of Maple Creek's Main Street Program.


Maple Creek's oldest continually operated business, the Commercial Hotel, is truly a community treasure. Thanks to a group of new immigrants from the Philippines, this heritage hotel has been recently restored to its former glory. Today's visitors can still get a sense of the hotel’s rich history as a result of the atmosphere and furnishings that have been preserved in the hotel lobby.

Marcelo Del Barrio, Jayson Catalasan, Ronald Del Barrio, and Noy Lim, hold a painting of the original hotel built in 1884/1885. Source
  
Hotel on the Ranching Frontier

The story of the Commercial Hotel began on November 23, 1883 when Thomas Melfort Rasin, purchased Lot #3 on Block #2 (on the original town plan) in Maple Creek. The hotel was constructed of logs and faced will milled lumber. By 1885, it was in operation. The 1886 Territorial Directory billed the Commercial Hotel as “The largest hotel in the Northwest Territory, T.M. Rasin proprietor, first class in all its departments.” 

Thomas Rasin, originally from Maryland via St. Paul, Minnesota, came to the Cypress Hills area around 1880 as a clerk for the T. C. Power & Bro. Company store in the village of Fort Walsh. T.C. Power opened a new store in Maple Creek after the Northwest Mounted Police abandoned Fort Walsh in 1883, and Rasin followed.  

Backed by the company's managers, Horace A. Greeley and D. W. Marsh, Rasin also acquired Lot #4 - the lot between the T.C. Power store and the Commercial Hotel. Eventually, the hotel would expand onto a portion of this lot. The 1888 land title document consolidating ownership of Lots #3 & #4 in the name of Thomas Rasin shows a $1,169.67 mortgage registered against the properties by Horace A. Greeley. 

The original hotel c. 1885. Submitted photo.

Rasin sold the Commercial Hotel to Edward Fearon on August 18, 1890; Lot #4 was sold to James Baird on March 2, 1898. Fearon, who was elected to the Territorial Assembly in November of 1894, sold the hotel to John Henry Fleming on Christmas Eve 1896.  A little over two years later, Fleming also acquired Lot #4 from Baird. 

Fleming was an American cowboy who had worked as a foreman on the Oxarart Ranch upon coming to Canada. He later had ranching interests in the Skull Creek area, was a partner in the Williamson & Fleming Store at Maple Creek in 1903 (now the Salvation Army Thrift Store). Canada’s 1901 census shows Fleming, age 36, living in the Commercial Hotel with his wife Mary and their two children. Hotel staff in 1901 consisted of two bartenders and four chambermaids. 

The Commercial Hotel’s only competition in Maple Creek during the 1880s and 1890s was the International Hotel, built by J. J. English in 1883 on the east corner of Jasper Street and Pacific Avenue (destroyed by fire in August 1896). Between 1902 and 1904, however, the Cypress Hotel, the Jasper Hotel and the Maple Leaf Hotel had all been constructed and the aging Commercial Hotel was no longer the establishment of choice in town. In A.M. Merton 1904 booklet called The New West Era he refers to the Commercial Hotel as a “dollar house” under the management of the Henderson-Downer system (which owned the Cypress Hotel). 

According to the Maple Creek News editor W.J. Redmond, it was around this time that Fleming decided to once again “make the Commercial the best hotel in town.” Around 1906 the original wooden Commercial Hotel structure was moved back on the lot and a large three-storey brick addition was constructed on the front of the hotel. This addition is represented today by the beverage room and everything above it. The location where the original wooden building was attached to the new brick addition is still visible at the back of the hotel.


The 1906 section of the Commercial Hotel. Submitted photo.

In 1910, Fleming sold the Commercial Hotel to Norman Robson., who immediately started to work on a second expansion. His addition to the east encroached onto Lot #4 and is represented today by the current lobby, dining room and everything above them. The new addition opened on August 30th, 1911. The next day, the Maple Creek News provided the following account: 
"The new addition of the Commercial Hotel was put into commission yesterday and Maple Creekites have good reason to be proud of the Pacific Avenue hostelry. The ground floor is taken up by the rotunda and dining room. Both rooms are spacious, finished in golden oak, well lighted, and modern in every particular. New mission furniture in the dining room adds greatly to the attractiveness. The rotunda and the bar room have tile floors. Upstairs the new bedrooms have the advantages gained by plumbing and eight of them have baths in connection. The house now has 52 rooms and is steam heated throughout. The old rotunda is being overhauled and will be utilized for a pool and billiard room. The owner, Mr. N. L. Robson is to be congratulated upon the appearance of the Commercial, and it is more than likely that his efforts to keep the hotel up to the requirements of a growing town will be appreciated by the public."

The 1911 Canada census shows Norman Robson, age 30, living in the hotel, along with his wife Mable and six staff members. Four of the young women on the hotel staff worked in the dining room. Perhaps Lela, Miriam, Katie, and Lizzie served the splendid Christmas dinner in the hotel’s new dining room that year. The menu offered stewed oysters, shrimp patties, salmon, fillet of sole, ham with champagne sauce, duck, lamb, chicken, beef, turkey, goose, and every possible side dish. Countless desserts were served at the end of this sumptuous holiday feast that was topped off with port & sherry.

Unfortunately, the “new mission furniture in the dining room” referenced by the Maple Creek News did not survive to furnish today’s Commercial Hotel’s. However, the lobby in 1911 must have looked very much the way we see it now. The Commercial Hotel’s beautiful lobby furniture would have originally been in the circa 1885 wooden hotel structure. It would have then been reused in the lobby of the 1906 brick addition, and then again in the 1911 lobby where it remains to this day. The 1911 marble tile floor has also survived with very little loss over the course of the last 103 years.

On December 31, 1912, just over a year after opening the new addition, Robson sold the hotel to William McRoberts, Jeremiah McRoberts, Thomas Battell & William Battell, all from Moose Jaw. It appears that William McRoberts came to Maple Creek to oversee the consortium’s interests, while Jeremiah McRoberts went on to own and operate the Royal Hotel at Weyburn. The McRoberts brothers bought out both of the Battell brothers’ interests in the Commercial Hotel by September of 1917. 

Weathering Hard Times


It was during this time that Prohibition started in Saskatchewan. Click here to see blog post. This meant hard times for the hotel business. On June 10, 1919 Sophia Richardson & James Wilson bought the Commercial Hotel. After a struggle to keep the hotel afloat, Wilson lost his interest to the Land Securities Company of Canada Ltd. on March 30, 1921. Nine months later, his partner Sophia bought out his interests from the security company. Unfortunately Sophia Richardson lost the Commercial Hotel to the Bank of Montreal on March 9, 1927. 

The former billiards room/beverage room was converted to house the bank's Maple Creek operations. The beer cooler currently used in the Commercial Hotel beverage room is said to have been the bank vault. The Bank of Montreal moved out of the Commercial Hotel in 1932, although the bank continued to hold the title to the hotel until 1945. This stands to reason, as this period spans the Great Depression and the Second World War years. Matt Fleming operated the Commercial Hotel between 1927 and 1945. It was Fleming who adopted the hotel's motto, "Your Home on the Range," around 1935.

Fire plan c. 1930 shows the hotel with all its original sections. Submitted image.

In the spring of 1940 the original section of the Commercial Hotel was torn down. Maple Creek News editor W. J. Redmond lamented the loss in a May editorial. It appears that by 1940 the original section of the hotel had fallen into disuse. Redmond wrote that “the old original log building, tucked away behind, has been gathering cobwebs and paying taxes to the Town without doing anything to justify its existence.” He stated that although “the accommodation didn’t amount to much, judged by present standards, [it] was O.K. in the days when men wore whiskers and drank their whiskey straight.”

The Commercial Hotel went through several owners between 1945 and the early 1970s. These owners included John “Scotty” MacLaren (1945); Hazen Bonser (1945 to 1947); Frederick, William and Alvin Ehnis (1947 to 1956); and Louis Liepert (1956 to 1973). Sometime during the 1960s additional hotel rooms were built in the original dining room space.

On July 31, 1973, Bent Sorensen bought the Commercial Hotel and embarked on a major renovation project. The dining room on the main floor was reintroduced by removing the hotel rooms that had been built in the space. The hotel’s street appearance was updated, and the rooms on the second floor were “modernized” so that they all had baths. The official opening of the newly renovated Commercial Hotel occurred on January 2, 1976, with Maple Creek’s Mayor Harrigan cutting the ribbon in the presence of a number of dignitaries. 

The modernization of the second floor rooms obliterated virtually all of the circa 1906 and 1911 features from that area of the building. However, the circa 1906 and 1911 doors, baseboards, mouldings, trim and burlap wainscoting on the third floor of the hotel all managed to survive.

After hotel ownership changed a few more times, Sam and Darlene Boychuck bought the Commercial Hotel in 1986. The Boychucks did an admirable job of ensuring that the heritage character of the old hotel remained intact. During the Town of Maple Creek’s Centennial of Incorporation celebrations in 2003, the significance of the Commercial Hotel to the history of the community was officially recognized on one the town’s commemorative centennial coins. The Boychucks have the distinction of being the longest owners of the hotel in its 120 year history. After 20 years, the couple sold the Commercial Hotel to Young Han Shin in 2006. The hotel was then sold to Chung Lee. 

Flood of 2010 and Aftermath


2010 flood; Commercial Hotel at upper right. Source
 
Lee continued to preserve the heritage features of the building; however he had the misfortune of owning the hotel at the time of the disastrous flood of 2010. The flood caused extensive damage to the lower levels of the hotel, forcing it to close for the first time in its long history. Lee struggled to recoup his losses and reopen the hotel, without success.

At the end of 2012, Lee sold the Commercial Hotel to a group of Filipino investors who had recently immigrated to Canada, settling in Maple Creek. The seven stakeholders – Noy and Marchelle Lim, Jayson and Alneena Catalasan and Agnes, Marcelo and Ronald Del Barrio – formed Licadel Hotel Group Ltd. and made big plans for the hotel. They began a rehabilitation of the century-plus heritage landmark. 

Noy Lim, a classically trained chef, told the Maple Creek News that the restoration of the hotel is a way for them to give back and thank the community for welcoming them as newcomers. “When we
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first arrived here in Maple Creek, the town really welcomed us with huge smiles and embraced us,” he said. “So it's not always that you're on the receiving end. You have to give something.”

The hotel had sat vacant for two years after the 2012 flood filled the basement and main floor with water. The Filipino group began by cleaning the entire building, stripping carpet and some walls. They then embarked on a complete upgrade of the hotel in an effort to bring it up to modern standards, while at the same time maintaining the integrity of its history. “We'll try to make it look as much like a Western-Victorian hotel as possible – not fancy, but like you're travelling back in time when you walk into the hotel,” Lim explained.

 For SWTV news story video (December 17, 2012), click here

The Town of Maple Creek designated the Commercial Hotel as a Municipal Heritage Property on February 26, 2013. Since then, the Maple Creek Main Street program and the Saskatchewan Heritage Foundation have assisted the Filipino investors in their efforts to restore the Commercial Hotel. 

Noy Lim and crew reviewing plans, March 2013. Source.
In the spring of 2013, the Maple Creek News reported that labourers were laying bricks along the building's exterior facade. Original bricks removed during repairs to the back of the hotel were reused on the front facade. “It made us quite happy,” said Lim. “The bricks are in quite good condition, so all we have to do is clean up the paint on the bricks to bring out the colour of the bricks again.” The biggest surprise was the discovery by construction workers of windows in the north wall of the bar which had been covered for 30 years. "The windows were the biggest surprise a few months ago," said Lim.

For SWTV news story video (July 6, 2013), click here

Reopened for Business

 

A rustic, saloon-style bar at the Commercial Hotel opened in the summer of 2013; the hotel itself reopened in December of that that year. In February 2014, the Licadel stakeholders were presented with Maple Creek’s Business of the Year award, as well as the award for excellence in heritage conservation. 

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“Your Home on the Range” for more than 130 years, the newly renovated Commercial Hotel now has 14 guest rooms (standard, superior, deluxe, and honeymoon suite), complete with Wi-Fi and continental breakfast. The dining room, which seats 50, features specialty international cuisine prepared by Chef Noy Lim.

Noy Lim with Premier Brad Wall, October 2013. Source

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has said that Lim and his partners in the Commercial Hotel are close friends of the whole province. After the flood of 2010, the Premier noted, everyone was convinced that it was closed for good. Licadel's team of seven, doing a lot of the work with their own hands, brought the hotel back to its former glory. “The Commercial Hotel takes you back to that era,” said Wall. “It’s a special place, a very special place.” 


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c. Joan Champ, 2014