Sunday, 20 November 2011

Viability of Rural Hotels - How Many Rooms?

Snowmobilers stop for a brew at the Pioneer Hotel in Wiseton (pop. 96), 2006. Joan Champ photo

While hotels are one of the oldest and most common forms of business enterprise in small-town Saskatchewan, today, in most cases, they are hotels in name only. They do not rely on room rental for revenue. The rural hotel business is all about the beverage room. The sale of alcohol – mainly beer – is the primary source of annual operating revenues – or at least it was until the introduction of video lottery terminals (VLTs) in 1993.

VLTs at the end of the bar, Delisle Hotel, May 2011. Joan Champ photo

Since the 1970s, beverage rooms have been continuously renovated. Steak pits and other amenities have been added, and a wide variety of entertainment – shuffleboard tables, pool tables, karaoke machines and live bands – have been featured in bars across the province. In 1993, the VLT program was introduced, providing an additional source of entertainment – and revenue – for liquor-permitted hotels in rural communities.

Typical rural hotel room
Nevertheless, the small-town hotels still need to have a minimum number of rooms in order to qualify for a liquor license. In 1987, according to Sean Kenny’s report on the viability of rural hotels for the Saskatchewan Liquor Board, licensed hotels in communities with less than 200 taxpayers had to have a minimum of seven (7) rooms. Even at that, the hotels in these small towns had an occupancy rate of only 10 percent. Kenny estimated that only about two (2) percent of total rural hotel revenue came from the provision of accommodation. (Sean Kenny, “Viability Study of the Rural Hotel Industry in Saskatchewan; Project Report.” Regina: Saskatchewan Liquor Board, August 31, 1987, p.10)  

"Please go to bar next door for room rentals, thank you!" Sign in the lobby of the Delisle Hotel, May 2011. Joan Champ photo
On June 22, 1988, Graham Taylor, Saskatchewan’s Minister of Tourism and Small Business, told the Saskatchewan Legislature that he did not think it was necessary for rural hotels to have rooms. “The day of the rooms in the rural hotel, I think, in many cases has somewhat passed,” Taylor said, “and therefore it may be an advantage to hoteliers to not have it [the liquor license] tied entirely to rooms.” (Hansard, Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly, June 22, 1988) 

Room at the Delisle Hotel, May 2011. Joan Champ photo

Today, according to the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority’s “Commercial Liquor Permittee Policy Manual” (2009), to qualify for a beverage room license, a hotel in a rural community must have a minimum of six (6) guest rooms. Sustained largely by off-sale revenues and VLT income, most of Saskatchewan’s small-town hotels are now just a shadow of their former glory days.

Budget Rooms - Daily, Weekly, Monthly - at Melville's Waverley Hotel, June 2006. Joan Champ photo
© Joan Champ 2011

Monday, 14 November 2011

Two More Century-Old Hotels Burn: Stenen and Young

Stenen Hotel on fire. Trudy Scebenski photo. Image source

They’re going down fast. 

On October 26th the 100-year-old King George Hotel at Stenen burned to the ground. “It was one of the better hotels down the line. Other communities hardly have a hotel and this one was run real well. It was a good place for friends to meet,” said Merv Secundiak, former mayor of Stenen and owner of the town’s general store. “It was a popular place in the community.” Mr Secundiak told the Regina Leader-Post reporter that with the historical building and bar gone, he was planning to close his store and retire. “I’m not going to have anything in this community. It’s terrible. I feel so bad. Why [do] things like this have to happen to a small community?” Click to read full story

Stenen Hotel, July 2006.  Photo courtesy of Ruth Bitner

Young Hotel

Less than two weeks later, another old hotel in rural Saskatchewan was destroyed by fire. Sometime around 2:30 a.m. on November 13th, volunteer firefighters were called to a blaze at the Young Hotel.  Within an hour, flames had completely consumed the building.

The fire was started by two sisters ages 10 and 12 who snuck out of their parents' house at 2:00 a.m. They gathered papers from the Young post office and then went into the front porch of the empty hotel where they started a fire to keep warm. When they returned home, they left the fire unattended. The 12-year-old was charged with mischief, but would be dealt with through an alternative measures program. The 10-year-old was too young to be charged. Both girls apologized.

Young Hotel fire. Photo supplied by Cordelia Ciesielski and Tany Deneiko. Image source

The Young Hotel, formerly called the Manitou Hotel, was built by Thomas Murphy in 1910.  Murphy also built the hotel at Allan that same year.  In 1911, Robert (Bob) Barry bought the hotel and made extensive alterations. The following year, Barry built the Barry Hotel on the corner of Avenue B and 20th Street in Saskatoon. 

In 1918, the Manitou Hotel was sold to Fred and Katheryne Harpold who had emigrated from the USA in 1912. Their son, Ernest, was born at Young in 1915. Katheryne passed away on November 22, 1918 during the Spanish Flu epidemic. A couple of years later, Fred married Myrtle Pearson, a teacher from Indianapolis. After selling the hotel, the Harpolds moved to Melfort and then, in 1936, to Crooked River where they were again in the hotel business.

Mr. Feader owned the Manitou Hotel in Young from 1923 to 1927. Under his management, it was, according to the Young local history book, “recognized as one of the best hotels between Saskatoon and Melville. It was quiet and a homelike place run on a European plan [hotel rate covered the room charge only, but not meals]. Large sample rooms in the Annex of the hotel were at the disposal of travelers.” Footsteps to Follow: A History of Young, Zelma and Districts, 1981, p. 22.

Manitou Hotel, 1937. From Footsteps to Follow: A History of Young, Zelma and Districts, 1981.
From 1927 until 1946, the Manitou Hotel in Young was owned by Charles Jimsie and George Kaw. In 1935, a beer parlour opened in the hotel, replacing the restaurant and ice cream parlour.  In 1946, Otto Renner and his son bought the hotel and built an addition for a restaurant.

Joseph and Katherine Fornalik Prince Albert bought out Renner in 1955.  Patricia Button (nee Fornalik) recalls: “When our family lived in the hotel, it had a verandah and a balcony on the second floor at the front.  .. The cafĂ© owned by a Chinese couple was next door to the hotel.” Footsteps to Follow: A History of Young, Zelma and Districts, 1981. 

When mixed drinking was allowed in Saskatchewan in 1961, Earl Nicklas bought the Manitou Hotel, turning the beer parlour into a beverage room suitable for “Ladies & Escorts."

Young Hotel Cafe, 2006. J. Champ
Joe and Doreen Freyling owned the Young Hotel for 27 years – from 1981 to 2008. “We enjoyed our time there," Freyling told the StarPhoenix on the day after the fire. "It was a booming place when we bought it. It was a young crowd who'd come out and party at the bar and we'd get right in there too.”  During the years the Freylings owned it, the hotel had a 100-seat bar a 27-seat dining room, a living quarters for the owner, and seven non-modern guest rooms. The people of Young used the hotel as a meeting place. “In a place that's small like Young, when you lose your bar and your restaurant, a sense of community starts to be lost as well,” Darcie Hellman, a former resident of the village, told the CBC. “When the people don't have a place to get together, you start to feel less like a town, right? It's just really sad.”

Giselle Begrand, owner of the Young Hotel for the past three years, was devastated by the loss. "My three kids and I put our blood, sweat and tears — literally blood, sweat and tears — for as long as we could manage here, so everything we owned and everything that we had was put into this," Begrand told CBC News. She was just weeks away from selling the hotel and had no fire insurance.

Young Hotel, April 2006.  Joan Champ photo
Rear view of the Young Hotel, April 2006.  Joan Champ photo
After the fire. Photo courtesy of Meshell Fedrau

 © Joan Champ 2011

Monday, 10 October 2011

Violence in Small-Town Hotels

Illustration by Eric Deschamps, 2003 Image source

My friend Ruth asked me when I was going to post an article about barroom brawls and other violent incidents that occasionally happen in small-town Saskatchewan hotels. Here's a sampling of some of the sad and sordid stories I've come across in my research.

Murder-Suicide at the Commercial Hotel 

The bodies of A. Willis Armstrong and his wife Hannah, owners of the Commercial Hotel in Blaine Lake, were found by their daughter Dorothy in their living quarters at the hotel on June 20, 1925. Mrs. Armstrong had a bullet hole behind her right ear. Her husband had shot her with a .45 calibre revolver and then turned the gun on himself.   

The Commercial Hotel in Blaine Lake, 1919.  Nicholas F. Zbitnoff photo Image source
The coroner’s jury concluded that the tragedy was caused by the effects of homebrew obtained from a bootlegger. “Being of the opinion that the late A. W. Armstrong might have kept sober and thus refrained from committing this awful crime … we feel that public opinion demands a searching investigation into the matter of the source of homebrew in this district….  Should the investigation bring to light the party or parties who supplied the homebrew to the late Mr. Armstrong, we ask that they should be prosecuted.”  “Home Brew is Death’s Cause, Opines Jury,” June 23, 1935, p. 1.   Click to read full story

Dorothy and her brother Leslie (about 10 years old) went to live with relatives in St. Catherines, Ontario. 

Jealousy at the White Fox Hotel

At 9:10 PM on April 10, 1959, White Fox hotel keeper Albert Boscher was shot dead by Frank Schoenburger. Albert left behind his wife, Isabel and their five children, Jeanine, Denis, Anita, Rita, and Terry. Mrs. Edith Schoenburger, estranged wife of the killer, was severely wounded during the incident. She had been living and working at the White Fox Hotel. She and Boscher, her employer, were sitting together in the hotel dining room when her husband, a labourer in town, burst in and shot them both with a heavy calibre rifle.

John Wankel, an engineer boarding at the hotel, was sitting in the hotel lobby reading the paper when he saw Schoenburger walk in carrying a rifle. Wankel said the man ripped out the wires of a pay telephone, and then disappeared into the hotel dining room.

Boscher was shot first. As Mrs. Schoenburger struggled with her husband for possession of the gun it fired again, shattering her right arm. “That wasn’t meant for you, Edith,” Schoenburger said after the bullet struck his wife. Her arm later had to be amputated above the elbow.

L. J. Vickers was drinking beer in the hotel beer parlour at about 9:00 PM when he heard the sound of gunshots. Vickers opened the door between the beer parlour and the hotel lobby only to run smack into Schoenburger who was carrying a rifle. “Get out of here or I will shoot you, too,” Schoenburger said. “Accused Seen Carrying Rifle,” Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, October 30, 1959 

The killer then disappeared into the bush surrounding the village of White Fox. RCMP searched unsuccessfully for him all night. At 645 the next day, a nervous and haggard Schoenburger turned himself in to the RCMP at Nipawin, saying he couldn’t remember anything about the night before. He denied knowledge of having killed a man and asked to see his wife.

Testifying in court in November, 1959, Schoenburger described a week of drinking in beer parlours and of hearing insinuations involving his wife and Boscher before the night of the shooting. On November 6th, he was found guilty of murder and sentenced to be hanged on January 26, 1960 at the provincial jail in Prince Albert. The hanging was delayed when an appeal was launched.

Over 30 grounds for appeal were listed by defense lawyer D. L. Tennant of Melfort during a two-day hearing in February 1960. Schoenburger’s conviction was quashed on appeal, and a second trial was opened in June, presided over by Mr. Justice Stewart McKercher.

During the retrial, Mrs. Schoenburger described her 22-year marriage, during which her husband would go on drinking binges that lasted several days. He would do things during these binges that he could not remember later. Eventually, Mrs. Schoenburger left her husband and went to live in the White Fox Hotel, where she also worked. Her husband had tried to get her to stop working at the hotel, mainly because of the rumours about her and her employer, Mr. Boscher. “Pitiful Tale is Related,” Regina Leader-Post, June 20, 1960:   

Frank Schoenburger was convicted of manslaughter for the murder of Albert Boscher on April 10, 1959, and sentenced by Judge McKercher to eleven years in the Prince Albert Penitentiary. Click here  and here and here to read more.

Fight at the Pennant Hotel 

21-year-old William Zeller of the Pennant area was charged and found guilty of stabbing and wounding Arlyn Jamieson, 29, of Cabri during a fight outside the Pennant Hotel.  Jamieson had been drinking in the bar for almost eight hours prior to the fight, and had consumed at least twelve drinks. 

The trouble started when Jamieson repeatedly used an accent to pronounce the name of Zeller’s brother Raymond, who was sitting at the same table. Zeller became angry, and after about three quarters of an hour they went outside to fight. The men wrestled on the ground in front of the hotel and Jamieson was quickly pinned to the ground by Zeller, who had been in the hotel for about two hours. After being allowed back on his feet, Jamieson wanted to continue fighting. Zeller pulled out a knife and said "I’m going to get you, boy." He cut Jamieson on his left forearm, his chin and his left armpit. Zeller testified that he pulled out the knife because he wanted to scare Jamieson away from the hotel, where he was "being a nuisance.” “Men Sentenced in Swift Current,” Leader-Post, June 10, 1980, p. 20 Click here for full story

“I Think I’ve Killed My Wife” 

Arthur Charles Colton, 63-year-old owner of the Village Inn hotel in Candiac, was charged with the second-degree murder of his wife, Doris Colton, 54, on August 29, 1981. He later told the RCMP he “just grabbed a goddam knife and let her have it.” 

Colton and his wife had been arguing and fighting during the early morning hours. She left their bedroom in the hotel for a while but came back again and started arguing all over again. Colton finally got out of bed and found his wife in the hotel bar pouring another drink. That’s when he "went nuts" and grabbed the knife. 

A transcript of a taped telephone conversation quotes the caller as saying, "RCMP, this is the Village Inn at Candiac, ah, better send the police down here and an ambulance. I think I’ve killed my wife." The caller went on to explain, "Well, I, she’s been drunk all night and she just kept on pestering and pestering. And I got so god dam mad that I just, well, I lost my temper. And I think I stabbed her to death." 

Shirley Fayant of Lebret, a guest at the hotel, testified she discovered the body on the floor of the beverage room in the middle of the night. She had been sleeping but got up and went into the nearby beverage room in search of a washroom. When she saw Mrs. Colton's body, Fayant backed into the kitchen and found Colton there, holding the telephone receiver in his lap. "Officer Says Man Told Police He ‘Let Wife Have It’ With Knife,” Regina Leader-Post, June 19, 1982, p. A5 Click here to read full story

Death at the Broadview Hotel Bar 

Matthew Troy McKay, age 18, was stabbed to death during a barroom brawl at the Broadview Hotel on the night of October 30, 2009.  Jordan Lee Taypotat, 20, received severe lacerations to his face during the same incident. McKay was from the Ochapowace First Nation, while Taypotat is from the Kahkewistahaw First Nation, both in the Broadview area. An argument apparently broke out which got out of hand. A 20-year-old man turned himself into the Broadview RCMP detachment a few days later. Click here and here to read more.

Broadview Hotel.  Image from Google Street View, 2011

© Joan Champ 2011

Saturday, 8 October 2011

The Hotels in Shellbrook

Shellbrook Hotel, c. 1912. Image source

On a crisp September day in 1912, a shooting party had just returned to Shellbrook. Mrs. J. B. Stirton, wife of the proprietor of the Stirton Hotel, had been out with the party. The group was taking their guns out of their car when a .22 calibre rifle accidentally discharged. Mrs. Stirton was shot through the heart and killed instantly. She had been standing on the running board of the automobile when the gun went off. Click here for story.

“The accident was witnessed by many persons on the street who had no idea of the seriousness of the affair until Mrs. Stirton fell into the arms of one of the attendants of the hotel who happened to be behind her,” the Shellbrook Chronicle reported on September 14th. “It has had a sad and painful effect upon everyone in town.” The Stirtons had four young children. The Stirton Hotel was located on Main Street and First Avenue, one block north of the railroad station in Shellbrook.

George Stalker
George Stalker and his partner Howard Hudson had nabbed the best location in town when they built the Shellbrook Hotel in 1909. It was located on the corner of Main Street and Railway Avenue, directly across from the train depot. Stalker assumed sole ownership of the hotel in 1915. Originally  from Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, Stalker came to Prince Albert in 1896 where he worked in for a time the harness-making business before getting into the hotel business. He and W. E. Gladstone took over the Queen’s Hotel in Prince Albert; he later acquired the Royal Hotel in that city. In 1905, Stalker partnered with Hudson, and spared no expense building the grand three-storey Kinistino Hotel. Later he acquired hotel in Shellbrook and eventually disposed of all his hotel interests except the Shellbrook Hotel. Stalker married Alice Oram in 1897 in Prince Albert. After Alice died, Stalker married Anna Stewart in 1913 and they had one daughter. 

Stalker served as the overseer of the village of Shellbrook since its incorporation in 1909. He died in 1931 at age 56, and his widow, Anne Stalker, continued to run the hotel until 1941 when she sold it to James Bowles of Netherhill, Saskatchewan. 

Shellbrook Hotel, c. 1920. Image source
In March of 1935, the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix reported that the “commodious” Shellbrook Hotel was well known for its general comforts and conveniences. ”The hotel is operated on the American plan [meaning that meals were included in the room rate] and has some 30 guest rooms, well-furnished and lighted, warm and scrupulously clean. … The meals and dining room service are all that could be desired. A specialty is the steam-heated bath. There are also sample rooms for commercials. Mrs. Stalker and assistants do everything to make the hotel ‘a real home away from home.’” Star-Phoenix, March 9, 1935, page 6.

Main Street, Shellbrook, c. 1945.  Hotel on right. Image source
Prime Minister W.L. Mackenzie King stayed at the Shellbrook Hotel during the May 1945 federal election campaign. King recounted his stay at the hotel in his diary:  “After dinner I went to my room and prepared the outline of a speech … It was like old times to look out of the window and to see motor cars ranged on both sides of the road on which the hall was situated. To hear a band strike up in the distance. I rested a few minutes on my back then went on to the hall, shaking hands with many people on the way.” Click here to read the diary of William Lyon Mackenzie King, May 21, 1945, Library and Archives Canada.   

Hon. Mackenzie King with children in Ottawa, 1942. Image source
Across the street from the Shellbrook Hotel, little Bobbie George, age 4 1/2, took in all the excitement with eyes agog. Bobbie, son of RCAF Sgt. Douglas George, wandered over just as King was turning to re-enter the hotel. “Hello,” said Bobbie with his big eyes. The Regina Leader-Post reported that the prime minister smiled down and asked: “Have we shaken hands?” Bobbie shook his head, and Mr. King shook his hand. “Now you turn around here and make a speech,” Mr. King said. Standing behind Bobbie, the prime minister took the little boy’s arms and waved them to the small crowd on the Shellbrook street corner, saying, “I want you all to go home and tell your parents to vote for Mackenzie King.” The Leader-Post concluded, “Bobbie made a record Monday afternoon for Canadian youngsters – he became the youngest campaigner for Prime Minister Mackenzie King.” Click for story

Shellbrook Hotel, c. 1965. Image source
Shellbrook Hotel, May 2011. Joan Champ photo

Lucien (Lou) and Donna Dupuis bought the Shellbrook Hotel from Floyd Folden in 1978. The following year, they added a steak pit, and then in 1980 they remodeled the guest rooms. The Dupuis undertook a major expansion and remodeling of interior in 1990. A 52- x 20-foot addition was constructed for a banquet room downstairs, a cocktail lounge on the main floor, and three more guest rooms. Dupuis told the Shellbrook Chronicle that the expansion and remodeling was a necessary investment in the hotel. “With the government pricing liquor out of sight, we just had to diversify with more room and in the food area,” Dupuis said. “When we first bought the hotel, a beer was 85 cents – now its $2.40.”

In 2015, the Lou and Donna Dupuis made more extensive changes to the exterior and interor of the Shellbrook Hotel. The building's brick exterior was covered with smooth, brown stucco, and the name of the hotel's restaurant was changed from Luigi's Steak Pit & Ribs to The Railhouse. It continues to offer traditional "bar fare," including steaks, sandwiches, and wings. 

Shellbrook Hotel, April 2006. Joan Champ photo
© Joan Champ 2011

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