Monday, 21 February 2011

Day-to-Day Hotel Operations

Ben and Sarah Cook on right, with Bradwell hotel staff, c. 1910.
Western Development Museum Library, 6-E-4
Running a small-town Saskatchewan hotel back in the early 1900s was hard work. The hotel staff usually consisted of at least two chambermaids and a cook who worked from morning ‘til night, cleaning the guest rooms, doing the laundry, and washing dishes. The maid's work day at the Herbert Hotel started at 6:00 a.m. and ended at 9:00 p.m. for which she was paid $10 per month, plus room and board. Charles Pratt, the porter at the Griffin Hotel, not only assisted hotel guests with their luggage; he also washed dishes, milked the two cows that supplied the milk for the hotel and did all the odd jobs. The Griffin Hotel’s upstairs maid also polished the silver and glassware and kept everything shining. 

Staff in the kitchen of the Frances Hotel at Midale, c. 1910. 
From Plowshares to Pumpjacks: R.M. of Cymri: Macoun, Midale, Halbrite (1984)

All members of the hotel owner’s family had to share in the work of running the hotel. Leo Buhler, whose parents owned the hotel in Fairlight, recalls, “One of the duties of the kids was to help with the housekeeping and at noon you had to take your turn at washing the dishes before going back to school. My sister, Irma, served as a waitress in the dining room when she was barely taller than the table tops.”  Henry, son of the owner of the Herbert Hotel, had jobs, too, “such as carrying wood and water to the hotel when needed, and carrying out ashes.  On Mondays he always had to skip school to turn the handle on the washing machine. … Henry also earned an extra dollar by teaching the Chinese cook how to speak English. ” 

The Ferrie family ran the hotel at Invermay for 28 years.  The four Ferrie boys worked shifts hauling great loads of wood to keep the hotel’s furnace running 24 hours a day during the winter months. As Ben Ferrie recalls in the Invermay local history book:  “The years in the Hotel were busy ones for all of the family. It was the boys’ job to fire the wood-burning furnace. This meant rising about three a.m. and again at six to stoke the furnace. … We were responsible for bringing in blocks of ice and snow to melt for the daily wash. … We hauled our drinking water from the town well… A familiar sight around town was our Scotch collie, Don, pulling the sleigh loaded with cans of water.”

Cutting ice on a river.  From Wikimedia Commons
Packing ice in the winter was quite an experience.  It was necessary to put up about 30 tons of ice to provide year-round cold storage for the hotel kitchen.  Hotel owners would often hire a farmer to cut the ice and haul it in with teams and a sleigh, which would take several days.   

Mrs. Rehaume, owner of the Pleasantdale Hotel,
did all the washing for the hotel using a washtub and scrub board. 
From Memories of the Past: History of Pleasantdale (1981)
Wash days – usually Mondays – were an ordeal, especially in winter. Washing bedding and clothes was often a two-day proposition. Water had to be hauled and then heated in tubs the night before. Start-up time was set for five or six a.m. and the laundry process quite often ran into the afternoon. The next day, one of the maids would run the clothes and sheets through a mangle, a machine used to wring water out of wet laundry.  Most hotels did not get running water until the 1940s or 1950s, so water had to be hauled from a well in the summer.  In the winter, hotels used melted ice and snow, or water that had been collected in rain barrels during the previous summer.

© Joan Champ, 2011

1 comment:

  1. Hi, my Step-grandfather, Sjur Tjon, (pronounced "chun" in Norwegian) supposedly bought a hotel or had interest in one in SE Saskatchewan between 1911 and 1916. One family rumor is that he had a wife and child that were killed by fire in the hotel. I Assume their last names were also Tjon. I would like to find verification of this if possible. My name is Jim Morrison and my e-mail is