Friday, 18 February 2011

Fire at the Leask Hotel

Volunteer firefighters battle the fire at the Leask Hotel, Feb. 9, 2011.
Photo by Derril Rogerson, Saskatchewan Valley News
I was sad when I heard that another old Saskatchewan hotel had burned down.  Fire is their worst enemy.

At 3:00 AM on February 9, 2011, Ed Musich, the owner and manager of the Leask Hotel, woke up to the sound of his smoke alarm.  He barely had time to escape the hotel in his stocking feet before the 99-year-old hotel burned to the ground.  “It was an older building, one of our originals,” said Murray Donohue, volunteer firefighter. “Lots of dry wood, layers of paint and varnish ... when it went up, it went up like a Roman candle.” 

The Leask hotel is another in a long line of hundreds of hotels that have been destroyed by fire in Saskatchewan over the decades.  Most of them were rambling wood-frame structures that didn't stand a chance, especially in the days when most towns had no firefighting equipment.  In the early days, when a fire broke out at the corner of Railway Avenue and Main Street, the townspeople formed bucket brigades, passing pails of water from hand to hand in an effort to put out the blaze.  Today, well-equipped volunteer firefighters work to save these heritage buildings.

The Windsor Hotel 
Hotel Windsor, c. 1914.  From A Lasting Legacy; Leask and Districts, 1990.
The Windsor Hotel in Leask was built in 1912 by Emil and Marie Cuelenaere. Emil, formerly of Belgium, and Marie were married in 1908 at Duck Lake, where Emil owned a hotel. The couple had four children, three of whom were born at Duck Lake; the fourth was born at Leask. The Cuelenaere family moved to Leask in 1912 and built the Windsor Hotel. Emil had apprenticed in meat cutting while in Belgium. The Windsor Hotel had a Chinese cook; Emil, however, did all the butchering himself. He also made sausages and blood pudding which was considered a delicacy. After Prohibition in 1915, the bar at the Windsor Hotel became an ice cream parlour. 

In 1942, Emil and Marie retired and moved to Chilliwack, B.C., and their son George and his wife Mildred took over the Windsor Hotel. Another son, John Cuelenaere, born in the Duck Lake hotel, and raised in the hotel at Leask, practiced law in Prince Albert for 30 years. He was the mayor of PA for eleven years and was elected to the Saskatchewan legislature as a Liberal member for Shellbrook in 1964. He served as the Minister of Natural Resources in the Thatcher government. The youngest son, Marcel Cuelenaere served as a wing commander during the Second World War. As a result of his war tours, Marcel was twice awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Marcel became a lawyer, joining the Diefenbaker and Cuelenaere law firm, and later the law practice of John Macklem in Prince Albert.
Original owners of the Windsor Hotel, Emil and Marie Cuelenaere, n.d.
From A Lasting Legacy; Leask and Districts, 1990.
L to R:  Emile Cuelenaere with his sons John, George and Marcel in front of the Windsor Hotel, 1955. Image source
Hotel Windsor, c. 1965. Image source

© Joan Champ, 2011

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  1. Way to go this..but I'm getting thirsty. I remember expediting out to places like this (piloting my 1953 Hudson Hornet) with a load of miscreants with forged ID and ordering trays of those twenty cent glasses of draft and playing bankboard with the locals. Big Fun!!

  2. Great memories! I'm collecting hotel stories, so I'll add yours to the list.

  3. Hi Joan Great project! I stayed at the Leask Hotel back in the 70's and about a dozen other old classics, sad to see them going. Mark

  4. Hi Mark, I'd love to hear your stories about staying in those old hotels. What were the rooms like? Did you meet any characters?

  5. Hi Joan,
    I work for the Prince Albert Herald - I'm working on a story about how small Saskatchewan towns cope with the loss of their hotels. I'm using Leask as the focus of the story, as the hotel was intended to be a focal point in the village's 100th anniversary celebration next year. I was wondering if you would maybe be able to speak with me about what you've discovered in your research of small town hotels. Any help you could give would be appreciated. Please email me at
    Alexandra Stang

  6. It's a sad day to see this icon fall. As i kid, I used to sit in the (what was) a cafe and drink chocolate milk and wait for my mom to finish working there. As time went on they closed the cafe and only left the bar portion of the building open. It will not be the same when I make the travel from Nova Scotia to Leask, only to see a pile of rubble. To whom it was who through the ashamed of yourself! I am sure your family is!

  7. Anonymous,

    It would have been the Windsor Hotel's 100th anniversary in 2012. Thanks for sharing your story. It is sad that this old building is gone.