Saturday, 26 February 2011

Hotel Hygiene

Room with a sink still conveniently located beside the bed, Borden Hotel, 2010.  Joan Champ photo

Sink in the room, toilet and bath down the hall.  Still, some small-town Saskatchewan hotels have come a long way from the “thunder mug” under the bed.  In the days before indoor plumbing, hotel rooms were equipped with chamber pots, wide-mouthed vessels used by the room’s occupants as a toilet during the middle of the night. The container was then covered with a lid or cloth and slid under the bed until the chambermaid retrieved it in the morning. People used to joke that these were traditional baseball hotels - "pitcher" on the dresser, "catcher" under the bed.

Tony Thibaudeau explained how the sanitation system worked at the Macklin Hotel in Prairie views from Eye Hill (1992):  “In those days the hotels provided a large wash bowl and a jug of water in each room and a matching chamber pot under the bed, and on each floor there was a sanitary toilet.  The chamber maid would change the beds, clean up the rooms, empty her scrub water and the contents of the aforementioned containers into a metal chute that was attached to the fire escape at the back of the hotel with an opening on each floor and had a barrel at the bottom to catch the flow, the contents of the barrel were bailed out with a pail and disposed of in a covered pool down the lane. I was fortunate enough to have this job for 35 cents a week.”  

The Golden West Hotel in Preeceville, operated in the 1930s by the Oscar Mattison family, did not get water works installed until the 1940s. “We had a pump in the kitchen to draw water from a cistern. A pail sat under the sink to catch the waste water. Every day pails of water were carried upstairs to fill the large pitchers.  Each bedroom was equipped with a wash basin and water pitcher. … The toilet facilities consisted of a commode.  It had to be emptied two or three times daily, thoroughly rinsed and sterilized. A septic tank was installed in the back yard. There was a bathtub in the upstairs linen closet for family use only. The water was heated on the kitchen wood stove and carried upstairs.”   

During the 1930s at Nipawin, the Avenue Hotel was owned by the Puterbaughs.  It had 16 guest rooms, a dining room, kitchen, laundry room, electricity, a wood furnace – and no running water. Instead, there was a cistern pump in the kitchen. Guests were given a pitcher of hot water with their wake-up call (a loud knock on the door) which they then used to fill a porcelain wash bowl sitting on a wash stand.  Guests were also supplied with soap, towels and a pitcher filled with cold water.   
A circa 1950s guest room at the Imperial Hotel, Sturgis, 2008.
These primitive conditions continued well into the 1940s and into the 1950s at some small-town Saskatchewan hotels. “It is not so many years ago (1940s),” the Wilkie local history book (1988) states, “that you might catch the hotel housekeeper emptying ‘pots’ over the fire escape on the second floor.”  In 1948, Mr. and Mrs. Sydney Roitman completely renovated the interior of the Wilkie Hotel. The most modern touches of all were newly installed bathrooms, hot and cold running water, and a septic tank.  In his book, To Get the Lights; A Memoir about Rural Electrification in Saskatchewan (2006), Dave Anderson recalls that life on the road in the early 1950s without running water in hotel rooms was more than inconvenient.  “It was a hardship,” he writes. “Most municipal roads I travelled on were gravel …so choking dust in our vehicles was routine. … At day’s end it was impossible to get refreshed with a washcloth in the wash basin with a quart of two of cold water from a pitcher in which often floated a dead fly, moth or wayward ant. So the communal tub at the end of the hall, if there was one, shared with 20 or so other guests, was reluctantly used.”
© Joan Champ, 2011

1 comment:

  1. It wasn't only the hotels that didn't have running water in the 1930s, 1940s and even the 1950s. Many small towns and most farms didn't enjoy this convenience until the 1960s. Thank goodness for modern facilities!