Monday, 28 March 2011

The Unlucky Landis Hotel

The Landis Hotel, c. 1915. Sign beside the door reads "Chautauqua."  Image source
Reading about all the people who once owned the now-demolished Landis Hotel really makes me want to learn more about them. There are stories in every hotel, but something tells me the stories in this one are truly compelling – and sometimes sad.

Noble and Gertrude Woodworth, originally from Nova Scotia, came to Saskatchewan in 1917 to try their luck a farming in the Landis area. As suitable land was not immediately available, they decided to run the Landis Hotel for a year. Built in 1909 by contractors Lee, Hope and Meldrome, the hotel had been in a slump since the start of Prohibition in 1915. To make matters worse, the Spanish Flu hit the village of Landis in the fall of 1918. An emergency influenza hospital was set up in the Landis Hotel. 

Hotel at the end of Main Street, n.d. Image source

Landis Hotel, 1913. From The Landis Record (1980)
The flu epidemic started in the trenches at the end of the First World War in May 1918.  It spread across the Atlantic as troops returned to Canadian ports in the late spring and early summer, and reached Saskatchewan on October 1, 1918. Infected soldiers bound for home disembarked from troop trains in Regina and from there, the flu spread rapidly throughout the province.  

Almost 4,000 Saskatchewan people died during the first three months of the epidemic, and the largest number of deaths occurred in villages (12.6 people out of 1,000). Landis was not spared. It was thought that the flu was brought to the community by troupe of Chautauqua performers. (A Chautauqua was a travelling summer fair featuring music, drama and educational lectures, popular across North America during the Teens and Twenties.) So severe was the epidemic that literally every household in the village and surrounding district was stricken. The Landis Record reports that schools and businesses were closed, “and it was difficult to find enough able-bodied people to tend the sick.” Several people from Landis and area died. The wife of the United Church minister, Mrs. Trevor Williams, died at age 30, leaving behind a daughter who was only a few months old. Four members of the Geary family succumbed to the flu, including Ted Geary, his wife and son.

The next year, the Woodworths moved to a quarter section of land on the outskirts of Landis. Their two room shack, with no conveniences and with straw and manure banked up around the foundation to keep the place warm in winter, was likely a welcome change to the sadness the couple witnessed in the Landis Hotel in the fall of 1918.

Anna Haas (right) with her sister Clara.
From The Landis Record (1980)
Anna Haas ran the Landis Hotel from 1919 to 1921. Anna, the eldest daughter of Adam and Mariana Haas, had immigrated to Canada from Galicia in 1900 when she was only a few months old. The family originally homesteaded in the area of Gimli, Manitoba, on Lake Winnipeg.  In 1918, when Anna was 18 years old and working in the garment industry in Winnipeg, her parents and siblings moved to Landis. Perhaps the family thought the operation of the village hotel would be a good opportunity for Anna, for she arrived by passenger train shortly afterwards.  Anna’s younger siblings lived at the hotel while they attended school in town. They helped her with some of the lighter chores like carrying wood and washing dishes. In 1921, Anna decided to return to Winnipeg, and then to Edmonton, where she worked for the G.W.G. Garment Company. Anna was “stricken with a mental disorder” in 1928. She was committed to the Weyburn Mental Hospital where she lived for 50 years, dying at the hospital in 1978 at 78 years old. She is buried in the Landis cemetery.

John and Mary Ann "Grannie" MacLeod in front of the hotel, c. 1940.
From The Landis Record (1980)
John MacLeod his wife, Mary Ann, and their six children farmed near Lockwood, Saskatchewan for five years before taking over ownership of the Landis Hotel in 1923. The MacLeod family ran the hotel until 1961. John passed away in 1942, at which time his son Hector, who had been working in the hotel since 1930, bought the business. Mary Ann passed away in 1951. 

The following year, Hector converted the dining room of the hotel into a café, and hired Woo Sing Kee from Rosetown to run it. Mr. Sing, as he was known, had a wife in China, but Canada’s restrictive immigration laws prevented him from bringing her to join him in Saskatchewan. Instead, he brought young Raymond Kwan from China to help him out. Raymond attended school in Landis when he wasn’t working at the hotel cafe. After Raymond left, Mr. Sing had Wing Woo and Wah Woo working with him in the café. The Chinese Immigration Act was finally repealed in 1947, but it wasn’t until 1958 that Mr. Sing’s wife joined him in Landis. Mr. Sing died two years later, in 1960. His wife continued to live in the Landis Hotel, with Wing Woo and Wah Woo looking after her until her death in 1968.

The empty Landis Hotel, March 2006.  Joan Champ photo
By 2006, the hotel was abandoned and empty – open to vandals and the elements – a real safety hazard. Its wooden exterior had been covered over with stucco at some point, painted in bright colours. At the back there were several small additions to the original structure – sheds, lean-tos and even a dog house, with doors everywhere. Looking around the place, one could not help but say, “If only these walls could talk....” The Landis Hotel was torn down a couple of years later.

Rear of the Landis Hotel, 2007. Image source

Rear of the Landis Hotel, 2007. Image source

© Joan Champ, 2011

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Sunday, 27 March 2011

Hotel Fire Escapes

Many hotels once had covered balconies on upper floors and front verandas. As they were made of wood, however, they eventually became fire hazards and had to be removed. In their places, fire escapes were constructed. Some, like the Hafford Hotel, just had a hefty, knotted rope anchored by a metal ring near a window, long enough to reach the ground. Others had variations on stairways and ladders such as these, shown in my photos.

Commercial Hotel, Blaine Lake

Invermay Hotel

Royal Hotel, Weyburn

Royal Hotel, Strasbourg

Pennant Hotel

King George Hotel, Melville, 2006

King George Hotel, Melville, Feb. 17, 2010. Photo: Melville Advance
 “On the road, hotel fire exit locations were always implanted in my mind in the 50s after check-in.  I sometimes even checked to see if those doors really opened. ... There were guests, after lifting a couple too many in the beer parlour, who verified these escape routes." - Dave Anderson, To Get the Lights; A Memoir about Rural Electrification in Saskatchewan (2006)

© Joan Champ 2011

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Govan Hotel: A Refuge for Weary Travellers

"New up-to-date hotel, Govan, Sask.," c. 1908. Image source
Govan’s first hotel, the Silver Plate, was built by a Mr. Sherriff in 1908. The large, four-storey wood-frame building, painted light yellow with dark brown trim, could accommodate about 40 guests. According to a 1908 issue of the Govan Prairie News, it was a cost of $30,000 “under the most difficult conditions known to pioneer life.” 

Every penny’s worth of material was drayed [hauled by wagon] over raw prairie for over 20 miles, much of it during weather that would freeze the proverbial monkey. Mr. Kinneard, the contractor, and the proprietors deserve unstinted praise for the undaunted energy lent to the project; and many years after all are beneath the prairie sod, the building will stand as a fitting monument to prairie life in Last Mountain Valley.

The dining room could accommodate 100 guests, and was considered one of the most beautiful and spacious in the West at the time. “The halls, waiting rooms, and offices are airy and well furnished,” the 1908 Govan newspaper wrote. “The bar has but few equals, being massively constructed with mahogany effect, presided over by C. L. Dalton, who is adept at suiting every taste. All in all, the Silver Plate is a credit to the Hub, a decided acquisition to the town.”  

Silver Plate Hotel, 1909 Source
Silver Plate Hotel, 1909 Source

The top storey of the hotel, with its dormer windows, was never finished. For a few years it served as a dormitory for bachelor homesteaders who wanted to live in town for the winter, but couldn’t afford to pay for a proper room. Snow sifted onto their fourth floor beds during the fierce Saskatchewan winters, no doubt making the men long for the comforts of home. 

Guests from all across Canada stayed at the Silver Plate, as did hockey teams from Lanigan to Cupar. It had several amenities, including a tavern (of course), a barber shop, a pool room, and a bowling alley as well as a room for travelling salesmen to display their wares. The hotel dining room was extensively used for banquets and various celebrations.

The Silver Plate Hotel in Govan, c. 1925. Source
In 1957, the unused fourth floor was removed to save on fuel costs; a flat roof was constructed in its place. Three years later, in 1960, the Silver Plate was destroyed by fire under the ownership of Vance Pokletar. The "fitting monument to prairie life" did outlast its builders after all, but not by much. Shortly after the fire, Floyd Rattray and Peter Roland Jr. built a much more modest two-storey hotel on the site of the old Silver Plate, naming it the Govan Hotel. The wood-frame building had ten guest rooms upstairs, and a 78-seat beverage room and a 38-seat restaurant on the main floor. Peter and his brother Albert ran the hotel until 1966. After that, it changed hands numerous times. 

Restaurant at the Govan Hotel, c. 1990.
Jeremy Warren, reporter
In 2009, retired Calgary businessman Jack Landry and his wife Charlie, bought the Govan Hotel, changing its name to the Govan Inn & Bar. After extensive renovations, the hotel’s grand opening was held in mid-June 2010. Saskatoon StarPhoenix reporter Jeremy Warren was the first guest at the hotel and wrote about his experience in a story entitled “Nothing to dislike about Govan” (July 3, 2010). “I arrived Thursday night and, after I sunk some change into the bar's jukebox, the couple handed me the keys to room No. 1,” Warren wrote. Landry told the young reporter that across Saskatchewan many small-town hotels and bars were closing their doors. When the bar in a neighbouring town closed recently, Landry said it felt like the whole town had shut down. “Bars are usually the only social centre in a small town,” he said. 

Govan Inn & Restaurant, c. 2010. Image source
Govan Restaurant, c. 2010. Image source
Jack and Charlie Landry plan to restore the Govan bar to its former glory and social importance in the community. By the summer of 2010, the couple had redecorated the bar and renovated the guest rooms, complete with new beds. There was still work to do on the hotel’s exterior, however. “Outside, the trim is peeling and the inn's street-front siding has turned a dull peach, contrasting with yellow along the rest of the building,” Jeremy Warren noted. “A computer printout – ‘Govan Bar Now Open’ -- in a front-street window corner is the only hint that one can find a drink inside. It is open and it is home for Jack and Charlie.”

View video of Govan's main street, February 2009, including the hotel (20 seconds in): YouTube link

© Joan Champ 2011

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Monday, 21 March 2011

Hotels Under Construction

With the arrival of several wagon loads or railway cars of lumber, construction began on the large two- or three-storey hotels in towns across the southern half of Saskatchewan. Many owners hired contractors to do the building. A large crew of carpenters raised the structures on full basements. 

Most of these early hotels were wood frame buildings of balloon (rather than platform) construction. This meant that the full height of the hotel walls were built with long, continuous studs that ran from bottom to top; ground floor to eaves, with the intermediate floor structures nailed to them. There was one big disadvantage to balloon construction: Fire could spread easily from floor to floor so buildings burned rapidly.

King George Hotel, Avonlea, 1907

King George Hotel in Avonlea, c. 1910. Destroyed by fire in 1916. Image source

Bengough Hotel built in 1911-12. Lew Sandeen was the main carpenter. From Echoes of the Past, 1906-1974

24-room hotel at Bounty, 1910. Image source

Empress Hotel at Shaunavon built for proprietors Peter Hoban and John Keefe for $30,000 in 1913. Destroyed by fire in 1914. Image source
Gillstrom Builders of Swift Current, builders of the Empress Hotel at Shaunavon (above). Image source

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Women-Only Beer Parlours: Saskatchewan Liquor Laws in the 1930s - Part 2

Getty Images, Retrofile, George Marks photograph
When the Saskatchewan government legalized the sale of beer by the glass in 1935, the question arose as to whether or not women should be allowed in beer parlours. In the end, after much debate in the legislature, Saskatchewan women were granted the right to drink beer – in separate women-only parlours.

Despite stereotypes about women as temperance advocates in the early 1900s, Saskatchewan women from many walks of life drank wine, beer and hard liquor at formal dinners, at weddings and at other gatherings. In the years since 1924, when the only places people could legally drink were in their own homes or in a hotel room, many married couples spent some of their leisure time together at home. Some might have shared a drink or two. As Craig Heron surmises in his book, Booze: A Distilled History (Toronto, 2003), “Inadvertently, government policy may have had [the] effect of breaking down the male near-monopoly on drinking and giving their wives easier access to the bottle that their husband brought home.” (p.288) In addition, the single women of Saskatchewan's cities and towns who worked as telephone operators and salesclerks, hotel chambermaids and restaurant workers, might want to enjoy a drink in their local hotel beer parlour after a day’s work. 

Getty Images, Retrofile, George Marks photograph
The thought of women in beer parlours was frowned upon by many, however. While Saskatchewan women had won the right to vote in 1916, this had not given them real equality. The prevailing conviction was that a woman’s proper role was as a wife, mother and homemaker. Many considered beer parlours to be morally compromised places frequented by morally suspect patrons. Women might drink beer at the expense of their children. Much worse, women might be lured into illicit sexual activity if they were allowed to drink beer in parlours.  

Male bonding. Source:
The issue was further complicated by the fact that a lot of men, including many hotel operators, workers and their customers, simply did not want women in what was considered male social space. Hotelmen feared that the presence of women might curtail the consumption of beer. Male camaraderie might be inhibited. Charles Hurt of Vernon, B.C. gave voice to these qualms when he said, “Certainly there are many men who cannot be happy unless they are telling or listening to lewd stories or punctuating their conversation with a series of oaths, and such men do, no doubt, find their liberty of action circumscribed by the presence of ladies in the parlor.” (Quoted in Robert A. Campbell, Sit Down and Drink Your Beer; Vancouver’s Beer Parlours, 1925-1954, University of Toronto Press, 2001, p. 56) Many females agreed that a beer parlour was not a place for women. In the 1930s, most women were too busy running the family household to visit a beer parlour. Few could even afford it, given the hard times of the Depression. Some women, however, wanted in.

For several weeks in January 1935, members of the legislature debated the new liquor act and regulations. They received representaitons from both the Saskatchewan Moderation League and the Saskatchewan Temperance League asking for beer parlour privileges for women. According to the Regina newspaper, temperance advocates argued that since men and women voted together in the 1934 beer-by-the-glass plebiscite, they should be allowed to drink together. Premier James G. Gardiner said he was opposed to parlours for women because he believed that two thirds of the women in the province did not want beer at all. “He said he had been besieged by resolutions and letters from women’s organizations and individuals opposing beer parlors,” the paper reported, “but hadn’t received a single letter from any woman asking for them.” (Regina Leader-Post, Jan. 11, 1935, p. 3 and Jan. 19, 1935, p. 1).

Nevertheless, on January 22, 1935, the legislature approved separate, women-only beer parlours for all communities in the province. In cities, there had to be separate entrances for, and no means of communication between, the men’s and women’s parlours. In smaller centres, there could be a single entrance, but separate parlours. Omer Demers, MLA for Shellbrook, condemned the whole concept. “The very fact that we are not going to allow men and women to drink together is nothing short of an admission that the beer parlor is not going to be a decent place to go,” Demers said. (Regina Leader-Post, Jan. 22, 1935, p. 8)

Reaction to the establishment of women-only beer parlours was swift. “Fancy any real woman lowering her dignity by visiting such places,” wrote James Smith of Regina in a letter to the newspaper, “especially those who have the care and training of our future citizens.” S.G. Jamieson, on the other hand, thought that men and women should be allowed to drink together. His letter to the editor stated,“I would much sooner see my family drinking together in a public place than to … sneak off in a place where they practically have to hide to drink.” (Regina Leader-Post, Feb 7, 1935, p. 4) Perhaps the most interesting analysis of Saskatchewan’s new beer law came in an editorial by the Vancouver Province, quoted in the Leader-Post on March 21,1935:

The New York Times … hears about our new Saskatchewan beer law and doesn’t know what to make of us all. … In an age of sexual equality, the women of Saskatchewan are to have their beer-by-the-glass licensed houses, as well as the men of Saskatchewan. Even in the same house, but not in the same chaste parlor. Oh, no. No man except a beer waiter may be lawfully in a women’s beer parlor in the new Saskatchewan beer dispensation. And no woman may be lawfully in a man’s beer parlor. … separate compartments (beer-tight partitions, say), and there may not even be communicating doors… . They fought over these regulations for a whole week in the Saskatchewan House, before the beer separatists won. One member said, suppose a man and his wife dropped into a beer parlor together, wanting to have a thoughtful and connubial beer together, and then found they must go their separate ways, sundered by this harsh, estranging partition, drinking their lonely and uninspiring beer-by-the-glass, he on his side of the partition, she on hers, so that those whom God had joined together had been put asunder by the beer laws of Saskatchewan – how about it, what then? And the Saskatchewan House said, all right, what about it: it would just be too bad for them. 

All of this consternation was irrelevant, however. In March 1935, Regina hotelmen announced that they had decided not to provide separate beer parlors for women. It appears that the rest of the hotels in the province followed suit. Women would have to wait until 1960 to enter Saskatchewan’s beer parlours – or beverage rooms as they became known – through the “Ladies and Escorts” door.

© Joan Champ 2011

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Beer by the Glass: Saskatchewan Liquor Laws in the 1930s - Part 1

During Prohibition, too many people in Saskatchewan were drinking illegally, thanks to a proliferation of stills and home brew. Prohibition had also contributed to a marked increase in crime and violence. The new slogan became “Moderation.” In 1924, the Saskatchewan government repealed Prohibition, established the provincial liquor board, and implemented a new system of severe liquor control designed to limit alcohol consumption. 

Highly restrictive liquor regulations did not help to improve business at Saskatchewan’s hotels. For one thing, the Saskatchewan Liquor Act of 1924 did not allow the sale of beer by the glass in licensed premises. Hard liquor, beer and wine had to be purchased from government stores. There were only two places that people were allowed to drink: in their own home or in a hotel room in which they were registered. Nightly drinking parties took place in hotels, to the great annoyance of owners and other guests. 

W.W. Champ.  Family collection
W. W. (Wes) Champ, President of the Saskatchewan Hotels Association (SHA) in 1925, highlighted the problems this situation created for hotel owners.“While the liquor stores sell the desired drink and secure the profit, the onus is unpleasantly placed on the hotelmen of providing the room wherein the liquor may be consumed," Champ wrote in a statement to the press. "This is undoubtedly a complaint on the part of the hotelmen of the province that deserves the serious consideration and sympathy of all those who desire a healthy, sober community surrounded by well-kept hotel establishments.” The SHA circulated a petition in 1928 asking for legislation permitting beer parlours, or at least a plebiscite to determine the will of the electorate, and got 70,000 signatures. Premier James. G. Gardiner’s government denied the petition. (H.G. Bowley, A Half Century of Hospitality; The Story of the Hotels Association of Saskatchewan, 1906-1956, Regina, 1957)

When the Depression hit in 1929, Saskatchewan’s hotels drifted into debt and decline. As the Depression deepened in the 1930s, hotel keepers, like everyone else in the province, struggled to scrape by. They were unable to replace deteriorating furniture and equipment, or to renovate their shabby premises. Often, taxes went unpaid. Then, in 1935, the government finally introduced the sale of beer by the glass, providing a welcome source of revenue and some relief for the hotel business. 

Saskatchewan Hotel Association ad in the Regina Leader-Post, June 16, 1934.

Temperance ad in the Regina Leader-Post, June 16, 1934.

The SHA had managed to achieve this major concession from Premier J.T.M. Anderson’s government in 1934. A plebiscite was held during the provincial election in June which asked the question: “Are you in favor of the sale of beer by the glass in licensed premises?” A large front-page newspaper ad was placed by the SHA stating that “Bootlegging, Law Breaking, Secret Drinking, Respect for the Law, Increased Revenue for the Government – which can be accomplished by voting for the Sale of Beer on Licensed Premises.” An advertisement by the Moderation League of Saskatchewan stated, “If you have the interest of the youth of the Province at heart, vote for the sale of beer by the glass.” The plebiscite carried by 30,130 votes. The final count was: Yes - 191,722; No - 161,592. Half the majority was from Regina and Saskatoon; many rural areas voted against it. (Regina Leader-Post, June 28, 1934, p.1)

Forbidden to Sell Anything But Beer
The government wrestled for weeks with the framing of the new liquor act and resolutions. In the end, the rules established for beer parlours seemed designed to make them as unattractive as possible. Customers could drink only while seated, unlike in the old-time taverns. They could not carry their drinks between tables. On January 22, 1935, Omer Demers, MLA for Shellbrook, pointed out to the Legislature that, “We used to stand up and drink and when we had enough we knew enough to leave. Now we sit down and don’t know when we’ve had enough.” (Regina Leader-Post, Jan. 22, 1935, p.8) There could be no meals or sale of food, no sale of soft drinks, no dancing, no musical instruments, no playing cards, no slot machines, and no entertainment of any kind in beer parlours. The only thing they could sell in these cheerless places was beer. Women could neither work in, nor patronize, the province's beer parlours [see separate blog post]. Liquor board inspectors were sent out to watch for violations. 

By April, hundreds of Saskatchewan hotels were applying for liquor licenses. The SHA said that, out of its 480 members, 80 – mainly Chinese hotel owners – would not be able to qualify. (Regina Leader-Post, Mar. 12, 1935, p. 1) Chinese were excluded because the law required that the applicant for a liquor license had to be a person who was entitled to vote. The Chinese in Saskatchewan did not receive the provincial franchise until 1947.

New beer parlour at the Maymont Hotel, c.1935.  From Sod to Solar (1980)
"Spigots spouted suds in 22 Saskatchewan hotels on Thursday [May 2, 1935], and draft beer became legal again for the first time in 20 years," the Regina newspaper stated."Not since 1915 has beer by the glass been legal in a public way in this province." (Leader-Post, May 2, 1935, p. 1) 

In order to take advantage of this new turn of events, hotels had to spend money to build or fix up their beer parlours. The government had set rigorous architectural standards before licenses would be issued to sell beer. Only hotels that had a minimum number of guest rooms and adequate dining rooms for guests could be licensed. Most of the hotel keepers went further into debt, but it was hoped that, with the added revenue, they would be able to carry on. 

A big obstacle for many small-town hotels was the question of “local option.” The new legislation passed on January 22, 1935, allowed communities to vote on whether or not they wanted a beer parlour in their local hotel. In Carlyle, controversy raged for weeks over whether or not Jim Anderson should be allowed to apply for a beer parlour license for the Arlington Hotel. In the end, 123 voted Yes and only 7 voted No. “One old timer chuckled [that] he couldn’t find one solitary person who admitted to a ‘yes’ vote so he could never figure out where the majority came from,” the Carlyle history records (Prairie Trails to Blacktop Carlyle and District, 1882-1982). Redvers was one of the few towns that defeated the local option vote. The hotel closed, and the owner had to wait three years before he could reapply for a license. In 1939, the town voted in favour of a license, and, with the revenue from the beer parlour, the Redvers Hotel was able to start making improvements and upgrading its facilities. (Redvers, 75 Years Live, 1980) Saskatchewan’s hotel industry did not fully recover, however, until the return of better economic conditions after the start of the Second World War. 

© Joan Champ 2011

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Hot Times in Ceylon: The North West Hotel

North West Hotel in Ceylon, 1912. Source
After building and operating a couple of hotels in Minnesota, William J. Coffron and his wife, Catherine (Cassie) moved to Ceylon district of Saskatchewan in 1908. Coffron filed on a homestead which was subsequently operated by his son, Billy. Located 110 km due south of Regina, and 50 km north of the Canada-U.S. border, Ceylon had its beginnings – like most prairie towns – with the construction of the railway through the district in 1910. Seeing an opportunity, the Coffrons moved to Ceylon in 1911 and built the North West Hotel. The $25,000 hotel opened on the evening of December 25, 1911; the following day, it burned to the ground.

Fire at the North West Hotel, December 26, 1911. From Builders of a Great Land (1980)
The fire started in a small building next door to the hotel and spread quickly. There was no firefighting equipment in Ceylon, so little could be done to battle the blaze.  “People do strange things in times of excitement and this was evident the day of the fire,” Ceylon’s history book, Builders of a Great Land, states, “Townspeople and hotel occupants carried bedding and mattresses down the stairs and threw china basins and pitchers out of the windows to the frozen ground below.” Mildred Stephenson, the first baby born in the newly incorporated village, was born in the hotel the night of the fire. The Stephenson family lived in the hotel, where Mr. Stephenson worked. Mrs. Stephenson went into labour just as the hotel was being consumed by flames. She was moved into a little shack behind the hotel which was sprayed with water to keep it from burning while Mildred was being born.

Mildred Stephenson (left) with her parents and brothers, n.d. From Builders of a Great Land (1980)
Coffron rebuilt the North West Hotel in 1912 on the same foundation. It had 47 rooms. He and Cassie ran and excellent dining room and the bar was always busy. A story is told about a certain Irishman who had a few too many drinks at the hotel bar and was creating a disturbance. “Mr. Coffron got him upstairs and handcuffed him to the bedstead,” the history book recounts. “Before long, he was coming down the stairs carrying the bedstead with him.”

William Coffron (far right) at the bar of the first North West Hotel, 1911. From Builders of a Great Land (1980)
Lobby of the North West Hotel, 1912.  From Builders of a Great Land (1980)
Bill and Cassie Coffron, n.d.
In an attempt to curtail incidents such as this, the government of Saskatchewan introduced Prohibition in 1915. The bar of the North West Hotel in Ceylon was closed, and in its place the Coffrons set up the town’s first movie theatre. There was no money to be made without the bar, however, so the Coffrons sold the hotel to Martin Gensvein who only lasted a few months. According to the town’s history book, the hotel was then sold to “the Bromptons” who used the hotel as a cover for bootlegging during Prohibition. Could this have been, in fact, the infamous Bronfmans?

The Bronfman family built its huge fortune from the liquor business during Prohibition. The Bronfmans had a string of “boozoriums” or liquor supply depots in communities along the Saskatchewan-North Dakota border from which American customers could purchase liquor. Because Ceylon was located so close to the border, a boozorium was operated somewhere in the town – possibly out of the hotel. Whiskey from the Bronfman family’s distillery in Yorkton was shipped to safe storage in Ceylon and other border towns. Under cover of night, well-armed men in big cars arrived to haul the booze south along well-worn trails to U.S. customers. 

Ceylon bank vault after the robbery.
Booze begat violence.  On September 27, 1922, the residents of Ceylon were awakened by an explosion.  A gang of five or six bandits had blown open the vault of the Bank of Montreal and stolen about $7,000 in cash, securities and bonds. They then hopped into a get-away car, fired a rifle into the air “as a parting shot of glee and triumph,” and sped south through the Big Muddy and down into the States. All the while, apparently, a Montana sheriff was fast asleep in the Coffron’s hotel. One theory is that the thieves knew the bank’s vault would contain the proceeds of the illegal liquor trade going in in the area at the time. The culprits were never apprehended. A month later, on October 4th, Paul Matoff, a brother-in-law of the Bronfmans who ran the boozorium at Bienfait, was killed by a shotgun blast at close range during an altercation while loading a shipment for some American customers. By 1929, public pressure led to the Bronfman’s export business being banned from Saskatchewan.

The Ceylon Hotel today.From
© Joan Champ 2011

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Monday, 14 March 2011

Hotel Allan: A Bear Story

Allan Hotel and Steak Pit, 2006. Joan Champ photo
Peter J. Loehndorf was growing restless. In 1920, despite his rather impressive accumulation of seven quarters of land, plus one hundred and fifty head of cattle on his homestead near Leofeld, Saskatchewan, he was ready for a change. Perhaps his restlessness was due to the fact that he and his wife Maria had ten children, including two sets of twins. Every birth had necessitated another addition to the family’s log home since he had filed for the homestead in 1903. Then, in 1917, Peter’s father, John Loehndorf arrived from Germany to make his home with them. The thought of owning a hotel with lots of bedrooms must have appealed to Peter. In the spring of 1920, he sold his farm, bought the Hotel Allan, and moved in with his large family. 

Hotel Allan had been built by Thomas Murphy in about 1910, and owned for several years thereafter by John Bitz and Tony Leier (who lost his life attempting to save a young child in the Elstow Hotel fire of 1919). In 1915, when the hotel business was no longer lucrative due to Prohibition, the Bitz family gave up the hotel and moved back to the farm. 

Hotel Allan, c 1940. From Times Past to Present (1981)
In 1936, changes in Saskatchewan’s liquor laws allowed Peter to open a beer parlour in Hotel Allan. It is quite likely that his wife, a deeply religious woman, did not approve. “Maria’s greatest comfort was the rocking chair and her faithful companion was the Rosary with which she prayed daily with sincere devotion,” the family’s history in Times Past to Present (Allan, 1981) explains. “Daily ritual required the family to recite meal prayers, morning and evening prayers.” Maria’s prayers may even have helped to save the Allan hotel from destruction by fire in 1935. “Fire ravaged building after building as it raced towards the hotel,” Allan’s history book records. “Women flocked to the church to pray. It was only through the tireless efforts of the fire brigade, and the prayers too, that the hotel came through with just one wall scorched.” 

Peter and Maria Loehndorf, n.d. From Times Past to Present (1981)
Since the death of his father in 1923, Peter had been pursuing a new hobby – taxidermy. He had taught himself how to prepare, stuff and mount the skins of dead animals and birds – his sons’ hunting trophies – for display. People came from miles around to see his finished work which lined the walls of the beverage room in Hotel Allan. In 1941, Peter added a live animal to his menagerie. During one of his trips to northern Saskatchewan, he captured a bear cub. To the amazement of the children of Allan, Peter kept the bear in a pen beside the hotel. A year later, the bear had grown so large and strong that it was dangerous. Peter’s solution was simple. “Bear meat being a delicacy, [the bear] was butchered and his meat distributed to various families around town,” the family history recounts. “Peter made up some summer sausage … and sent some of it to his son, Paul, who was still in England serving with the Canadian Armed Forces.” There is no mention of Peter applying his taxidermist skills to the bear's hide. Peter and Maria Loehndorf, both in their mid-70s, sold the Allan Hotel in 1946. 

Allan Hotel and Steak Pit, 2006. Joan Champ photo
Today, the wooden exterior of the Allan Hotel has been covered over with stucco and two layers of insulation. Nothing remains of Loehndorf's stuffed menagerie in either the 121-seat beverage room or the 32-seat restaurant on the main floor. The Allan Hotel is "semi-modern," with ten guest rooms on the second floor -- three with sinks in the room.  All share a bathroom and shower, accessible from the hallway. The owners' two-bedroom living quarters is also located on the second floor.

Architectural History Society of Saskatchewan 3D Model Saskatchewan

© Joan Champ, 2011

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