Saturday, 30 April 2011

Tragedy in Blaine Lake: The Commercial Hotel

The Commercial Hotel in Blaine Lake, 1919.  Nicholas F. Zbitnoff photo.  Image source
In November 1912, a year and a half after Blaine Lake voted to go “dry,” three men died of alcohol poisoning as a result of drinking wood alcohol. The men were railway workers from out of town. It was a Saturday night, and since Blaine Lake was a dry town, they went to the local drug store looking for an alcohol-based substitute. The workers told the druggist that they intended to use the alcohol to rub down their horses. According to the Shellbrook Chronicle, “None survived the resulting consequences. Two died in the livery barn and another was found in a granary a few miles away on the farm of Silas Jones, having died trying to cool his throat and stomach with a mouthful of grain.” This tragic incident led to the end of Blaine Lake’s self-imposed prohibition. When it was put to a vote in the village on December 8, 1913, the decision to go “wet”was unanimous. 

Keefer Pollard (left) in front of his livery stable, c 1912. Source: Bridging the Years; Era of Blaine Lake and District, 1984 
Keefer Pollard
The livery barn where two of the three men died was owned by Keefer Pollard. He had come West in 1902 from Ontario with his parents and 12 brothers and sisters. All the Pollard men were trained in carpentry, and had built railway stations for the CPR and the CNR in some of the larger centres. Pollard sold his farm and moved into Blaine Lake in 1911 – the year the village went dry.  His first project was to build the village's first livery stable. His second project was the Commercial Hotel. When Blaine Lake voted to go wet in 1913, Pollard already had the hotel well under construction. He sold it to A. W. (Willis) Armstrong prior to its completion in 1914. The whole province went dry in 1915, and once more liquor for the purpose of intoxication could not be purchased in Blaine Lake.

Nicholas F. Zbitnoff photo. Image source
In 1965, Walter and Julia Krewniak bought the Commercial Hotel. They came to Blaine Lake in 1930 from the Ukraine. Julia’s brother, Stanley Bereziak, came to live with them after the Second World War, and worked as the hotel bartender. While living in the Ukraine with his wife and two young daughters, Stanley was captured by the Nazis and sent to a German prisoner-of-war camp where he was held for six years. Shortly after his admission to the PoW camp, Stanley ’s wife gave birth to a daughter, Helen, in their home village of Stratyn in Western Ukraine. About two years later, his wife died, and the three girls had to fend for themselves. Read full story here

Helen Bereziak, 1967.
Image source
In October 1967, Stanley’s daughter Helen came to live with her father in Blaine Lake. From an early age, Helen had worked as a field labourer on the communal farms in the Soviet-annexed Ukraine. She worked at the Commercial Hotel, and married Jack Popoff in 1973. Helen eventually became the owner of the hotel through her family connections. Even after it stopped operating sometime in the 1990s, Helen continued to live in the large hotel building. 

Commercial Hotel in 2005. Joan Champ photo

Commercial Hotel in 2006. Joan Champ photo

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Sunday, 24 April 2011

Renovation of the Borden Hotel: The Model-T Bar & Grille

Tony and Helen Beaudry, owners of the Borden Hotel, c. 2010. Courtesy of the Beaudrys
 I co-wrote the following article with Merrill Edlund for the spring 2011 issue of Worth Magazine (Vol 23, Issue 1), published by the Architectural Heritage Society of Saskatchewan (AHSS). It is republished here with the permission of Merrill and the AHSS. For more information see

Saddle up to the bar at the Model-T Bar and Grille and experience the 1920s. Tony and Helen Beaudry bought the Borden hotel in 2007, and have been working steadily to renovate this heritage building ever since. “We have people who come in regularly,” Helen said. “They get to listen to my player piano and sit on the saddle at the bar.” 

The Pioneer Hotel in Borden, c. 1910. Courtesy of the Borden Museum
Built in 1905 by Joe Pellettier, the hotel was called the Pioneer Hotel until 1952. Many changes were made to the building by successive owners. The original 16 guest rooms were reduced to 15 to accommodate the bathroom when the hotel was equipped with running water.  Interior plaster walls and transom windows were covered with wallboard. Part of the upstairs was closed off and not opened again until 50 years later, when the Beaudrys started peeling back the layers, revealing the building’s heritage features.  For example, when they removed the wallboard in one of the second-storey guest rooms, they found the entrance to the balcony once located above the front door of the original hotel. 

Sam and Ada Wright owned the Borden Hotel in the 1940s. Courtesy of the Borden Museum
“When I walked in, I felt like I was home,” Helen said of her first look at the hotel in 2008. “I thought, ‘Wow! This has a lot of potential’.” The Beaudrys put in a successful bid of $25,000 with the Borden village council, which had taken over the property from the former owner. “We were bidding against four other people, but they gave it to us because we weren’t going to tear it down.’ said Helen.

The Borden Hotel in 2006, two years before Tony and Helen bought it. Joan Champ photo
The Beaudrys financed and did all the restoration work themselves. The first thing the couple did was gut the lobby, bar and kitchen. It was a dirty job as can be seen in the “before and after” photos on the hotel’s web site. The current restaurant space once served as the original hotel’s rotunda, an ice cream parlour, the owners’ residence, and finally a games room – complete with VLTs and pool table. The Beaudrys removed these gaming items and opened both sides of the hotel’s main floor as family dining areas. A five-foot lobby separates the two areas, and stairs lead up to the second floor.

The games room in 2006 before it was converted into the Grille. Joan Champ photo

Tony Beaudry looks over the Model-T Grille, 2010. Joan Champ photo
The second-floor guest rooms are laid out like an old boarding house. At the top of the stairs, there is a seating area where hotel guests can relax. Three regular rooms, each with a sink, share two bathrooms and a shower down the hall – just like in the old days.  Two larger suites feature a double bed, fireplace, toilet, sink and claw-foot tub with a shower attachment. The rooms are named after Borden-area school districts: Concordia, Thistledale, Saginaw, Diefenbaker, and Baltimore. “We opened up the side that had been closed since the 40’s,” Tony explained. This section will soon be the Halcyonia Suite, which will sleep six guests. Helen and Tony have carefully chosen authentic period furniture and fabrics for each room.

Upstairs hallway, 2010. Joan Champ photo

Old-fashioned comforts of a Borden hotel guest room, 2010. Joan Champ photo
The Model-T Inn, Bar and Grille received provincial heritage designation in 2009.  “If I had the money, I’d buy up all the small town hotels in Saskatchewan and renovate them to their original splendor”, said Helen. The Beaudry’s commitment to this big restoration project has turned the old hotel into something the town of Borden can once again be proud of. The couple’s passion will continue to carry them through as they renovate the hotel’s exterior this coming summer.

© Joan Champ and Merrill Edlund

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Friday, 22 April 2011

Prelate Hotel Fire

Photo by Suzanne M. Howg. Image source

On the morning of August 10, 2009, the 97-year-old Prelate Hotel burned to the ground. The owner, Sherri Farrer, and her son were out of town at the time of the fire, and no one else was in the hotel. The Prelate volunteer fire department we unable to save the hotel, even with the help of fire crews from surrounding towns. “The wood was so dry and old it was like a can of gas,” said Prelate volunteer fire chief, Brad Goldade.

Prelate Hotel, June 2007.  Joan Champ photo

The three-storey Prelate Hotel was built in 1912. Its first owners were Guy and Mary Linderman. At least two of their children was born in the hotel. The 1916 Canada Census shows that the Lindermans were still running the hotel at Prelate. They had three children listed as living in the hotel, ages 9 to 16. Their fourth child, Marion, was born in the Prelate Hotel in 1915, but died a year later in 1916. A fifth daughter, Lillian was born in the hotel on September 1, 1916, a few weeks before Marion died. Four people lodging at the hotel in 1916, but no hotel staff is listed. Perhaps the business was slowing down due to Prohibition.

By 1918, the hotel was owned and operated by Charles Cohen. The Cohen family observed the traditional Jewish Sabbath, so Saturday was their day of rest. This must have been a bit of a challenge for Charles' son, Edward (Eddie) Cohen, who by 1935 was managing the hotel - complete with licensed bar.

Prelate, SK, c. 1955.  Prelate Hotel in foreground.  H. D. McPhail, photographer. Source

Detail of above photo. The third-floor windows were not yet blocked off.
In 1961, Ed Paul, the owner of the Prelate Hotel, requested a vote be taken by the town to allow mixed drinking. The vote carried, and for the first time women were permitted to drink in the beverage room of the Prelate Hotel. The hotel was then sold to Peter J. Kosolofski, who ran it for many years. Lloyd and Sandra Hassman owned the Prelate Hotel for about a year and a half in the mid-1970s. As can be seen in the comments below, the hotel - and the town of Prelate - did not hold happy memories for the Hassman children. Sheri was 7 and her brother 2 or 3 when they lived in the hotel. "I am not sorry to see this hotel burn down!" Sheri writes. "This hotel should have been torn down a long time ago. It was cold and dangerous. Especially with the cisterns in the basement. The third floor was closed off when we lived there." The Hassman's sold the business in 1975 or 1976 to Larry and Linda Steier who raised their sons in the hotel.  

Bar of the Prelate Hotel, c. 1995.

The bar at the Prelate Hotel was a popular spot. O’Neil Zuck recalls staying as a guest in the hotel one hot summer night in 1999. “It was an interesting experience," Zuck posted on Facebook. "My pregnant wife was not used to such accommodations and my 4-year-old daughter did not know what to think. The first thing we noticed was there was one common bathroom to share with everyone staying overnight in the hotel. The second thing was we had a room over the bar. We had to keep the window open as it was too hot in the room. It was a breezy Friday evening; the sign swung and squeaked until about 1:00 AM. When the bar closed about 1:00 AM the patrons moved their socializing outside underneath the once squeaky sign. So we listened to boisterous conversations. I think it was after sunrise that we finally fell into a nice restful sleep.” 

Prelate Hotel, June 2007.  Joan Champ photo

The Prelate Hotel was listed for sale in July 2005 by the owner, Sherri Farrer. The 1,800 square-foot living quarters and seven guest rooms were on the second floor. The 87-seat bar – which was the primary business source for the hotel – was on the main floor alongside a restaurant that was no longer in use. The third floor had been blocked off – its windows covered over by the stucco exterior.

By the time the members of the Prelate volunteer fire department got to the hotel on that August morning in 2009, all they could do was watch. There was so much smoke, they had a hard time even locating the blaze. The owner and her son lost all of their possessions.

Photo by Suzanne M. Howg. Image source

Photo by Suzanne M. Howg.  Image source
Photo by Suzanne M. Howg.  Image source

© Joan Champ 2011

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Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Harris Hotels: Ruby Rush and More

The Commercial Hotel at Harris, c. 1910.  From Harris: Heritage to Homage (1982)

In 1910, three of the seven Gordon brothers bought Commercial Hotel in Harris. Little did Henry (Hank), Wallace and Merritt Gordon know that  a few years later, their hotel would be the headquarters for one of the most infamous events ever to take place in Saskatchewan.

The Gordon brothers, born to Daniel and Maryann Gordon from Quebec, were raised in Minnesota where their father farmed. At least three of the brothers worked for a time in the mines at Butte, Montana, around the turn of the 20th century.  At that time, Butte had a reputation as a wild town, where any vice was obtainable.

In 1904-05, the entire Gordon family - sons and parents - filed for homesteads in what became the Harris district. There were no towns and the railroad had not yet come through. All building supplies had to be hauled 60 miles from Saskatoon by wagon, so they built their homes from sod. By 1909, the village of Harris was under construction. Alex Shatilla built a three-story hotel on the corner of Railway and Main. That fall he sold the hotel to the Gordon brothers.

Maybe the brothers got bored. Maybe, after the excitement of the mining camps of Butte, Montana, they were looking for a reason to stir things up a bit. Whatever the case, when Alex McCarthy walked into the bar of the Commercial Hotel one hot, dry day in the summer of 1914 with a cigar box full of stones, Hank Gordon saw an opportunity. McCarthy was a bewhiskered American miner recently arrived in the area. He knew the Gordon brothers, so who knows? Maybe the whole “Ruby Rush” was a set-up right from the start.

Raw rubies from a mine. Image source
The story of the “Great Ruby Rush” goes like this:  While working on a road gang in the Bear Hill about 20 miles northwest of Harris, McCarthy spotted some red pellets in a big black rock that looked an awful lot like rubies. Knowing that the Gordon brothers had extensive mining experience, he put the stones in a cigar box and headed for the Commercial Hotel. Over a glass of beer, McCarthy showed his find to Hank, who then called in his brothers. “We’ll look after it,” McCarthy was told. Word spread that the Gordons had stolen off to Saskatoon to stake their claim. Someone alerted the Saskatoon Star, for soon the newspaper was running headlines of a ruby and gold discovery near Harris. Within days, thousands of “prospectors” arrived in the village of Harris by train, wagon, buggy and on foot, some no doubt dreaming of instant riches similar to those of the Klondike Gold Rush sixteen years earlier. The mad Ruby Rush was underway.

The Gordon brothers and the Commercial Hotel profited greatly from the Ruby Rush. “Rubies” from the site of the discovery – a large black stone in the Bear Hills – were put on display at the hotel. The Gordons hauled loads of lumber, food and booze to the site where they operated a saloon, a restaurant and other entertainment in three large tents.  Prostitutes, card sharpies and con men followed in the wake of the Ruby Rush. Drunkenness was rampant, to the point that one man was found dead from alcohol poisoning. Eventually, word came from Saskatoon that the rubies were really garnets of little value.

For years afterwards, the people of Harris did not talk about the Ruby Rush.  It was a forbidden subject, especially as the main players and their families still lived in the community. It became easier to forget after the Commercial Hotel burned down in 1923.

From Harris: Heritage to Homage (1982)
Charles, the eldest Gordon brother, farmed at Harris until 1929 when he moved to BC. He died there in 1951. Hank maintained his interest in mining, and had mining ventures in Hope, BC. Fred’s family still farms near Harris. Lawrence (Larry) moved to Debden where he ran a cattle ranch. Francis (Frank) was a member of the Harris Elks Lodge for years. After the hotel fire of 1923, the Merritt Gordon family moved to Vancouver where for the next 20 years he owned and managed various hotels. The seventh son, Merritt, moved his family to Perdue and then Vancouver where he operated other hotels until the day he died.

The big black stone, source of the "rubies," in the yard of the Harris Museum

The Harris Hotel

Harris Hotel, 1980.  From Harris: Heritage to Homage (1980)

It was not until 1950 that Harris got another hotel. Fraser Laing moved a building from the “24 Wilson Farm” onto two lots on Railway Avenue and started the Harris Hotel, complete with beer parlour and family restaurant. A 2011 real estate listing stated that the hotel was not operating. The seven guest rooms were in need of renovations and the second floor required a fire escape. The hotel was for sale for the "drastically reduced" price of $99,000.

Harris Hotel, 2005. Photo courtesy of Ruth Bitner
© Joan Champ 2011

Friday, 1 April 2011

Rouleau Hotel: AKA Dog River Hotel

Rouleau hotel in 2007. Image source
Built in 1905 as the Arlington Hotel, the 42-room hotel in Rouleau served as a recruiting office during the First World War, and as an emergency hospital during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. Due to Prohibition, implemented in July 1915, it was closed for a couple of years. When A.D. Hierlihy bought the hotel in 1920, it was quite run down. After a great deal of cleaning, painting and redecorating, the Hierlihy family moved into the hotel and it was opened for business once again.  

Arlington Hotel, Rouleau, c. 1915. Image source
Tony and Esther Van Oostdam purchased the hotel in 1932, advertising the “Dining Room known for Best of Food and Elegant Service.”  Rooms were rented by the day, week or month. The hotel boasted a licensed beverage room after 1935, which served as a meeting place for the men of Rouleau. A chimney fire on the second floor the hotel in July of 1948, when it was owned by Stanley Jarosinsky, forced the evacuation of 40 residents. This fire also necessitated more renovations.

In 1994, the Rouleau Hotel was operated by Reid Junek and Joanne Desfosses. From The Buckle of the Grain Belt; Rouleau and District History, 1894-1994

Rouleau, c. 1950.  From The Buckle of the Grain Belt; Rouleau and District History, 1894-1994

In the summer of 2003, filming began in Rouleau for the CTV sitcom, Corner Gas. The town of 450 was renamed Dog River, and the Rouleau Hotel became the Dog River Hotel. The exterior was refurbished for filming, and dressing rooms were installed on the upper floors. Corner Gas wrapped up filming the sixth and final episode in September of 2008. The series finale aired on CTV on April 13, 2009.

The bar at the Dog River Hotel was open for business in April 2007. Image source

© Joan Champ 2011