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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  1. This one is very classic and oldest hotel.I like this heritage hotel and hotel service.This one hotel is commercial and great hotel.I love this excellent and classic hotel.


  2. Yes, it is one of the nicer old hotels in small-town Saskatchewan. Too bad it is no longer operating.

  3. I use to have bible classes on the top floor of this hotel.

    1. Hi Nina, do you know who's taking care of the hotel this days? Does anybody from Popoff family live there? We lost connection with them long time ago, more then 25 years.

    2. Helen is still around as of today.

  4. Helen is divorced but still lives in the hotel