|Bienfait Hotel, June 2006. Joan Champ photo|
|1915 map of Bienfait showing location of the hotel. Image source|
White advertised the King Edward Hotel as “the best equipped village hotel in Saskatchewan.” The hotel featured Simmons beds, Slumber King springs throughout, hot soft-water baths at all times, four first-class billiard tables, three bowling alleys, a first-class two-chair barber-shop, and electrical refrigeration. According to Stephen L. Endicott, historian of the Bienfait miner’s struggles, by the 1930s the village elite – including mine managers, office staff, and pit bosses – “gathered at the bar for smoking, relaxation, and socializing and took their privileged standing for granted.” (Stephen L. Endicott, Bienfait; The SK Miner’s Struggle of ’31, 2002, p. 12)
|RCMP during the miner's demonstration at Estevan, 1931. Source|
|Postcard showing the King Edward Hotel in the early 1950s. Image source|
|Wilf Gardiner (centre) with his father, son and wife, c. 1955. Image source|
Gardiner spent seven years – three consecutive terms – as a Liberal MLA for Melville. He was defeated in the 1967 election. In 1970, Premier Ross Thatcher appointed Gardiner as the chairman of the Saskatchewan Homecoming ’71 celebrations. In March of 1971, Thatcher fired Gardiner because of a dispute over Homecoming funding policy. Gardiner fought back, calling for Thatcher’s resignation, saying that the premier was “unfit to govern.” Thatcher proved too powerful and Gardiner’s political career was over. Click here to read full story in Star-Phoenix, p. 3.
In 1972, Heather Robertson interviewed Wilf Gardiner for her book, Grass Roots. At that time the Plainsman Hotel was painted robin’s-egg blue. There was a big wooden cut-out of Davy Crockett over the hotel’s main entrance and an Indian’s head with feathers over the bar which was called the Eagle’s Nest. When Robertson met with him, Gardiner was presiding over the bar,” a dark, cavernous place with cheap arborite tables and chrome chairs.” He explained to the author that Bienfait was his last resort after his battle with Thatcher. “Usually a man who’s been in government can get a big job with business,” Gardiner said. “Thatcher had enough power to freeze me out of a job.” Gardiner and his family ran the hotel themselves. He was the bartender, his wife did the cooking and cleaning, and his kids mopped up the pub on Sundays.
According to Robertson, Gardiner was “a wheeler-dealer, a promoter with a dozen schemes up his sleeve and all the angles figured.”
He’s out to promote Bienfait, to turn the town on its ear. Already he’s organized a shuffleboard tournament and an Indian pow-wow in the beer parlor. “I’m an honorary chief of the Crees,” he booms. “I have the complete outfit, white buckskin jacket, feather headdress; my wife has a wig with long braids. We’re gonna dress in the outfits all summer for the tourist business. I’ve been working seven years to get tourists into this province. The people say the only reason I’m doing it is because I’m gonna benefit, being in the hotel business. Most of them don’t recognize it as history. They’re not old enough.” … Gardiner has detected that [the mayor of Bienfait] Metro Katrusik is not too enthusiastic about advertising Bienfait’s illicit past. His eyes twinkle wickedly and a slow smile spreads across his face from ear to ear. “The mayor was one of the biggest bootleggers in the area! He admits it.” … Gardiner’s sly laugh booms through the pub. (Robertson, pp. 278-9)In 2010, the bar at the Bienfait Hotel was called the Coal Dust Saloon.
|Coal Dust Saloon, Bienfait, June 2006. Joan Champ photo|
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