Friday, 20 May 2011

Wolseley Hotels: From the Empire to the Leland

Leland Hotel, 2010. Image source

Wolseley’s first hotel was a primitive affair. Built in 1883 by W. D. Perley and E. A. Banbury, the one-storey, wood-frame building had a canvas top.  A more substantial hotel called the Leland was built in 1901 by Robert E. Hall and his wife, Eliza. Meanwhile, Perley and Banbury built the brick three-storey Empire Hotel on Sherbrooke Street.  In 1923, when the Leland Hotel was destroyed by fire, the owners bought the Empire Hotel and renamed it the Leland.

William Dell Perley and Edwin A. Banbury

Edwin and Edith Banbury, 1886. From
Bridging the Past: Wolseley and District, 1880-1980
Wolseley’s first settler, Edwin Ashely Banbury, arrived from Ontario at what was then called Wolf Creek in 1882. William Dell Perley arrived that same year with his young family after being defeated in a provincial election in New Brunswick. Both men started farming, and soon afterwards built several small businesses, one of which was the wood and canvas hotel. A fellow named G. Swift wrote a letter to his aunt in 1899, in which he described the conditions in the hotel in Wolseley:

I was shown a room, I’ll never forget – Very small, rough boards, not finished. Old fashioned bed, washstand and chair, and no lock on the door. (I should have been thankful there was a door.) So I had to barricade it by pulling the bed across and piling a stand and chair between it and the side of the house. … The bed was unmade from the last occupant, so no getting undressed that night. … In the morning after putting things back in place I went down to get breakfast. I found a room where five or six men were sitting down to a table made of three rough boards put together, there was no cloth to cover them. I was told to sit down and asked if I would have some porridge. Not knowing what that might be I asked if they had anything else, and was told they had some beefsteak so ordered thinking that I would enjoy that after my long trip. When it was served I found my knife was not sharp enough to cut it. I drank my tea and returned to my room for my coat.

Car race in Wolseley, 1912, with Empire Hotel on right. Source: Bridging the Past

In 1906, Perley and Banbury built the Empire Hotel on Sherbrooke Street.

W. D. Perley. Source
W.D. Perley was elected to the Northwest Territorial Council for Qu’Appelle in 1885.  In 1887, he was the first elected MP for the riding of East Assiniboia. After only two years, Perley resigned to accept an appointment to the Senate in 1889.  He served on the Senate until his death in 1909.

Banbury died at age 97 in 1955. Source
Edwin A. Banbury was the co-founder, along with his brother Robert, of the Beaver Lumber Company. His hotel venture provided him with the capital he needed to establish Banbury Bros. Lumber Company in the 1890s.  A series of mergers and takeovers with partners and competing firms led to the formation of one large lumber company in 1906.  A name was needed that had something to do with wood.  Edwin Banbury came up with "Beaver" which remained the company’s name until 1999, when it was taken over by Home Hardware. In 1886, Banbury married W. D. Perley’s daughter, Edith. They had eight children, three of whom died from diphtheria at a young age.
The Leland Hotel

Windsor Hotel on left, before the 1905 fire.
From Bridging the Past
In 1901, Robert E. and Eliza Hall built their first hotel, the Windsor, on the corner of Sherbrook and Front Streets. This wooden building burned down in 1905, along with most of the other buildings on the street. The Halls, who were among the first homesteaders in the Wolseley area, then set about building a new, three-storey brick hotel on Front Street, half a block west of their first hotel. 

Hotel Leland, centre, c. 1920. Image source
The Leland Hotel, as it was called, had distinctive arched windows on the second floor. The Halls had two children, Herbert and Pearl. Robert ran the hotel with the helped of his son. When Robert retired and moved to Victoria, the Leland was operated by Pearl and her husband, Charlie Corbett.

In the middle of the night on October 6, 1923, a fire broke out in the basement of the Leland Hotel. Within four hours, the hotel burned to the ground. All of the people inside the hotel at the time managed escaped with their lives. About half of the 30 occupants were guests – mainly commercial travellers; the rest were regular roomers, boarders and hotel staff. The building filled with dense smoke, and some people had great difficulty finding their way to an exit. The proprietors of the Leland, Pearl Corbett and her four children, were among the first to be rescued. Some of the hotel guests had to jump from the upper floors. Others lowered themselves from the windows of their rooms with ropes. One salesman crawled down the hall on his hands and knees, through the acrid smoke, only to fall down the stairs. He managed to get out the front door with only a few bruises. 

Leland Hotel after the fire, 1923. From Bridging the Past
According to the Morning Leader, Frank Vincent, the postmaster for Wolseley who roomed on the hotel’s third floor, had the most spectacular escape. “Overcome by smoke in his bedroom he could only be reached by a couple of ladders,” the newspaper recounted. “The upper ladder was held from the top of the lower ladder by two men while the third assisted Mr. Vincent over the window sill and down the perilous upper ladder.”

The heroine of the disaster was Gladys Macdonald, the night telephone operator in the telephone building at the rear of the hotel. She called the police and fire brigade, and then stuck to her post throughout the conflagration, while “every minute the telephone building was threatened with destruction by the flames and was enveloped with dense smoke for hours.”  None of the contents of the hotel was saved. People lost everything except the pajamas they were wearing as they escaped the blaze. Click here to read the full story of the fire on page page 12 of the Morning Leader.

The new Leland in the former Empire Hotel building. From Bridging the Past
After the fire, the Corbetts and Grandma [Eliza] Hall bought the Empire Hotel and renamed it the Leland Hotel. This hotel was purchased by Victor Hunter and family in 1971. Vic Hunter was still the owner in 2010.

© Joan Champ 2011


  1. Wolseley is one of Saskatchewan's prettiest towns. E.A. Banbury's house is now a bed and breakfast.


  2. The McCaskill residence is looking great. Many renovations for the better. Good work folks. You surely make the town proud. We would love to have your permission to drop by and take a few photos if permissible. We just love it.

    Lloyd Allen and wife Catherine

    Bedford, NS (New Scotland)

  3. I am trying to find out info about one of the Corbett children Ellis Grant Corbett if anyone as any info please let me know