Sunday, 20 November 2011

Viability of Rural Hotels - How Many Rooms?

Snowmobilers stop for a brew at the Pioneer Hotel in Wiseton (pop. 96), 2006. Joan Champ photo

While hotels are one of the oldest and most common forms of business enterprise in small-town Saskatchewan, today, in most cases, they are hotels in name only. They do not rely on room rental for revenue. The rural hotel business is all about the beverage room. The sale of alcohol – mainly beer – is the primary source of annual operating revenues – or at least it was until the introduction of video lottery terminals (VLTs) in 1993.

VLTs at the end of the bar, Delisle Hotel, May 2011. Joan Champ photo

Since the 1970s, beverage rooms have been continuously renovated. Steak pits and other amenities have been added, and a wide variety of entertainment – shuffleboard tables, pool tables, karaoke machines and live bands – have been featured in bars across the province. In 1993, the VLT program was introduced, providing an additional source of entertainment – and revenue – for liquor-permitted hotels in rural communities.

Typical rural hotel room
Nevertheless, the small-town hotels still need to have a minimum number of rooms in order to qualify for a liquor license. In 1987, according to Sean Kenny’s report on the viability of rural hotels for the Saskatchewan Liquor Board, licensed hotels in communities with less than 200 taxpayers had to have a minimum of seven (7) rooms. Even at that, the hotels in these small towns had an occupancy rate of only 10 percent. Kenny estimated that only about two (2) percent of total rural hotel revenue came from the provision of accommodation. (Sean Kenny, “Viability Study of the Rural Hotel Industry in Saskatchewan; Project Report.” Regina: Saskatchewan Liquor Board, August 31, 1987, p.10)  

"Please go to bar next door for room rentals, thank you!" Sign in the lobby of the Delisle Hotel, May 2011. Joan Champ photo
On June 22, 1988, Graham Taylor, Saskatchewan’s Minister of Tourism and Small Business, told the Saskatchewan Legislature that he did not think it was necessary for rural hotels to have rooms. “The day of the rooms in the rural hotel, I think, in many cases has somewhat passed,” Taylor said, “and therefore it may be an advantage to hoteliers to not have it [the liquor license] tied entirely to rooms.” (Hansard, Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly, June 22, 1988) 

Room at the Delisle Hotel, May 2011. Joan Champ photo

Today, according to the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority’s “Commercial Liquor Permittee Policy Manual” (2009), to qualify for a beverage room license, a hotel in a rural community must have a minimum of six (6) guest rooms. Sustained largely by off-sale revenues and VLT income, most of Saskatchewan’s small-town hotels are now just a shadow of their former glory days.

Budget Rooms - Daily, Weekly, Monthly - at Melville's Waverley Hotel, June 2006. Joan Champ photo
© Joan Champ 2011

Monday, 14 November 2011

Two More Century-Old Hotels Burn: Stenen and Young

Stenen Hotel on fire. Trudy Scebenski photo. Image source

They’re going down fast. 

On October 26th the 100-year-old King George Hotel at Stenen burned to the ground. “It was one of the better hotels down the line. Other communities hardly have a hotel and this one was run real well. It was a good place for friends to meet,” said Merv Secundiak, former mayor of Stenen and owner of the town’s general store. “It was a popular place in the community.” Mr Secundiak told the Regina Leader-Post reporter that with the historical building and bar gone, he was planning to close his store and retire. “I’m not going to have anything in this community. It’s terrible. I feel so bad. Why [do] things like this have to happen to a small community?” Click to read full story

Stenen Hotel, July 2006.  Photo courtesy of Ruth Bitner

Young Hotel

Less than two weeks later, another old hotel in rural Saskatchewan was destroyed by fire. Sometime around 2:30 a.m. on November 13th, volunteer firefighters were called to a blaze at the Young Hotel.  Within an hour, flames had completely consumed the building.

The fire was started by two sisters ages 10 and 12 who snuck out of their parents' house at 2:00 a.m. They gathered papers from the Young post office and then went into the front porch of the empty hotel where they started a fire to keep warm. When they returned home, they left the fire unattended. The 12-year-old was charged with mischief, but would be dealt with through an alternative measures program. The 10-year-old was too young to be charged. Both girls apologized.

Young Hotel fire. Photo supplied by Cordelia Ciesielski and Tany Deneiko. Image source

The Young Hotel, formerly called the Manitou Hotel, was built by Thomas Murphy in 1910.  Murphy also built the hotel at Allan that same year.  In 1911, Robert (Bob) Barry bought the hotel and made extensive alterations. The following year, Barry built the Barry Hotel on the corner of Avenue B and 20th Street in Saskatoon. 

In 1918, the Manitou Hotel was sold to Fred and Katheryne Harpold who had emigrated from the USA in 1912. Their son, Ernest, was born at Young in 1915. Katheryne passed away on November 22, 1918 during the Spanish Flu epidemic. A couple of years later, Fred married Myrtle Pearson, a teacher from Indianapolis. After selling the hotel, the Harpolds moved to Melfort and then, in 1936, to Crooked River where they were again in the hotel business.

Mr. Feader owned the Manitou Hotel in Young from 1923 to 1927. Under his management, it was, according to the Young local history book, “recognized as one of the best hotels between Saskatoon and Melville. It was quiet and a homelike place run on a European plan [hotel rate covered the room charge only, but not meals]. Large sample rooms in the Annex of the hotel were at the disposal of travelers.” Footsteps to Follow: A History of Young, Zelma and Districts, 1981, p. 22.

Manitou Hotel, 1937. From Footsteps to Follow: A History of Young, Zelma and Districts, 1981.
From 1927 until 1946, the Manitou Hotel in Young was owned by Charles Jimsie and George Kaw. In 1935, a beer parlour opened in the hotel, replacing the restaurant and ice cream parlour.  In 1946, Otto Renner and his son bought the hotel and built an addition for a restaurant.

Joseph and Katherine Fornalik Prince Albert bought out Renner in 1955.  Patricia Button (nee Fornalik) recalls: “When our family lived in the hotel, it had a verandah and a balcony on the second floor at the front.  .. The cafĂ© owned by a Chinese couple was next door to the hotel.” Footsteps to Follow: A History of Young, Zelma and Districts, 1981. 

When mixed drinking was allowed in Saskatchewan in 1961, Earl Nicklas bought the Manitou Hotel, turning the beer parlour into a beverage room suitable for “Ladies & Escorts."

Young Hotel Cafe, 2006. J. Champ
Joe and Doreen Freyling owned the Young Hotel for 27 years – from 1981 to 2008. “We enjoyed our time there," Freyling told the StarPhoenix on the day after the fire. "It was a booming place when we bought it. It was a young crowd who'd come out and party at the bar and we'd get right in there too.”  During the years the Freylings owned it, the hotel had a 100-seat bar a 27-seat dining room, a living quarters for the owner, and seven non-modern guest rooms. The people of Young used the hotel as a meeting place. “In a place that's small like Young, when you lose your bar and your restaurant, a sense of community starts to be lost as well,” Darcie Hellman, a former resident of the village, told the CBC. “When the people don't have a place to get together, you start to feel less like a town, right? It's just really sad.”

Giselle Begrand, owner of the Young Hotel for the past three years, was devastated by the loss. "My three kids and I put our blood, sweat and tears — literally blood, sweat and tears — for as long as we could manage here, so everything we owned and everything that we had was put into this," Begrand told CBC News. She was just weeks away from selling the hotel and had no fire insurance.

Young Hotel, April 2006.  Joan Champ photo
Rear view of the Young Hotel, April 2006.  Joan Champ photo
After the fire. Photo courtesy of Meshell Fedrau

 © Joan Champ 2011