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


  1. Awesome post! One of my favorites yet.

  2. I am fascinated by this entire blog. I just discovered it today and have spent the last few hours reading every post. You are an exceptional writer and photographer. I love seeing how these hotels have changed over the years. I'm from Oxbow, so I've dispatched some people there to see if they can dig up some photos of the old Alexandra Hotel. I have many memories of that place before it was demolished in the early 90's. Keep up the excellent work!

  3. Thanks, Bradley. I am flattered by your kind words and grateful (beyond words) that you have taken the time to read all of my blog. Your praise became all the more meaningful to me after I checked out your web site and discovered you are a successful playwright with over 46 published plays to your name!

    I have done some research on Oxbow - mainly in the town's local history book (1984). There were some interesting characters associated with the Alexandra Hotel over the years, including Ruby Gleiser, a business woman, musician, and athlete - "one of the best shots in Saskatchewan, man or woman." Ruby was the first woman in SK to hold a chauffer's license, and by 1936 owned 17 cars. She was also the first woman in the province to be awarded a motion picture operator's license. In the 1920s Ruby owned the Delight Theatre in Estevan and the Estevan Dairy as well as the Alexandra Hotel in Oxbow. She lived for many years with Miss Helen Rattray, a long-time school teacher at Estevan Collegiate Institute. The Indridason family, originally from Iceland, bought the Alexandra Hotel from Ruby Gleiser in 1936.

    It would be great if you could send me photos or anything else related to the hotel in your hometown. As you can see, I haven't posted anything recently. I think the most recent post brought the blog full-circle, but I'm open to inspiration which will help me get back into it again.

    Just an aside: Do you happen to know Mark Melymick, a professor of the performing arts at Sheridan College in Oakville? He's also an actor, stand-up comedian, playwright, and a friend of mine - originally from Saskatoon.

    Best wishes, Joan

  4. Hey! I was just trying to look up which bar/hotels are there to stay at in the Estevan/Weyburn/Stoughton area. Is there a directory? Do you need to book ahead? Or just rock up and rent a room? Is cleanliness a concern?

  5. Is there a directory for these hotel/bars? I want to stay at one in the Weyburn/Stoughton/Estevan area. Is cleanliness an issue? Do you need to usually book ahead?

  6. Hi Allison, Sorry to be so late in responding. The SK Hotel Association has an on-line directory. As for cleanliness, I have no idea!