Saturday, 17 August 2013

Unfair Play at the Windthorst Hotel

Windthorst, c. 1910. Hotel in distance on left. Source

In 1907, Albert E. Playfair from Whitewood, Saskatchewan, and John Berglund built the three-storey Windthorst Hotel. It opened in 1908. By 1911, William Williamson was the hotel keeper. He lived in the hotel with his son Finlay, and his daughters Iva and Elda. According to the 1911 Canada census, nine other people lived at the hotel as well, including the bartender, the cook and her three young daughters, two waitresses, a housekeeper, and a chambermaid. Williamson sold the hotel to Tom Henry after Saskatchewan introduced Prohibition in July 1915. 

Windthorst Hotel, c. 1910. Source: Windthorst Memories, 1980.
The 1916 Canada Census shows that owner Thomas Henry, age 58, was living at the Windthorst Hotel along with his 13-year-old daughter, Vivian. There is no mention of his wife, although he is listed as married. Other residents include hotel employees: the Chinese cook Duck Lee, a 21-year-old Polish kitchen girl, a 20-year-old waitress from Russia, a 64-year-old porter, a stableman, a chauffeur, and a Danish engineer, age 33. 

Tom Henry got into some trouble of a personal nature. Census records for 1916 show that 21-year-old Alice Ellen Playfair, daughter of Albert Playfair, the builder of the Windhorst Hotel, was working as the housekeeper at the hotel that year. Alice was living with two of her brothers in a private home in the village. Alice and Tom must have had an affair, because genealogical records show that Alice eventually became his second wife. Source Tom's first wife, Ellen or Nell (Robinson), is listed in the 1916 census as a residing, unemployed, in a separate residence from the hotel with her seven-year-old daughter, Ethel.

Tom Henry also got into some trouble with the law while operating the Windthorst Hotel. In the spring of 1919, he was convicted of perjury and sentenced to a year of hard labour in the Regina jail. This resulted from his appeal of his previous conviction for hiding liquor in with his stock of soft drinks at the hotel in Windthorst - a no-no during Prohibition. Source

In 1918, Jack Johnson and his wife Olga bought the Windthorst Hotel and ran it until 1945. According to the Windthorst history book, Jack had started out building and driving race cars in the early 1900s in Iowa. He came to Canada in 1903 and settled first in Findlater, and later in Riceton where he operated a cafĂ©. "Mr. and Mrs. Johnston made their hotel business an asset to the community in many ways, opening their doors freely for public functions and making the hotel a gathering place of the district. It was a ‘home away from home’ for the young people who were employed in the village," the town history records. "Social functions which included weekly card parties, bridal showers, and wedding receptions were held at the hotel." (Source: WIndthorst Memories; A History of WIndthorst and District, 1980)

The Johnstons, who had no children of their own, opened their hearts to three children of the Lenius family, following the death of their mother in 1920. Annie, Frank and Joe Lenius were foster children of the Johnstons, who gave them a happy home while they continued their schooling.  

Jack Johnston had many interests. "His main hobby was taxidermy and he mounted birds and animals with an artist’s touch," states the Windthorst history book. "So much so that some of his specimens are in the Smithsonian Institute… and some are in the Provincial Museum in Regina." Johnston served on the Windthorst Village Council for eighteen years. After he retired from the hotel business in the mid-forties, he sold it to Joe Lenius,  He then opened a movie theatre in town called the Johnston Theatre which he operated from 1947 to 1954 when ill health necessitated his retirement. Jack Johnson died in 1957 at age 78. Source

Removing the third floor, 1966. Source: Windthorst history book
Jack's foster son, Joe Lenius and his wife Emmie ran the Windthorst Hotel from 1945 until 1950, when they sold it to Ron and Marg Morrison. The Morrisons renovated the hotel extensively between 1950 and 1976. The biggest change they made was to remove the third storey of the building in 1966. A lunch counter, and later a cafe, replaced the hotel's dining room.

The Windjacks became the owners of the Windthorst Hotel in 1979. Once again, renovations were undertaken, and a steak pit was added. A variety of entertainment was featured in the hotel bar.

Norm and Karen Jones bought the hotel in 1993 and changed its name to Norm's Place Hotel. The hotel was put up for sale by the Jones in 2009 - asking price: $235,000. The price went up to $350,000 in 2013. The real estate listing for the hotel in Windthorst stated that it had a 100-seat beverage room and steak pit; a commercial kitchen on the main floor; eight non-modern guest rooms; and an office and guest lounge on the second floor. The bar featured four VLTs, a lottery kiosk, and offered special promo nights -- wings, steaks, golf, poker, and pizza. The hotel had two full-time and six part-time employees.

Norm's Place Hotel in Windthorst, Google Street View, 2013
 © Joan Champ, 2013

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  1. Great post! The information is really good, all people love it, thank you so much for share.

  2. My Grandparents were the Morrison. They sold the hotel in 1976 to Gary Pitt who sold it to the Windjacks.