Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The Bjorkdale Hotel - Good for the Spirit

The Speddings

The Bjorkdale Hotel was built in 1935 by William (Bill) Spedding.  He had emigrated from Blackburn, England to Quebec in 1905, and moved to Saskatchewan in 1907 with his wife Esther, and their two children, John and Nellie. Spedding filed on a homestead in the Bjorkdale district in
John, Esther and William Spedding, c 1935. Source: A Season or So
1910, and became the first postmaster of Bjorkdale the following year. After serving overseas during the First World War, Spedding was the Massey Harris dealer in Bjorkdale before building the hotel. In 1935, the sale of beer was finally legal in Saskatchewan, so Spedding’s plans for hotel included a beer parlour. “The general public regarded this innovation with mixed feelings,” the Bjorkdale history book records. The original hotel had six guest rooms upstairs, and a lobby, small dining area, kitchen, and beer parlour downstairs. Only draught beer was sold – 10 cents for an 8-ounce glass. Source: A Season or So, Bjorkdale Historical Committee, 1983.

 The Bates

In 1937, Spedding sold the hotel to Charles and Esther Bates. The Bates had been travelling around Saskatchewan in search of a small business. Along the way, they met a friend
Esther Bates and son Sydney, c. 1940
who told them there was a hotel for sale in Bjorkdale “It is a good business and I can recommend it to you,” said their friend, who just happened to be a hotel inspector. In 1942, something happened which changed the Bates’ lives forever. Two young ministers were invited to hold church services in the living room of the hotel on Wednesday evenings. These services were well attended. Charles, who was serving as the bartender in the beer parlour, heard the music in the living room. He wouldn’t go in to hear the preachers, but he couldn’t help wondering just what they were talking about. So no one would know, Charles filled the beer glasses in the parlour, and then sneaked out through the kitchen to listen through the keyhole in the door. “On March 17, 1944, while I was putting on a novelty dance (proceeds to go to the Red Cross), Charles thought things through and went into the living room and had a private talk with God.” Three days later, the Bates advertised the hotel for sale, and set off for theological college in Winnipeg. In the early 1950s, Rev. Charles and Mrs. Bates founded, built and served as the superintendents of the Bethel Haven Rest Home for the Aged at Nipawin. Source

The Harpolds

The Harpolds
Fred and Murial Harpold bought the Bjorkdale from the Bates in 1944. The Harpolds had formerly owned the hotel at nearby Crooked River. They turned it over to their son Ernest, opting to run the smaller hotel in Bjorkdale as Fred’s health was failing. After two and a half years, they sold due to poor health.  
The Harpold Hotel, 1944.  Source: A Season or So

The Courchenes

Andrew (Andy) Courchene was the son of Joe and Blanche Courchene, hotel operators in St. Benedict, Saskatchewan. He had married a Bjorkdale girl, Evelyn Duchesneau, in 1944, and after serving overseas during the Second World War, bought the Bjorkdale Hotel in November of 1946. Along with their sons Denis and Donald and daughter Diane, their stay as operators of the hotel lasted 27 years.  

Denis, Diane, Andy, Donald, and Evelyn Courchene, 1953. Source: A Season or So
 “Those first five years in Bjorkdale were busy ones, as Highway 23 was being built, and the government opened up the Bjork Lake agricultural project,” recalls Evelyn Courchene, who, in addition to serving as the hotel’s proficient cook, wrote about Bjorkdale events in the Tisdale Recorder for 22 years. “We boarded and fed engineers and surveyors, construction foremen and labourers.” By the standards of the day, the Bjorkdale Hotel was fairly well equipped. Water was the most important factor, with a pump installed at the kitchen sink. “No doubt I was the envy of many women, who had to carry water for all their needs from an outdoor well,” Mrs. Courchene writes. “I cooked on a wood stove for years.” The hotel had always been heated with hot air – one large register above the furnace. “It was necessary for Andy to get up at least once during the night during the real cold weather to stoke it up with tamarack.” Electricity came to Bjorkdale in 1951; prior to that the hotel had a 32-volt power plant for lighting. “Coal oil lamps were kept ready in case the plant failed which it did with regularity!” Food was kept in an ice-box; beer kegs were kept cold during the summer months by chunks of ice cut from the nearby Bjork Lake and packed in sawdust.  

Andy Courchene in the hotel's beer parlour, 1953. Source: A Season or So
In 1961, after the provincial government permitted mixed drinking, the Courchenes built an addition on the side of the hotel to accommodate more patrons. The old beer parlour was converted to a kitchen, bedroom, and private family room. The new beverage room, complete with washrooms and refrigeration space, was called the Dell Room. “The classier surroundings, carpeted floors, attractive
The Courchenes, c. 1970.
drapery, comfortable seating, and softer lighting, created an atmosphere of respectability and congeniality – at last,” the Bjorkdale history book remembers. “The presence of females was not only a novelty but an asset in this respect.” The hotel received a facelift in 1966, with exterior aluminum siding in white and rust, and new sliding windows. Another addition was built onto the hotel by the Courchenes in 1972.  The beverage room could now seat over 90 people, with a pool table, two shuffleboards, and a juke box providing entertainment. By this time, the sale of hard liquor was permitted, as was the sale of sandwiches and packaged foods.

The longer business hours and larger premises created more work for Andy and Evelyn Courchene. They were growing weary after 27 years of public service. “The decision to sell wasn’t easy,” writes Evelyn, “but none of our children were interested in the demanding life of the small-town hotel.” They sold the Bjorkdale Hotel to Jack and Muriel Pearson of Kelvington in 1973. Source: A Season or So, Bjorkdale Historical Committee, 1983.

Bjorkdale Hotel, 1981. Source: A Season or So

© Joan Champ, 2013


  1. Cathy Kneller Rochon10 February 2016 at 18:46

    Kudos Joan. A worthwhile project. I grew up ij Bjorkdale and this sort of history is great (even though I have the book)

  2. Thanks Cathy! I work with Cal Glasman who also grew up near Bjorkdale. He loaned me his copy of the local history book which was the main source for this blog post.