Monday, 29 December 2014

North Portal: "Roughs Come in from Dakota"

Grandview Hotel, North Portal, c. 1910 Source
The border town of North Portal was a wild and wooly place in the early 1900s, due in large measure to the sale of alcohol to residents of North Dakota, a “dry” state from 1889 to 1932. Sales of liquor flourished in North Portal from 1903 when it was founded, until 1915 when Saskatchewan implemented its own prohibition laws. Things picked up again during the Roaring Twenties when American rum runners used North Portal as a distribution centre for illegal liquor. The town boasted two hotels located only a few feet from the Canada-US border – the Union Hotel and the Grandview Hotel. It also gained notoriety as a town with a high crime rate for a community its size.

North Portal in the winter of 1911; Grandview Hotel on left. Source
Located on the Soo Line Railway, North Portal attracted many shady characters from south of the border. In 1906, for example, Corporal Hogg of the Royal North West Mounted Police (RNWMP) was called to one of the hotels in town to break up a disturbance. The hotel was full of cowboys led by a gun-toting “notorious bad man” named Monaghan, aka Cowboy Jack. Police records state that in the process of arresting Monaghan, the following property was damaged: “door broken; screen smashed up; chair broken; field jacket belonging to Corporal Hogg spoiled by being covered with blood; and the wall plastered with blood.” Monaghan, or Cowboy Jack, is reported to have remarked that if Hogg had not confiscated his gun, another death would have been recorded in Canadian history. Source

It was into this fray that Louis Kill and his family arrived in 1906. Kill, a German-born representative of the Standard Oil Company, had immigrated to Canada via Minnesota and South Dakota with his wife, Anna, and their children. By 1921, Louis Kill was reported to be “one of the most widely known citizens in southern Saskatchewan.” Source  

In 1907, after a year with the oil company, Kill decided to take over the Union Hotel in North Portal,
Union Hotel, c. 1910. Source
built in about 1900. Unfortunately, however, Kill’s application for a liquor license for the hotel was unsuccessful. During the hearing of the provincial liquor commissioners, the chief license commissioner stated that, while Louis Kill was, as far as he knew, “of good character,” he doubted whether he was a suitable person to manage a hotel in North Portal which was frequented by “a hard crowd.” In a newspaper story, “Roughs Come in from Dakota; Dry Americans Need Careful Handling at North Portal,” the chairman noted that there had been a good deal of trouble in North Portal. “It is right on the line of a prohibition state and people – the very worst element, I am told – come over the border for liquor,” he stated. “We would like to see a man who could handle these people.” The commissioners decided to deny Kill’s application and to hold an inquiry on local conditions at North Portal. Source

Undeterred, Louis Kill bought the hotel at Alameda, Saskatchewan, about 50 kilometres north of North Portal. He and his family operated the hotel for about three years. The 1911 Canada census shows Kill, age 54, and his wife Anna, age 50, as the hotel proprietors in Alameda. Their 23-year-old son Edward worked as the hotel’s bartender. Annie (25), Vincent (15), and Sylvester (13) as well as four domestics also lived in the hotel.

Opportunity knocked once more for the Kill family due to yet another violent incident in North Portal. In 1914, William Hetherington, owner of the three-storey Grandview Hotel, was convicted of manslaughter in death of Pat Murphy, alias Kelley, alias Denver Blackie. The crime had been committed during a drunken brawl in the bar of the hotel at the end of August. Source Shortly after Hetherington’s sentence to two years’ imprisonment, Louis Kill returned to North Portal and bought the Grandview Hotel.

Baseball game in North Portal, 1914, with Grandview Hotel in background. Source
In 1916, the year after Prohibition was implemented, the Canada census records Louis and Anna Kill living in the Grandview Hotel with their unmarried daughter Anna (30); their 1-year-old granddaughter Ethel; and sons Edward (38), who was no longer working as a bartender, but instead working at the local hardware store; Vincent (20), a clerk for the railway; and Sylvester (18). Also living in the hotel were two chambermaids.

By 1921, Louis Kill had retired from the hotel business.  In the early years, he had made considerable money at the Grandview Hotel. With the passing of bars in Saskatchewan due to Prohibition, however, hotels had become “white elephants.” The Kill family moved to Sacramento, California where daughter Frances and her husband Charles H. Hecht now lived.

Throughout the 1920s, the Grandview Hotel became the centre for illegal liquor trading as well as gambling, apparently attracting some notorious gangsters from Chicago, including Al Capone – incognito. Legend has it that some of the big-winning gamblers never left the Grandview. A sign beside the hotel once told of guests who disappeared after cleaning up at the gambling table, leaving their belongings – and their train tickets – untouched in their rooms. It is rumoured that they may have ended up at the bottom of the hotel’s 60-metre-deep well. Source: Winnipeg Free Press, April 8, 1989

© Joan Champ 2014


Sunday, 26 October 2014

Elfros Hotel Fire

Greg Madsen photo. Source

An early morning fire on October 9, 2014 gutted Tequilas Hotel hotel in Elfros, a small community in east-central Saskatchewan. The owner Justin Thordarson told CTV News that the fire started around 4 a.m. No one was inside the hotel at the time. The RCMP and the provincial Office of the Fire Commissioner said the fire was not considered suspicious, but they were continuing to investigate to determine a cause. Thordarson said he is not sure whether he will rebuild the hotel.

Greg Madsen photo. Source

There had been an earlier hotel, the Golden West, in the early 1900s.   

Golden West Hotel, 1913 Source

Golden West Hotel, Elfros, c. 1912. Source: From Prairie Trails to the Yellowhead, 1983.

The hotel that burned in 2014 had been a fixture in the community since 1933. In the 1930s, Choy Tin Joe applied for a liquor license for the hotel in Elfros. In 1947, George Kirtzinger from Lashburn, Saskatchewan, and his uncle, Otto Lingle, bought the Elfros Hotel. George managed the hotel while Otto was away racing horses. In the fall of 1949, George married Edith Taylor. They moved to Cudworth to farm for two years and then back to Lashburn with their family of four children.

Tequilas Hotel, c. 2012, Google street view,.

Thordarson has owned the hotel, now called Tequilas, since 2007. After the fire, he was not sure whether he would rebuild the hotel.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Gun Play, Tar and Feathering, and Other Stories


Accidental Shooting at the Aneroid Hotel


Anderoid Hotel, 1914. Source
In December of 1914, Constable Buck of the Royal North West Mounted Police was in Aneroid on business, staying at the Aneroid Hotel. Newly married just two weeks before, Buck wanted to visit his good friend Bertrand Gossett who worked at the hotel. The two men were both from nearby Vanscoy.  Once he was off duty, the policeman went into the hotel bar to see Gossett, who was working as the bartender.  Gossett asked his friend if he could see his gun. Constable Buck took off his belt and holster and laid them on the bar. As he took his gun from its holster and passed it across the counter, the gun discharged. Gossett fell to the floor behind the bar, killed instantly by a gunshot wound to his head. Sources: Morning Leader and Aneroid: The Rising Barometer (1980), p. 10. 


The "Rabbit Cafe" at the Bulyea Hotel

Hans Johnson built a hotel in Bulyea in 1906. It was situated close to a poplar bluff that was full of "an endless supply" of rabbits. Johnson's daughters used to stand out on the doorstep of the hotel with 22 rifles and pick off rabbits for fresh meat. "The oldtimers used to relate how rabbits showed up on the menu disguised in so many ways that they were never quite sure what they were eating," the Bulyea history book says. The Bulyea Hotel's dining room got to be referred to as the Rabbit Cafe. Source: Between Long Lake and Last Mountain: Bulyea, Duval, Strasbourg, Vol. 1 (1982), p. 194.


Tar and Feathering at the Langenburg Hotel

On a warm Saturday evening in early August of 1937, Henry Jackson went swimming with a married woman, Mrs. Mary Ann Berger, owner of the Langenburg Hotel. When they returned to the hotel, the two were accosted by four masked men who began smearing Jackson with tar. Jackson, "advanced in years," fought back, ripping the mask off one of the men. Mrs. Berger, who was in her late 50s, went into the hotel and emerged swinging a heavy club. The four men fled, and were later charged with aggravated assault. Source The hotel, once called the Imperial, had been built by Mary Ann's husband Richard Berger, who died in 1916. Mary Ann, who had four children from her marriage to Richard, never remarried

Rum Runners at the Cadillac Hotel

Prohibition-era postcard. Source

Robert and Annie Stanley bought the 3-storey Cadillac Hotel in 1920. As Prohibition was in full force in Saskatchewan, the Stanley's turned the dining room into a general store. The former bar became a warehouse of the store. The Stanley's son Robert Jr. recalled that running the hotel was a real adventure. "Rum runners from the States came up through the prairie trails from Montana and stayed at the hotel. They loaded their cars [with bootleg liquor] and set off for the south, usually on a Sunday morning. ... I remember one of the bootleggers in particular would arrive with his wife and a couple of children who would act as a camouflage for the liquor. He was a fantastic jazz piano player. When he was in town the word soon spread and it was a night for dancing. Then came word that he had been killed in a gun battle with revenuers [US federal revenue agents involved in liquor law enforcement]." Source: Cadillac:A Prairie Heritage (1987), p. 226.

Off the Rails in Redvers

Bird's eye view of Redvers, no date. Source

In 1936, when P.R. and Sadie Johnson bought the King's Hotel in Redvers, the place was closed and boarded up. No sooner had the couple cleaned the place up and reopened the hotel for business, then a disaster - or perhaps a windfall - occurred. On May 2, 1936, one mile west of town, a freight train jumped the rails. Twenty-three cars left the track, killing one of the many hobos who rode the rails during the Depression years. Within hours, scores of railway men from the eastern and western divisional points (Souris, Manitoba and Arcola) arrived to clear the track. As a result, the King's Hotel was full to capacity for several days, with many of the railway men sleeping on the floor. The Johnson's hotel business was off to a good start. Source: Redvers, 75 Years Live (1980), p. 15.

© Joan Champ 2014