Sunday, 16 March 2014

"Your Home on the Range:" The Commercial Hotel at Maple Creek



Guest post by Royce E. W. Pettyjohn, Coordinator of Maple Creek's Main Street Program.

Maple Creek's oldest continually operated business, the Commercial Hotel, is truly a community treasure. Thanks to a group of new immigrants from the Philippines, this heritage hotel has been recently restored to its former glory. Today's visitors can still get a sense of the hotel’s rich history as a result of the atmosphere and furnishings that have been preserved in the hotel lobby.

Marcelo Del Barrio, Jayson Catalasan, Ronald Del Barrio, and Noy Lim, hold a painting of the original hotel built in 1884/1885. Source
UPDATE: The Commercial Hotel closed in April 2017 and put up for sale.

Hotel on the Ranching Frontier

The story of the Commercial Hotel began on November 23, 1883 when Thomas Melfort Rasin, purchased Lot #3 on Block #2 (on the original town plan) in Maple Creek. The hotel was constructed of logs and faced will milled lumber. By 1885, it was in operation. The 1886 Territorial Directory billed the Commercial Hotel as “The largest hotel in the Northwest Territory, T.M. Rasin proprietor, first class in all its departments.” 

Thomas Rasin, originally from Maryland via St. Paul, Minnesota, came to the Cypress Hills area around 1880 as a clerk for the T. C. Power & Bro. Company store in the village of Fort Walsh. T.C. Power opened a new store in Maple Creek after the Northwest Mounted Police abandoned Fort Walsh in 1883, and Rasin followed.  

Backed by the company's managers, Horace A. Greeley and D. W. Marsh, Rasin also acquired Lot #4 - the lot between the T.C. Power store and the Commercial Hotel. Eventually, the hotel would expand onto a portion of this lot. The 1888 land title document consolidating ownership of Lots #3 & #4 in the name of Thomas Rasin shows a $1,169.67 mortgage registered against the properties by Horace A. Greeley. 

The original hotel c. 1885. Submitted photo.

Rasin sold the Commercial Hotel to Edward Fearon on August 18, 1890; Lot #4 was sold to James Baird on March 2, 1898. Fearon, who was elected to the Territorial Assembly in November of 1894, sold the hotel to John Henry Fleming on Christmas Eve 1896.  A little over two years later, Fleming also acquired Lot #4 from Baird. 

Fleming was an American cowboy who had worked as a foreman on the Oxarart Ranch upon coming to Canada. He later had ranching interests in the Skull Creek area, was a partner in the Williamson & Fleming Store at Maple Creek in 1903 (now the Salvation Army Thrift Store). Canada’s 1901 census shows Fleming, age 36, living in the Commercial Hotel with his wife Mary and their two children. Hotel staff in 1901 consisted of two bartenders and four chambermaids. 

The Commercial Hotel’s only competition in Maple Creek during the 1880s and 1890s was the International Hotel, built by J. J. English in 1883 on the east corner of Jasper Street and Pacific Avenue (destroyed by fire in August 1896). Between 1902 and 1904, however, the Cypress Hotel, the Jasper Hotel and the Maple Leaf Hotel had all been constructed and the aging Commercial Hotel was no longer the establishment of choice in town. In A.M. Merton 1904 booklet called The New West Era he refers to the Commercial Hotel as a “dollar house” under the management of the Henderson-Downer system (which owned the Cypress Hotel). 

According to the Maple Creek News editor W.J. Redmond, it was around this time that Fleming decided to once again “make the Commercial the best hotel in town.” Around 1906 the original wooden Commercial Hotel structure was moved back on the lot and a large three-storey brick addition was constructed on the front of the hotel. This addition is represented today by the beverage room and everything above it. The location where the original wooden building was attached to the new brick addition is still visible at the back of the hotel.

The 1906 section of the Commercial Hotel. Submitted photo.

In 1910, Fleming sold the Commercial Hotel to Norman Robson., who immediately started to work on a second expansion. His addition to the east encroached onto Lot #4 and is represented today by the current lobby, dining room and everything above them. The new addition opened on August 30th, 1911. The next day, the Maple Creek News provided the following account: 
"The new addition of the Commercial Hotel was put into commission yesterday and Maple Creekites have good reason to be proud of the Pacific Avenue hostelry. The ground floor is taken up by the rotunda and dining room. Both rooms are spacious, finished in golden oak, well lighted, and modern in every particular. New mission furniture in the dining room adds greatly to the attractiveness. The rotunda and the bar room have tile floors. Upstairs the new bedrooms have the advantages gained by plumbing and eight of them have baths in connection. The house now has 52 rooms and is steam heated throughout. The old rotunda is being overhauled and will be utilized for a pool and billiard room. The owner, Mr. N. L. Robson is to be congratulated upon the appearance of the Commercial, and it is more than likely that his efforts to keep the hotel up to the requirements of a growing town will be appreciated by the public."

The 1911 Canada census shows Norman Robson, age 30, living in the hotel, along with his wife Mable and six staff members. Four of the young women on the hotel staff worked in the dining room. Perhaps Lela, Miriam, Katie, and Lizzie served the splendid Christmas dinner in the hotel’s new dining room that year. The menu offered stewed oysters, shrimp patties, salmon, fillet of sole, ham with champagne sauce, duck, lamb, chicken, beef, turkey, goose, and every possible side dish. Countless desserts were served at the end of this sumptuous holiday feast that was topped off with port & sherry.

Unfortunately, the “new mission furniture in the dining room” referenced by the Maple Creek News did not survive to furnish today’s Commercial Hotel’s. However, the lobby in 1911 must have looked very much the way we see it now. The Commercial Hotel’s beautiful lobby furniture would have originally been in the circa 1885 wooden hotel structure. It would have then been reused in the lobby of the 1906 brick addition, and then again in the 1911 lobby where it remains to this day. The 1911 marble tile floor has also survived with very little loss over the course of the last 103 years.

On December 31, 1912, just over a year after opening the new addition, Robson sold the hotel to William McRoberts, Jeremiah McRoberts, Thomas Battell & William Battell, all from Moose Jaw. It appears that William McRoberts came to Maple Creek to oversee the consortium’s interests, while Jeremiah McRoberts went on to own and operate the Royal Hotel at Weyburn. The McRoberts brothers bought out both of the Battell brothers’ interests in the Commercial Hotel by September of 1917. 

Weathering Hard Times

It was during this time that Prohibition started in Saskatchewan. Click here to see blog post. This meant hard times for the hotel business. On June 10, 1919 Sophia Richardson & James Wilson bought the Commercial Hotel. After a struggle to keep the hotel afloat, Wilson lost his interest to the Land Securities Company of Canada Ltd. on March 30, 1921. Nine months later, his partner Sophia bought out his interests from the security company. Unfortunately Sophia Richardson lost the Commercial Hotel to the Bank of Montreal on March 9, 1927. 

The former billiards room/beverage room was converted to house the bank's Maple Creek operations. The beer cooler currently used in the Commercial Hotel beverage room is said to have been the bank vault. The Bank of Montreal moved out of the Commercial Hotel in 1932, although the bank continued to hold the title to the hotel until 1945. This stands to reason, as this period spans the Great Depression and the Second World War years. Matt Fleming operated the Commercial Hotel between 1927 and 1945. It was Fleming who adopted the hotel's motto, "Your Home on the Range," around 1935.

Fire plan c. 1930 shows the hotel with all its original sections. Submitted image.

In the spring of 1940 the original section of the Commercial Hotel was torn down. Maple Creek News editor W. J. Redmond lamented the loss in a May editorial. It appears that by 1940 the original section of the hotel had fallen into disuse. Redmond wrote that “the old original log building, tucked away behind, has been gathering cobwebs and paying taxes to the Town without doing anything to justify its existence.” He stated that although “the accommodation didn’t amount to much, judged by present standards, [it] was O.K. in the days when men wore whiskers and drank their whiskey straight.”

The Commercial Hotel went through several owners between 1945 and the early 1970s. These owners included John “Scotty” MacLaren (1945); Hazen Bonser (1945 to 1947); Frederick, William and Alvin Ehnis (1947 to 1956); and Louis Liepert (1956 to 1973). Sometime during the 1960s additional hotel rooms were built in the original dining room space.

On July 31, 1973, Bent Sorensen bought the Commercial Hotel and embarked on a major renovation project. The dining room on the main floor was reintroduced by removing the hotel rooms that had been built in the space. The hotel’s street appearance was updated, and the rooms on the second floor were “modernized” so that they all had baths. The official opening of the newly renovated Commercial Hotel occurred on January 2, 1976, with Maple Creek’s Mayor Harrigan cutting the ribbon in the presence of a number of dignitaries. 

The modernization of the second floor rooms obliterated virtually all of the circa 1906 and 1911 features from that area of the building. However, the circa 1906 and 1911 doors, baseboards, mouldings, trim and burlap wainscoting on the third floor of the hotel all managed to survive.

After hotel ownership changed a few more times, Sam and Darlene Boychuck bought the Commercial Hotel in 1986. The Boychucks did an admirable job of ensuring that the heritage character of the old hotel remained intact. During the Town of Maple Creek’s Centennial of Incorporation celebrations in 2003, the significance of the Commercial Hotel to the history of the community was officially recognized on one the town’s commemorative centennial coins. The Boychucks have the distinction of being the longest owners of the hotel in its 120 year history. After 20 years, the couple sold the Commercial Hotel to Young Han Shin in 2006. The hotel was then sold to Chung Lee. 

Flood of 2010 and Aftermath

2010 flood; Commercial Hotel at upper right. Source
Lee continued to preserve the heritage features of the building; however he had the misfortune of owning the hotel at the time of the disastrous flood of 2010. The flood caused extensive damage to the lower levels of the hotel, forcing it to close for the first time in its long history. Lee struggled to recoup his losses and reopen the hotel, without success.

At the end of 2012, Lee sold the Commercial Hotel to a group of Filipino investors who had recently immigrated to Canada, settling in Maple Creek. The seven stakeholders – Noy and Marchelle Lim, Jayson and Alneena Catalasan and Agnes, Marcelo and Ronald Del Barrio – formed Licadel Hotel Group Ltd. and made big plans for the hotel. They began a rehabilitation of the century-plus heritage landmark. 

Noy Lim, a classically trained chef, told the Maple Creek News that the restoration of the hotel is a way for them to give back and thank the community for welcoming them as newcomers. “When we
first arrived here in Maple Creek, the town really welcomed us with huge smiles and embraced us,” he said. “So it's not always that you're on the receiving end. You have to give something.”

The hotel had sat vacant for two years after the 2012 flood filled the basement and main floor with water. The Filipino group began by cleaning the entire building, stripping carpet and some walls. They then embarked on a complete upgrade of the hotel in an effort to bring it up to modern standards, while at the same time maintaining the integrity of its history. “We'll try to make it look as much like a Western-Victorian hotel as possible – not fancy, but like you're travelling back in time when you walk into the hotel,” Lim explained.

 For SWTV news story video (December 17, 2012), click here

The Town of Maple Creek designated the Commercial Hotel as a Municipal Heritage Property on February 26, 2013. Since then, the Maple Creek Main Street program and the Saskatchewan Heritage Foundation have assisted the Filipino investors in their efforts to restore the Commercial Hotel. 

Noy Lim and crew reviewing plans, March 2013. Source.
In the spring of 2013, the Maple Creek News reported that labourers were laying bricks along the building's exterior facade. Original bricks removed during repairs to the back of the hotel were reused on the front facade. “It made us quite happy,” said Lim. “The bricks are in quite good condition, so all we have to do is clean up the paint on the bricks to bring out the colour of the bricks again.” The biggest surprise was the discovery by construction workers of windows in the north wall of the bar which had been covered for 30 years. "The windows were the biggest surprise a few months ago," said Lim.

For SWTV news story video (July 6, 2013), click here

Reopened for Business


A rustic, saloon-style bar at the Commercial Hotel opened in the summer of 2013; the hotel itself reopened in December of that that year. In February 2014, the Licadel stakeholders were presented with Maple Creek’s Business of the Year award, as well as the award for excellence in heritage conservation. 



“Your Home on the Range” for more than 130 years, the newly renovated Commercial Hotel now has 14 guest rooms (standard, superior, deluxe, and honeymoon suite), complete with Wi-Fi and continental breakfast. The dining room, which seats 50, features specialty international cuisine prepared by Chef Noy Lim.

Noy Lim with Premier Brad Wall, October 2013. Source

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has said that Lim and his partners in the Commercial Hotel are close friends of the whole province. After the flood of 2010, the Premier noted, everyone was convinced that it was closed for good. Licadel's team of seven, doing a lot of the work with their own hands, brought the hotel back to its former glory. “The Commercial Hotel takes you back to that era,” said Wall. “It’s a special place, a very special place.” 

c. Joan Champ, 2014



  1. . Amazing restoration. A Maple Creek must see

  2. I am truly amazed with the preservation you made for this commercial hotel. It's so nice look back from your good memories with that building. I was inspired by this story, good vibes!

    Gold Coast

  3. How lovely to know the history of the hotel you are staying in. Thank you for this detailed post. It’s great to see that the hotel has been preserved all of these years.
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    1. Thank you for reading my post! I am interested in learning about your stay in the Commercial Hotel, if you are comfortable sharing.

  4. Wow inspiring hotel in Maple Creek. Best of luck to your hotel and business.

  5. What a great write-up. Not only was it a pleasure to read, it also had exactly the information I needed.

    I found your blog while looking for information on the early history of the Commercial Hotel, as I recently purchased a brass token "Good for One Drink" at the Commercial Hotel. It was marked Maple Creek, Northwest Territories, with the initials 'J.H.F'. So now I know they were issued by John H. Fleming, and that he would have issued them to his customers sometime between 1897 and 1905. I wonder if any of the later owners would have honored Fleming's tokens?

    Thanks again for the information. It's always fun to find out the personal stories behind these tokens.

    1. That's so great! Thanks for letting me know. It's always good to find out that my blog has helped others in their research, no matter what the topic.

  6. This was cool to read! John H. Fleming is my great-great-grandfather!

    1. I'm glad you were able to find some of your family history here. Thanks for reading!

  7. Beulah Caswell18 July 2015 at 10:31

    Thank you for this great history. Matt Fleming's wife, Rose May (Gill) was my aunt; and my grandmother, Lilly Gill, worked at the hotel circa 1901-3.

    1. I'm glad you were able to find some of your family history here. Thanks for reading!