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Wednesday, 9 October 2019

“A Real Good Citizen” - Emma Brown of Asquith’s Arlington Hotel

The Arlington Hotel, c. 1910. Source

Miss Emma Brown, the owner of the Arlington Hotel in Asquith from 1912 until 1947, was 47 years old when she arrived in Asquith in 1910. She was born in London, England in 1863 and may have spent some time in Colorado before coming to Canada. I wish I knew more about her life before she arrived in Saskatchewan, but I can only tell you some of her story from the last decades of her life. 

Emma the Chambermaid

Leader-Post, Oct. 25, 1911
Emma Brown worked as a chambermaid at the Arlington Hotel before buying the hotel in 1912 and operating it on her own for the next 35 years. In 1911, she survived a terrible explosion at the Arlington, the result of the acetylene tank igniting in the hotel’s basement lighting plant. Two male employees of the hotel went into the basement to fill the lighting plant with fresh carbide. The gas was ignited by a light the men were carrying, and, according to the Regina Morning Leader (October 25, 1911), a terrific explosion "raised the building from its foundations and created havoc in all the rooms on the main floor." The two men were badly burned. Emma Brown had been in the kitchen along with the cook, Mrs. T. Forest. The newspaper recounted that Mrs. Forest was terribly scalded by a pot of boiling coffee which overturned, and "Miss Brown was hurled against the table and sustained a badly sprained leg and other severe bruises."

Emma the Hotel Owner

A year later, Emma Brown became the proprietress of the Arlington Hotel. The three-storey, wood-frame structure had been built by Andrew Lunn in 1906 and doubled in size in 1907, giving it 60 rooms. The Arlington had a laundry, a barroom, a barber shop, and a four-table pool room.

It turns out Emma Brown owned two Arlington Hotels, one in Asquith and one in Saskatoon. The 1921 Canada Census records show her living in Saskatoon as the proprietor of the Arlington Hotel (formerly the Yale Hotel) at 208 Avenue B North. She was living there at the time of the census with her two nephews, Ernest and Leslie Cutts. It may be that Miss Brown bought the hotel in Saskatoon to help her nephews get a start in business.

Star-Phoenix, March 2, 1939
It was unusual for a woman to own a hotel in Saskatchewan, especially a hotel with a bar that women weren’t allowed to enter until 1960. But Emma Brown had a stellar reputation and soon became known throughout the district as a woman of immense kindness. The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix reported that many tributes were paid to her throughout her years in Asquith. On January 28, 1930, young hockey players from Saskatoon gave her a bouquet of roses, thanking her for her kindness during their stay at her hotel. On March 1, 1939, nearly 100 women of Asquith and area held a surprise birthday party for her, presenting her with flowers and gifts. The same newspaper had a story on January 31, 1946 about three travelling salesmen from Toronto sent Emma a Christmas gift in 1945 - "a profusely illustrated book on London" -  remembering how she always left a light on in the lobby during the days when travellers came and went at all hours. 

Miss Brown's birthday party, March 2, 1939. Source: The Asquith Record, 1982.


Annual Charity Events

Every year, Emma Brown hosted fundraisers for various charities at the Arlington Hotel, bearing all expenses for these events herself. In November of 1930, for example, her annual novelty entertainment and dance raised $300 for the Star-Phoenix Relief Fund. The Saskatoon paper reported that the program included "a darkie minstrel show," and that the "flashy bizarre costumes of the 13 musical darkies contributed much to the amusement of the large audience."
Star-Phoenix, Nov. 16, 1929

During the Depression, Emma Brown fed and looked after many homeless men at her hotel. “It was typical of Miss Brown,” the Asquith Record (1982) notes, “that when pressed to notify police of a break-in at her hotel one night, she said, ‘He committed no crime.  He was hungry and he only took what I would have given him gladly had he asked for it.’”  

A Collector of Local History 


Emma Brown also proved herself to be a dedicated local historian. The Star-Phoenix reported that the walls of the Arlington Hotel in Asquith were lined with photographs of young people from the town who had made their names in other parts of the world. They ranged, the newspaper stated, "from a picture of Wilma Wade, who in 1933 was first against 480 competitors at the Saskatoon Livestock Show with her Aberdeen Angus Steer, to one of William Lake, who, in March 1935 at the age of 77, was checkers champion of Saskatchewan." In the lobby of her hotel, Brown displayed pictures of Frank Dotton and Connie King, both of hockey fame. According to the Asquith Record, "Miss Brown took great pride in collecting pictures of our boys who served in the Second World War." Over 300 of her photographs were framed and presented to the Asquith Legion to be displayed in "the Hut."

The Indignity of Prosecution and Conviction

On July 11, 1946, Emma Brown, now 83 years old, was fined $25 or one hour in jail on a charge that she had failed to make an income tax return in 1944. Outraged, Miss Brown refused to pay the fine and spent the hour in jail. During her hearing, according to the Star-Phoenix, she told the magistrate she felt she was being persecuted. She was “an old woman doing her best to keep the hotel running, most of the time without any help. She had kept the hotel open during the depression with the aid of $10,000 she had received from [family in] England. When she had any money available now, she used it to send food to [her family in] that country. … Despite her age she worked 18 to 20 hours a day and she thought she should be left alone to carry on.”
Regina Leader-Post, July 12, 1946

Two days later, a letter appeared in the newspaper expressing contempt for the income tax authorities who ordered the prosecution of Emma Brown. “We could quote many and instance of a man who will always remember Miss Brown for her kindness, and her reward is prosecution and conviction,” wrote Gerald Dealtry of Saskatoon. “If the authorities have a spark of decency left, … they will at once express to Miss Brown their appreciation of her actions as a real good citizen, and apologize for their petty, picayune, and mean action.”

Star-Phoenix, July 13, 1946


This incident may have precipitated Emma Brown’s retirement from the hotel business. In 1947, she sold the Arlington Hotel to Leonard Reichert and moved to Saskatoon where she died on October 10, 1956 at the age of 93. She was survived by many nieces and nephews, including Ernest and Leslie Cutts of Saskatoon. Miss Brown was buried in Saskatoon's Woodlawn Cemetery.

The only photo I have found of Emma Brown, probably taken shortly before her death in Saskatoon in 1956. Source: The Asquith Record, 1982.


The Asquith Hotel Today 

Leonard Reichert worked for months extensively renovating the old hotel, renaming it the Asquith Hotel before reopening it in 1948. It was scaled down to about half its original size and still stands at 615 Main Street in Asquith.

The Asquith Hotel today. Source: The StarPhoenix, October 2, 2018

©Joan Champ, 2019

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Riders Fans Love the Aylesbury Hotel

Riders fans gathering in front of the Aylesbury Hotel, 2019. Photo courtesy of Prairies North Magazine.

“Among northern Saskatchewan Roughriders fans, driving past the Aylesbury Elephant Bar on game day is considered a sin.” So wrote Austin M. Davis in his story about the 90-year-old Aylesbury Hotel in the Regina Leader-Post on May 19, 2017.

Rider Pride was alive and well in Aylesbury during the late 1980s when the hotel owner Nigel McAlpine put up the hotel’s well-known “Rider Priders” highway sign. When Terry and Shannon Scott took over the hotel in 1997, most of the town’s 55 residents would turn out to watch the game in their bar. But it wasn’t until after siblings Lana and Lyle Hodgins took over the Aylesbury Hotel in 2000 that the hotel became an iconic gathering point for Riders fans travelling south on Highway 11 to Regina on game day. Legend has it that what started as an occasional pit stop for one of the fan buses soon became a game-day tradition for vehicles of all descriptions.

Sign on Highway 11 just outside Aylesbury, 2008. Source

Ten times a year, thousands of cars, trucks, vans, and buses packed with Riders fans make their way south down Highway 11 to watch the Saskatchewan Roughriders play football at Regina’s Mosaic Stadium. Part of the game-day travel ritual for many of those fans is a stop at the Elephant Bar and Grill located in Aylesbury’s only business, the hotel.

Inside the Elephant Bar, so named for Lana’s huge collection of elephant figures prominently displayed in the establishment, the green-clad throng order drinks, admire the hundreds of photos lining the walls of Riders fans who have stopped in over the years, and sign a Roughriders flag laid out on the pool table. Many Riders flags adorn the hotel bar’s ceiling.

Photos of Rider fans who have visited the bar cover the walls of the Aylesbury Hotel. Photo by Michael Bell, Regina Leader-Post, May 19, 2017.

The five-month-long football season sustains the Aylesbury Hotel’s bar. “People need to keep in mind that small-town bars like that, particularly a place like Aylesbury where there is no gas station, there is no convenience store, the only reason people stop there is for a beer and some fun at the Elephant Bar,” Rider fan and customer Gillian Lloyd told the Leader-Post on May 19, 2017. “The only time that those guys make really any money is on game days.” People care about the little bar, she pointed out, so they tip generously.

The two-storey, ten-room Aylesbury Hotel was built in 1928 and opened in 1929. The village had another hotel before that, but it had burned down. In 1943, owner E. J. Pallansch applied for a license to sell beer in the hotel. Subsequent owners included Mrs. Morin (1940s), Fred and Zita Meger (1960s) and Al and Christiane Sapieha (1970s). 

Postcard of Aylesbury, no date. Source

When the provincial government allowed live music in beverage rooms in 1979, the Sapiehas renovated the hotel beverage room, increasing the seating capacity to 52 seats from 44, and installing a dance floor with a mirror ball on the ceiling. Al Sapieha noticed a change in their clientele. “Instead of a few people coming in and drinking a lot,” he told the Leader-Post on November 10th, “we have a lot more people drinking less. People don’t drink as much because they’re too busy dancing.”

Star-Phoenix, Feb. 27, 1989
The Aylesbury Hotel is a meeting place for residents of the village. In 1989, after Canada Post closed the community’s post office, hotel owner Nigel McAlpine took over the mail service as a franchise operation. The new post office was in the hotel lobby next to the coffee shop, replacing green metal group mailboxes. “The new service is 200 percent better,” Mayor Henry Watkins said in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix on February 27. “Those old green boxes were rather cold and unfriendly. They never said hello in the morning.”

Today, the Elephant Bar and Grill in the Aylesbury Hotel is still going strong under the co-ownership of Glen Schroeder and Lyle Hodgins. Lyle’s sister, Lana, passed away from cancer in October 2014. Her remains were cremated and Lyle found a perfect receptacle for her ashes – a ceramic elephant cookie jar now on display behind the bar.

Lyle Hodgins holds an elephant figurine containing the remains of his sister Lana at the Aylesbury Hotel. Photo: Michael Bell, Regina Leader-Post, May 19, 2017.
©Joan Champ, 2019