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Inn-side British Columbia by Automobile, 1961



    Published in about 1961, this heavily-illustrated 51-page book, written by noted BC historian Bruce Ramsey (1924-2011) and Province newspaper columnist Ormond Turner, was co-sponsored by the Standard Oil Company of British Columbia and the British Columbia Hotels Association.

    The book's purpose was stated to be to celebrate what travellers to BC had found over the past 100 years - "that the history of the province is a history of hospitality." It does that by looking at some of the roadhouses, inns, and hotels of the early years, as well as a glimpse at some modern hotels and service stations. The cover image, seen to the right, shows the Clinton Hotel (which opened in 1861 as Clinton House, and burned in 1958), and the Bayshore Inn, one of Vancouver's finest hotels since it opened in 1961.

    The story opens on a hot July day in 1958, BC's Centennial year, when Hank Rudowski reined in the six-horse team pulling his Barnard's Express coach to a stop in front of the Clinton Hotel. That night, the historic hotel, the oldest one in the province, burned to the ground. The Standard Oil Company of British Columbia bought the property, built a service station, and commissioned H.G. Shaler to build a model - an exact replica - of the Clinton Hotel. That and the subsequent search to find the new oldest-hotel appear to have been the prompts to have the book written.

    The introduction (the opening page of which is seen below and to the right) provides a sample of some of the colourful stories that follow:

    ...at Granite City, which, in 1885 was the third largest town in B.C., a local judge brought his court to order in a hotel lobby. As the evidence unfolded, the court felt the pangs of thirst. The judge ordered drinks all round and while all toasted the mercy of the court - the prisoner escaped.
    And then there was the story of Eli Carpenter, up in the Slocan country, who strung a rope between two hotels in Sandon and did a tight-rope walk to raise capital for his prospecting.
    And the fight which broke out in an inn in the Cariboo over a card game. A man who held one too many aces in his hand was shot, and later, the coroner's jury ruled the poor fellow had died falling over a cliff.
    It was a wild and woolly country.

    BC's fur-trading forts had limited and sparse accommodations, and there were a couple of inns in the Crown Colony of Vancouver Island as far back as 1856. It was the discovery of gold at Hill's Bar near Fort Yale, however, on March 23, 1858, that made the region explode with activity.

    "With the birth of the gold mining industry in B.C. was born the hotel and catering industries."

    The early gold-rush hotels were noted to consist of "a bar downstairs and a loft upstairs where men slept dormitory style." What passed for whiskey in those bars was termed by some as "a villainous compound." Some aspects of "hospitality" apparently needed to be worked on!

    Within a few months, the Fraser River was being worked from Fargo's Bar near what is now Chilliwack, up to Lytton City and Pavilion. The canyons of the Fraser and Thompson were extremely dangerous, and other routes to the interior started to be used. On the trail up Harrison Lake, Port Douglas had 5 hotels between 1858 and 1864. The largest, the Douglas, had a dining room 66 feet long, and accommodations for 100. In the book "Four Years in British Columbia and Vancouver Island," published in 1862, the author notes that simple places offering meals and a roof to sleep under were called "restaurants."

    By 1860, the gold miners had reached the Quesnel River, and hotels sprang up overnight in places like Quesnelle Forks.

    Through the doors of the inns and saloons of Quesnelle Forks passed the great, the near great and the scoundrels of the Cariboo.
    There was "Dutch Bill" Dietz, discoverer of Williams Creek, "the richest stream in the world," Bill Barker, who proved its wealth, and John A. "Cariboo" Cameron, whose horde of gold brought him no happiness; John Rose, on Antler Creek, "Doc" Keithley of Keithley Creek, Bill Cunningham of Lightning Creek, Richard Willoughby of the Lowhee and thousands of others.

    The book abounds in short stories set within the main body. These are mostly stories about particularly notable events and people, like the Chinese woman whose husband kept her in a virtual prison behind his hotel in Quesnelle Forks. She eventually escaped, but her body was later found along a trail. And the first tourists, whose reviews of their accommodations along the roads and trails of BC in 1863 were often not positive.

    Scores of pioneer hotels and their owners are mentioned throughout the book. Often, those mentions are tied to the development of a community.

    Through the Cariboo, many stopping-places were named for their mileage from Lillooet. Clinton was originally 47 Mile; 70 Mile was founded by the Boyd family; 73 Mile, also known as Loch Lomond, was founded by a former Royal Engineer; 83 Mile was started by Albert Chrysler; the first settlers at 93 Mile were the Walter brothers; 100 Mile House is now the largest of the towns named for its mileage from Lillooet. The 111 Mile was unique in advertising bedrooms for families in 1865; 127 Mile became known as "the Blue Tent"; and 141 Mile, which had an "experienced cook", was operated by Dennis Murphy, whose family would later include leading members of BC's legal community.

    Hotel owners sometimes were able to change the route of a major road in the early days. When the contractor building the Cariboo Wagon Road got into financial difficulties and was turned down for a loan by the owner of a ranch at Williams Lake, the owner of what would become the 150 Mile gave the loan on the condition that the road go by his place and avoid Williams Lake. This detour was eventually bypassed and the road returned to the original, more logical route.

    At the end of the Cariboo Wagon Road was Barkerville, "the biggest, bustlingest town north of San Francisco and west of Chicago." Hotels such as the Hotel de France and the Occidental were elegant affairs that astonished many. A fire levelled Barkerville in 1868, but was quickly rebuilt. Today, people can see what some of the rebuilt town looked like at the Barkerville Historic Town & Park, which includes the Nicol Hotel.

    When the Cariboo gold fields played out, there was still lots of country to explore:

    Miners... continued north into the vast Cassiar and Omenica districts and then into the Peace River country. Hotelmen followed and towns like Dease Lake, Laketon, Porter Landing, Manson Creek, and Germansen Creek blossomed forth in a frenzy, only to die a few years later - swallowed by nature and leaving hardly a trace.
    To the southeast, the Big Bend country of the Columbia north of present-day Revelstoke attracted attention and the towns of French Creek, Seymour City, sometimes called Ogden City, then LaPorte, Kirbeyville and Wilson's Landing grew with no hope of a future.

    As I write this 55 years after the book was published, even the reports on the hotels then in operation are interesting from a historical perspective:

    Modern hotels, with all the conveniences of the city now dot the Cariboo Road: the CANYON at Yale; "Cog" Harrington's CHARLES at Boston Bar; the LYTTON, the OASIS at Cache Creek; The CARIB00 at Clinton; the EXETER ARMS at 100-Mile; the LOG CABIN, LAKESIDE and MAPLE LEAF in Williams Lake; the CARIBOO, the QUESNEL and the GOLD FIELD at Quesnel, and at Wells, a handful of miles from Barkerville, the JACK OF CLUBS and the WELLS.

    From the Cariboo, the story heads south again, stopping at Yale to briefly tell the story of railway construction boom between 1880 and 1885. Much more of that story can be read in A History of BC's Fraser Canyon, 1808-1966.

    One of the gold rushes that many people have never heard about is the 1885 one to the Tulameen River District. Granite City was founded and was soon the third-largest community in BC. Among its 13 hotels were the Driad, the Stanley, the Cariboo House, the Adelphi, the Miners' Rest. Granite City only lasted a year, though, and soon "...[a house] costing $1,500 was sold for $15 and cut into firewood."

    While everything about the gold rushes was transitory, the railways built to last. The Glacier House, seen to the right, was built about 2½ miles from the summit of Roger's Pass by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in 1886.

    In gold rush towns, hotels were among the first arrivals. In other communities, their arrival wasn't always welcomed. A newspaper report from Salmon Arm in 1894 said that: "there are rumors of a hotel being up here next summer. Mr. J. D. Cameron is around the valley with Mr. Tobin getting signatures for a licence. We sincerely hope that the people of this valley will look into this matter before it goes any further for the reason that the people here have no money to spend on liquor." The next year, though, the Cameron House was built. It was the only hotel in Salmon Arm until the Montebello was built in 1908, soon followed by the Hotel Alexandra, which started life as the Vienna Restaurant, becoming a hotel after an expansion.

    With the completion of the CPR in 1885, development of the Okanagan Valley began to speed up. That year, E. M. Furstineau built the first hotel, the Landsdowne, near what would become Armstrong. New towns were founded all down the valley: Priest's Valley (now Kelowna); Centreville (now Vernon); Lambly's Landing (now Enderby); Okanagan Mission, Penticton, Summerland, Peachland, Naramata and Okanagan Falls, and others. Hotels, many of which are mentioned in the book, were part of most of those communities:

    The hotels which grew as a result of this new surge had an aesthetic air to them which was shown in the fancy curleycued trimmings, the full length verandas and ornate, interior balistrades.
    The hotel became the community centre, information bureau, sometimes the post office, and, at all times, a place for relaxation away from the drudgery of homesteading and a haven of rest for the traveller.

    As lovely as they may have been to look at, the early wooden hotels were often described as fire-traps. The Okanagan Hotel which was built in Vernon in 1890 burned in 1909 with the loss of 11 lives. The Penticton Hotel, built on the lakeshore in Penticton in 1892, burned in 1928, but with no loss of life. Many other hotels were lost to fire, but fatalties were fairly uncommon.

    To combat the fire risk, the 4-story Hotel Kaleden, designed as one of the leading buildings in the interior of BC, was built of concrete in 1910-11. It was one of the first hotels to have electric light, running water, private sleeping porches, and exclusive dining rooms. World War I financially ruined it, and the hotel was only open for about 5 years. The empty concrete shell still stands, in what is now Kaleden Hotel Regional Park.

    To the west along the Similkameen River, the former mining town of Hedley was established in 1900. It had many hotels in its prime, but by the time this book was written in 1961, they were all gone, most destroyed by fire. In 2012, a small new hotel was built.

    Further to the west, Princeton's bad month for hotel fires was March. The first Tulameen Hotel burned on March 2, 1904. The Wallace House, built in 1899, burned on March 12, 1911. In March 1912, the Great Northern went up in flames.

    Now we head east into the West Kootenays, which began its rise to international fame as a mining area in the late 1880s. Today, ghost towns are everywhere in the hills, but many communities from those days remain, though most are much quieter. By 1899, Nelson had 23 hotels (each with a bar), 6 saloons, and 4 liquor wholesalers. Its first hotel was a circus tent erected in 1889 by John F. Ward. When the Royal Hotel was built in 1896, it boasted electric lights, hot and cold running water, and electric call bells. When the Phair Hotel was bought by the CPR, it was renamed the Strathcona after the railway president, and soon became home to all the best social events. After surviving 2 fires and a murder, the Strathcona burned on May 27, 1955, with the loss of 6 lives.

    A vast network of lakes served by sternwheelers resulted in some unique hotels being built. Among them was the Kootenay Lake Hotel, built at Balfour by the CPR. An article by Greg Nesteroff in the Nelson Star in 2012 describes it: "Erected on a bench overlooking the town, the Tudor and chateau-style hotel opened in 1911 and boasted 50 rooms, stone fireplaces, a large rotunda, and a steam-winched cable car that brought guests up from the sternwheeler landing (the alternative was several flights of stairs)."

    In 1892 and '93, hotels sprung up like mushrooms in Kaslo - the Grand Central Hotel, Ottawa House, the Palace Hotel, Leland House, the Dardanelles Hotel, The Bayview Hotel, the Slocan Hotel (which claimed to be the largest in 1893), and others. In February 1894, a fire destroyed the lower part of Front Street, including the Grand Central Hotel. A few months later, spring floods wrecked the Great Northern and Bayview Hotels, and about 80 homes.

    The town has all but disappeared now, but Sandon, founded in 1892, once had 24 hotels, 23 saloons, and an opera house (the article I linked to put the numbers even higher). In 1961, the Commercial Hotel, built after a fire that destroyed most of the town on May 4, 1900, was the only commercial building left in Sandon.

    The book notes the Newmarket Hotel in New Denver, built about 1893, as carrying on the tradition of maintaining an exhibit of local ores in the lobby. While in 1961 it was "the last of a proud company of hostelries which welcomed the miners in from the hills", it was destroyed by fire in 1974.

    Slocan City, at the southern end of the lake of the same name, had a long list of hotels, but the Arlington Hotel was the most famous and the last to stand - it was demolished in 1952.

    The first hotel in Rossland, the Clifton House, was built in 1894. About 40 hotels would be built within a few years, the grandest being the Allen, built in 1895 by Mrs. Margaret Ellen Allen: "Here was gracious living, gentleness amid the rough, and champagne dinners which are still fondly remembered by pioneers."

    In 1890, gold/copper ore was discovered on the face of Red Mountain by Joe Moris and Joe Bourgeois. Soon after, Colonel E. S. Topping staked out 320 acres at the mouth of Trail Creek on the Columbia River, built the Trail House, and laid out the townsite for what would become the city of Trail. An 1894 advertisement for the Trail House stated that "One of the proprietors will drink and the other will smoke with every guest. No extra charge for sociability. Terms: $2.00 a day."

    Now the book heads far east to the coal town of Fernie, whose hotels and other buildings were destroyed by a forest fire in 1908. South of Fernie were the towns of Morrissey, founded in 1902, and Morrissey Mines, founded a year later. At "the Mines", "a man called Hansen built a 3-storey hotel with an oak bar that cost $1,000. The hotel never opened..." and was used as a stable in the 1930s.

    Heading west again, The Wardner Hotel in the town of the same name is best remembered for having live trout in a trough in the beer parlour.

    To the north, the first hotel at Fort Steele, the Steel House, was built in 1894. It was soon followed by the Mountain House ("which was good enough for most anybody"), the Dalgardno Hotel (later renamed the Windsor), the Central Hotel, the Imperial Hotel, and the Strathcona. Then the Crows Nest Pass railway bypassed Fort Steele on its way to Cranbrook, and by 1902 the town was dying. Just after "Inn-side British Columbia by Automobile" was published, Fort Steele Heritage Town was opened, preserving many of the buildings, including the Windsor Hotel.

    The railway created a book in Cranbrook, resulting in the construction of many hotels, starting with the Queen's Hotel. It was followed by the Byng, the Commercial (later renamed the Manitoba), the Cross Keys, the Cosmopolitan, and many others. The Wentworth Hotel was moved to Cranbrook from Donald. The authors seem to be quite taken with the Cranbrook area:

    The visitor to Cranbrook, enroute to the spas of Banff and Jasper, is entering upon a land of pure delight and interesting hotels, such as those at Canal Flat, indermere, Athelmer, Invermere and Radium Hot Springs. The modern traveller will find this portion of British Columbia, though rugged and impressive with natural beauty, a modern, comfortable place to visit.

    Grand Forks boomed with mining and then stabilized with agriculture, and many hotels were built. A July 1908 fire destroyed many of the hotels, including the Union, the Yale, the Victoria, the Windsor, the newly-built Grand Forks Hotel, the Square, the Province, and the Granby. Across the river in Columbia (now West Grand Forks), a fire that started in the Escalantes Hotel in 1900 had threatened to wipe out the entire town.

    Another smelter town in Boundary country is Greenwood, which once had about 26 hotels. A downturn in the copper market in 1918 forced the closure of the BC Copper Company smelter, and Greenwood now advertises itself as Canada's Smallest City, but the many remaining historic buildings make it a wonderful place to visit.

    All of a sudden, the book moves to BC's furthest-northwest corner:

    The wonderful year of 1898 was the exciting one for the Klondyke with gold bullion shipments being shipped to the outside world almost daily.
    That year, the disease called "gold fever" spread south into British Columbia and a city of tents sprang up at Atlin. Until crude sawmills were built, few permanent buildings were in evidence.
    By 1900 the hotels of Atlin were doing a roaring business: William Curve built the O.K. HOTEL, and Foley, West & Co. had the B.C. HOTEL & RESTAURANT; Howe and Olsen were holding forth in the INTERNATIONAL, and the HOTEL VANCOUVER in Atlin was a favorite, with Johnston & Kierstad in command.
    Skith and Creed were operating the METROPOLE and A. R. McDonald had the CLARENCE. Later came the Dixon brothers' RUSSELL HOTEL, David Hastie's GRAND, the LELAND run by E. P. Queen, C. Roselli's ROYAL HOTEL, and the WHITE PASS, run by the White Pass and Yukon Railway.
    Six miles away was Discovery, now a ghost town, but, in 1903, as lively as Atlin. Here James G. Cornwall operated the NUGGET; Andrew Galarno, the B.C. HOTEL, and Alex R. McDonald ran the IRVING. Napoleon Sabin operated the GOLD PAN and Edward Sands the PINE TREE.

    Now we head south again, to Prince George. Originally the site of a fur trading post that had been built in 1807, the city was born along the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway line "in a struggle between rival township promoters at South Fort George and Central Fort George." Among the early hotels in South Fort George was the Northern, built in 1910:

    F. E. Runnals, the Prince George historian, says it 'had a ninety-foot bar and a staff of twenty-four bartenders who worked twelve on a shift. Hundreds of men crowded in to be served and frequently stood five or six deep behind the bar. As much as $7,000 was taken in in one day, and it is said that the average throughout the season was $2,000 a day. The soft-wood floor was soon worn out by the hob-nailed boots of construction men and had to be renewed frequently.'
    'Behind the barroom was the snake room for victims of the D.T.'s Many young men who arrived with their pockets full of money and high hopes of visiting their homes back East would wake up to find their stakes spent.'

    Unlike its wild neighbour, Central Fort George was determined to be "a decent and healthful community", but within 2 years it had its first liquor licence, in the Fort George Hotel. The railway out-smarted the investors in both South Fort George and Central Fort George by buying the Indian reserve near the fur trading post, and laying out the townsite of Prince George there. The Alexandra Hotel was the first hotel in the new town, built by J. H. Johnson, whose Fort George Hotel had burned.

    Making an incorrect guess at the route the railway would take west of Prince George could be expensive. A. G. "Sandy" Annan built the Glenannan Hotel at the east end of Francois Lake, but when the railway went via Burns Lake instead, he built another hotel of the same name at Endako.

    At Hazelton, the head of navigation on the Skeena River, Thomas Olsen guessed correctly, and built the Hazleton Hotel long before the railway arrived. It was followed by the Ingenika Hotel, the Omineca Hotel, the Slinger Hotel, and others.

    In Burns Lake, the first hotel was the Cheslatta, built in 1917. It was renamed the Omineca in 1921.

    Continuing west to the fishing town of Port Simpson, the Northern Hotel was built on the dock so fishermen could tie their dories up on 3 sides. The very busy bar did not allow women. At nearby Port Essington there were 3 hotels - the Essington, the Queen's, and the Caledonia which had a 40-foot-long bar.

    Within a year of lots going on sale at the new townsite of Prince, the terminus of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, nearly a dozen hotels were built. The railway built their own hotel, the Prince Rupert Inn, but had plenty of competition from the Cariboo, the Dominion, the Europe, the Outlet and several others. As of 1961, many of the early hotels were still standing.

    Now the book zooms down to the province's first capital, New Westminster. The Colonial Hotel was built there in 1860, and advertised itself as "the only first-class hotel on the mainland." By 1862 there were 7 hotels and boarding houses, with the Columbia Hotel having rooms for 100 people. On September 10, 1898, the Columbia was the first hotel to go in a fire that destroyed the city's waterfront and business district. Only 2 hotels survived - the Telegraph and the Cleveland. Within 2 weeks, though, at least half a dozen had been rebuilt.

    In 1865, a road was pushed through the bush from New Westminster to Burrard Inlet, and the Brighton Hotel became the first hotel in what would become Vancouver. "Gassy Jack" Deighton's hotel in what is now the Gastown historic district, however, "was the cornerstone around which the city of Vancouver grew." By 1891, 5 years after the city was incorporated and then a disastrous fire wiped out much of it, there were 58 hotels in Vancouver.

    For decades, the Hotel Vancouver in its various forms was the showplace hotel of the city. A four-storey gabled structure was first built in 1888, then 5 years later the eastern wing was torn down and a much larger building constructed. A new hotel was planned in 1909, and was designed by noted BC architect Francis Rattenbury. It was never built, though. Not until 1916 did a new Hotel Vancouver designed by New York architect Francis Swales open.

    For the next two decades the "old" Hotel Vancouver ruled supreme. Its Spanish Grill, its elegance and solid comfort, won world-wide renown, and it was with a feeling of sadness that Vancouver saw the old hotel close down in favor of the new hotel, jointly operated by the CNR and CPR and opened on May 25, 1939, in time to welcome Their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.
    The old hotel saw war-time service as a military barracks and as a returned veterans' hostel. Finally, in 1949, the wreckers' hammers reduced the once proud building to dust and the site became a parking lot.

    Now the book heads to Victoria, where the first hotel was built in 1854 by C. A. Bayley. He somehow built the hotel on the street right-of-way, but the engineers, rather than disturb what was the finest building in Victoria, shifted the street alignment. The book says that the jog in Yates Street still exists, but I think it's actually Pandora Avenue. Better hotels were built, and Bayley's Hotel became a meat market and then a saloon before closing.

    The list of Victoria hotels is long, and some have very interesting stories attached. Among them is this one about the Roccabella, built in 1884 by Henri Jorand:

    It is said that at one time a prospective visitor wrote to the ROCCABELLA in disbelief, wondering whether it was true that the place had no furnace and no bathroom facilities. Back wrote the manager:
    "It is true that Roccabella has no furnace, only a large stove in the lobby and the bedrooms have fireplaces. It is true there is only one bathroom on each floor and guests are supplied with wash stands, basins and ewers. It is also true that Roccabella is completely booked up to the end of the year."
    And that was that!

    With the completion of the Empress Hotel (now the Fairmont Empress) on the Inner Harbour in 1908 after 4 years of construction, the fashionable trade moved from hotels such as the Victoria and the Driard.

    Up-island from Victoria, the Tzouhalem Hotel, named after "a fierce Cowichan Indian chief", was built at Duncan in 1887, joining the Alderlea and Quamichan. At nearby Shawnigan Lake, the Shawnigan Hotel opened on May 13, 1900, and in 1906, the CPR built Strathcona Lodge, now a girls' school.

    From Duncan an Indian trail led north to Nanaimo, center of the Dunsmuir family's coal empire. Several elegant hotels were built in the area.

    On the road between Ladysmith and Cedar sits the Wheatsheaf Pub, originally built as the Wheat Sheaf Hotel in 1862. The original building was replaced in 1926, but the pub has the distinction of being the oldest inn in BC to be operating under its original liquor license.

    The book's tour of BC ends in the Parksville area, where the Arlington Hotel and the Rod & Gun Hotel are noted, and Campbell River, home of luxurious Qualicum Beach hotels.

    The final page returns to Nanaimo to find the oldest hotel in the province. After mentioning several old hotels there, it is decided that the Patricia Hotel, originally opened in 1880 as the Dew Drop Hotel, was the oldest hotel still standing in BC.




    If you'd like to read and see much more, a high-resolution pdf (118 MB) of the entire book can be viewed and/or downloaded at our Dropbox page.