Sunday, 29 March 2015

The Raymore Hotel

The Raymore Hotel, 1911. Source

On an April day in 1908, Archibald G. MacLean set out on a long walk. MacLean had arrived from
Archie MacLean and family
Prince Edward Island a few years earlier and was working as a clerk in the Govan general store. Ambitious, he wanted more. When he heard that the Grand Trunk Railway line was being built from Melville to Saskatoon, he walked 46 kilometres from Govan to the site chosen by the GTR for the town to be called Raymore. MacLean acquired several lots, and set up business in a tent. By 1908, he had built a general store, and by 1911, he had constructed a three-storey hotel. To finance the hotel, MacLean set up the Raymore Trading Company with two partners, whom he later bought out, becoming the sole owner. MacLean also served as Raymore’s first postmaster, a position he held until 1950 when he retired. [Source: From Prairie Wool to Golden Grain: Raymore and District, 1904-1979.]

The lobby of the Raymore Hotel, 1913. Source: Raymore local history book, 1979.

The Raymore Hotel's bar, 1913. Source: Raymore local history book, 1979.

By 1916, according to the Canada census, William “Bill” Baker, age 55, and his wife Ida, age 48, were the owners of the Raymore Hotel. The Bakers ran the hotel with the help of two Chinese cooks, a waitress and a porter. Dances and fancy dress parades were held in the hotel, presided over by Bill Baker, smoking an ever-present cigar. 

Raymore, c. 1920. Source

When Prohibition hit, the Bakers quit the hotel business, selling the hotel to Mah Yuen and Ping Sam.The Chinese owners ran the hotel throughout the 1920s and into the 1930s. They sold soft drinks and ice cream, and featured the Raymore Moving Picture Show in the hotel every Friday and Saturday nights.

In 1935, the year the provincial government allowed the sale of beer by the glass in hotel bars, Mah Yuen and Ping Sam were unable to obtain a license to open a beer parlour at the Raymore Hotel. Chinese people were excluded because the law required that an applicant for a liquor license had to be a person who was entitled to vote. The Chinese in Saskatchewan did not receive the provincial franchise until 1947.

The Raymore Hotel was taken over by John “Jack” and Vivian “Vi” Morrow, formerly of Yorkton. “Raymore welcomes the new manager at the same time that they regret the departure of the genial Chinese gentlemen who for 16 years have been consistently good citizens of the village,” the newspaper reported.

From Prairie Wool to Golden Grain: Raymore and District, 1904-1979.
Jack was born in North Dakota in 1890, and came to Saskatchewan in 1908. He went overseas during the First World War, and was later hospitalized for three years, suffering from shell shock (now known as post-traumatic stress disorder). In 1925, Jack met Vi in Regina, where she worked as the manageress of the Hotel Saskatchewan coffee shop. They married in 1928. Violet Jane Roe, born in Manitoba, took her first hotel job at age 14, when she became a waitress at the Shaunavon Hotel. Two years later, she was employed by the Hotels Division of Canadian Pacific Railway. Vi worked for ten years at CP hotels in Banff Springs, Lake Louise, Saskatoon, and Regina. After her husband Jack died in 1957, Vi continued to operate the Raymore Hotel with the help of her son, Bob. Prior to her retirement in 1967, Vi was awarded a life membership in the Hotels Association of SK. She was the second woman to have spent 50 years in the hotel business. [Source: From Prairie Wool to Golden Grain: Raymore and District, 1904-1979.]

Shortly after Jack and Vi Morrow arrived in Raymore, they applied for a liquor license for the hotel. A local option vote was required by government liquor regulations, and the town vote was affirmative – by a narrow margin. A beer parlour was incorporated into the Raymore Hotel. Vi was never able to enter, or work in, the beer parlour until the 1960s, when provincial liquor laws finally permitted women to drink in bars – with escorts.

In 1937, a severe hail and wind storm tore the metal roofing off the Raymore Hotel, hurling it across Main Street. Heavy rain soaked the hotel rooms on the third floor, seriously damaging the interior which had recently been redecorated.

With the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, the Morrows faced a new challenge at the Raymore Hotel. So many people left to join the war effort that it became impossible to find employees. Jack became the bartender and Vi became the cook. Their two oldest children, Jack Jr. and Imelda were enlisted to wait on tables, make beds, do the laundry twice a week, and myriad other chores. The youngest Morrow child, Bobby, had to stand on soft drink cases and wash dishes in the hotel kitchen. The family still managed to hold regular Saturday night dances at the hotel throughout the war years. These dances came to an end following the war, when the beer parlour was expanded due to an increase in business.
Raymore in the 1950s. H.D. McPhail photographer. Source

In 1956, fire broke out in the Raymore Hotel. Fourteen guests in the 33-room hotel had to be evacuated when flames were discovered at 9:00 in the morning. Some guests lost their belongings, but fortunately no one was injured. The Raymore Volunteer Fire Department managed to extinguish the blaze, but the third floor of the hotel had to be removed from the building as a result of the fire.

The Raymore Hotel in 2014. Joan Champ photo.
Raymore Hotel in 2012. Google Street View.

© Joan Champ, 2015

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