The current COVID pandemic has had a very severe impact on a great many businesses, particularly small businesses and ones that are locally owned. One sector which has been hit hard is the local hotel sector. For example, the Black Knight Inn, a reputable locally owned hotel, closed last spring.
While very unfortunate, it is not hard to understand why this has been happening. Red Deer’s hotel industry has long benefited from Red Deer’s status as a convention and meeting hub. With almost all conventions and meetings cancelled, or converted to on-line sessions, that business has been very hard hit. Moreover, few people are travelling these days. Hence the demand for over-night rooms has plummeted.
Unfortunately, local hotels were also hard hit in Red Deer a little more than 100 years ago during the First World War.
For the first few years of the community’s existence, hotels in Red Deer flourished. New settlers were flooding into the area and needed a place to stay while looking for new homes. Moreover, as the frontier developed, people were very mobile, with many frequently travelling from place to place and in need of a place to stay.
The first hotel in the hamlet of Red Deer was the Queen’s, built in the spring of 1891. The following year, the two-storey Alberta Hotel was constructed on the southeast corner of Ross Street and Holt (51) Avenue.
Over the next few years, several other hotels were constructed and additions made to the existing ones. In 1899, the Queen’s was demolished and replaced with the much larger Arlington Hotel. That same year, Stephen Wilson built Nelson’s Hall on Holt (51) Avenue and Mann (49) Street. However, this was soon converted into a hotel and renamed first the Royal and then the Windsor Hotel.
Meanwhile, in 1899, Fred Krause built the Alexandra Hotel, on Ross Street. This was the first hotel built outside the cluster on the east and south sides of the C.P.R. station where most travellers to Red Deer arrived.
The boom collapsed in 1914 with the outbreak for the First World War. At first, the hotels did not too badly with all of the movement of people as part of the mobilization for the war effort.
A huge blow came in 1915, when Alberta decided to impose prohibition on the sale and consumption of alcohol. While the new laws were put into place over the course of a year, hotels, which were heavily dependent upon their bars for income, quickly felt the squeeze. Banks refused to extend credit with such poor financial prospects. The hotels became virtually worthless as no one was willing to invest into such businesses.
Consequently, in Red Deer, the Alexandra Hotel went out of business just after Christmas 1915. Then, the Windsor Hotel went bankrupt. The Arlington closed for a while as the managers struggled to break their lease with the owners.
By July 1916, only the Alberta Hotel was still open. That was accomplished largely by renting out most of its rooms to lodgers (boarders). However, with only 15 rooms still available for overnight guests, availability became a problem. The situation was particularly difficult for travelling salespeople.
It took many years for the hotels to recover. As the war came to an end, central Alberta was hit first with the Spanish flu pandemic and then a severe economic depression.
The Arlington was the first to reopen, with the owners resuming management. The Great West Hotel permanently closed. Much of the Alberta was demolished in the 1920s as the extra space was not needed anymore. Eventually, the hotel was rebuilt as the Buffalo in 1939.
The Windsor opened and closed for a while as it sputtered towards viability. It was not until 1923 when Ed Wadson, an experienced hotelier, bought the business that stability was restored.
The Alexandra remained fully closed until 1924 when W.L. McBride bought it and renamed it the McBride Hotel. In 1926, Henry Busby bought the hotel and renamed it the Auditorium. Much later it became the Park Hotel.
It was not until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, that Red Deer’s hotels began to truly flourish again with the influx of military personnel.
Red Deer historian Michael Dawe’s column appears Wednesdays.