Fire at the Lakeview Garage, in September 1935. (Photo by Syd Wardle via Red Deer Archives)

Fire at the Lakeview Garage, in September 1935. (Photo by Syd Wardle via Red Deer Archives)

Michael Dawe: Sylvan Lake’s Soup a canine hero

This year (2021) marks the centennial of the Sylvan Lake Cemetery. There will be ceremonies to mark the event on Sept. 12. While there will be tours of the cemetery, in person and virtually, there is one marker which is not in the cemetery and, therefore, not included. That is the commemorative plaque to special pet and guardian dog, Soup, at the Lakeview Garage on Lakeshore Drive.

The Lakeview Garage was originally started by Jonas “Joe” Untinen. Joe was originally from Hamlet, Oregon. After a few years working at various jobs in Oregon, Montana, British Columbia and southern Alberta, he decided to move to Sylvan Lake in 1927, where he went into business with his brother Casper in a garage business.

Casper decided to return to farming at Carmangay, Alta. Joe was then joined in partnership in the garage business with his brother-in-law Jack Sunell. That same year (1929), the partners decided to build a new garage building on the site of the old Sylvan Lake Hotel on the southwest corner of Lakeshore Drive and Main Street.

Despite the Great Depression, the business did quite well, particularly in the summer months. It provided fuel and garage services for the large numbers of tourists who used to go to Sylvan Lake during the hot summers’ months of the 1930’s. At other times of year, the firm did mechanical work and sold farm machinery to residents in Sylvan Lake and district.

One very cold winter’s day, a stray dog, nearly frozen and starved, came into the garage. He curled up around the potbellied stove to warm up. After Joe and Jack fed him and made him feel safe and welcome, the dog decided to make the garage his home. He was soon named “Soup.”

Soup never strayed from the garage. He also became very protective of the premises and became a self-appointed guard dog. He also became a very loyal and affectionate pet to Joe and Jack.

On the evening of Sept. 9, 1935, a fire broke out in the adjacent Oriental Gardens, which had served as a local nightspot, dance hall and Elks Hall. The fire quickly spread to the Lakeview Garage.

The blaze was a huge one, perhaps the biggest witnessed at Sylvan Lake up to that point in time. After the bell at Memorial Presbyterian Church was sounded in alarm, the volunteer firefighters were not only kept busy fighting the fire, but many business owners and home owners also had to go up onto their roofs to douse the flaming embers which had landed on their properties

Despite the fire, Soup was very determined to continue to man his post and keep guard. Twice he was pulled out from the building to safety, but twice he went back in. Eventually, he died.

A decision was quickly made to rebuild the Lakeview Garage on the same site. The new building was brick and tile, and cost $10,000, a sizeable sum in the Depression years. However, Joe Untinen and Jack Sunell decided to fold their partnership. Joe decided to continue to operate the new Lakeview Garage. Jack decided to concentrate on farm machinery and later other business ventures, including the Sylvan Lake Hardware and Cozy Corner Café.

Meanwhile, when the new garage was finished, Joe had a brass plaque made in honour of their beloved pet. He hung it on the wall in the office. That plaque said:

“In Memory of Soup. Burnt to Death, September 9, 1935. A Real Dog.”

That plaque remained in the office until the Lakeview Garage was sold to Turbo Resources in 1972. It is unclear if the plaque still exists today.

For more information on the Cemetery centennial ceremonies on the afternoon of Sept. 12, and the guided and virtual tours, visit the Town of Sylvan Lake website.

Red Deer historian Michael Dawe’s column appears Wednesdays.