FRONTIER CHRONICLES OF THE ARLINGTON HOTEL
By Farley Wuth, Curator,
Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
Copyright, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society
Pincher Creek’s Arlington Hotel was one of four frontier hotels constructed during the community’s early days. The Arlington Hotel was located on the north side of Main Street, nearly midway between the three-storey stone Lebel Store at the Christie Avenue corner and the King Edward Hotel, of similar height, a block further east at the East Avenue corner. These three business structures presented an impressive visual presence in that portion of Pincher Creek’s dusty downtown core, designed to inspire commercial confidence for local pioneers and the travelling public. Across the street was the Alberta Hotel, which pre-dated the Arlington by only a few years. Nearly two blocks to the northeast was the Waldorf Hotel, situated across the Creek on Bridge Avenue. The Arlington Hotel was strategically situated in the centre of a busy community, designed to pick up walk by trade.
The Arlington witnessed more than half a century of continuous service in Pincher Creek. It was constructed in the early 1890s and saw a major addition in 1904. Both its building and expansion were a result of the increasing demand for hotel type accommodations in a ranching and farming settlement that was witnessing rapid expansion between the community’s establishment in 1878 and the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. The Hotel continued in business until it was torn down circa 1950 or 1951. Its demise left for years a physical void in the centre of town filled only by a gravel parking lot.
This business establishment was an impressive structure indeed, eye-catching during its pioneer day operations. Much of it was of brick construction, and therefore earned the nickname of the “Brick Hotel”. Many Alberta brick buildings used those manufactured in Redcliff and Medicine Hat during the thirty-plus year period between 1881 and 1912. However, local bricks prior to 1900 came from a manufacturing site two miles northeast of Pincher Creek also known as the Levasseur farm. Those used for the Hotel’s 1904 add on would have easily been brought in from the Redcliff and Medicine Hat areas via the Crowsnest Line of the CPR as far as Pincher City. A pioneer by the name of Eugene Chamberlain is said to have been the bricklayer who built the Arlington. He also constructed the two-storey Morden House on Adelaide Street, to the north of the creek.
While details of the size of the original structure are scanty, the vast array of improvements afforded by the 1904 expansion indicates the Arlington was at the cutting edge of the early twentieth century hospitality industry. The structure was now two-and-one-half stories in height with a popularly used second floor verandah spanning its full length. The words “Hotel Arlington” proudly blazed across the third level. Its interior was remembered for its variety of rooms and services. On the main floor were the public areas: an improved bar, large, well-appointed dining room, and expansive poolroom. Archival photos depict the former with a massive wooden bar with ornate decorations running the full length of the room. Behind it was a long mirror. A metal ceiling, embossed walls and brass rails made the otherwise long and dark room quite eye-catching. Stuffed wild birds and a steam radiator adorn the back wall. A wood and metal cigar lighter, now an artifact housed at the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village, sat upon a corner of the bar. The lighter was placed in the hanging chrome plated handle. Newly added, geared towards the fairer gender as well as the discriminating consumer of long ago, were a private parlour where special events were hosted, and a sample room where commercial salesmen could exhibit their sales items as they passed through town. A wooden staircase with an intricate banister accessed the upper floors. Nearby were brass jardinières which decorated the outer areas.
On the second and third levels were more than two dozen newly improved rooms. A series of brass tagged keys accessed the rooms. If the patrons accidently walked off with one of these, it could be sent by return mail for only two cents postage. By the 1940s some of these rooms were converted to apartments. Common baths and flush toilets, a real up-to-date novelty back in the days of the frontier, were installed on the upper floors. The entire building was steam heated throughout. Display ads placed in the Pincher Creek Echo during the early 1900s promoted the Arlington as being “first-class and up-to-date in every respect”.
QUALITY PIONEER SERVICE
Services at the Arlington Hotel aimed to be of high quality. Dining room meals were a specialty during the pioneer era, the Christmas Menu from 1908 being a case in point. Adorning a four page, highly colourful festive format, the menu provided a mouth-watering selection of appetizers, main courses and desserts. For their introductory soups, Christmas diners had a choice of Oyster Cocktail, Cream a la Potage or Consommé Windsor. There were two selections of fish: Boiled Columbia Salmon with Anchovy Sauce, or Stuffed Halibut garnished with Slice Lemon. Fresh salads included Egg Salad, Slim Salad a la Mayonaise Sauce, Oranges and Cream, and Salted Almonds. Patrons also had a choice of two boiled meats, Sugar Cured Ham with Champaign Sauce or Boiled Chicken accompanied by Bread Sauce. Ever-favourite roasts included Tenderloin Beef and Yorkshire Pudding, Leg of Mutton and French Caper Sauce, Young Turkey and Cranberry Jelly, and Domestic Goose with Baked Apple Sauce. An assortment of hot vegetables was on the table including Mashed and Boiled Potatoes, Asparagus in Butter Sauce and French Green Peas. Sweets, as desserts were called a century ago, encompassed Apple, Lemon and Hot Mince Pies, English Plum Pudding with Hot Brandy Sauce, German Trifle Pudding, Christmas Cake, Almond Cookies, Finger Cake with Cream Sauce, and Port Wine and Strawberry Jellies. An assortment of fruit, mixed nuts, raisins and cheese rounded out the festive menu selections. In terms of bar service, the hotel’s proprietors proudly proclaimed that “our liquors are unexcelled as we buy direct from the East”.
Equally important was the Hotel’s daily “bus” service between its establishment and Pincher City, where the closest railway station and depot were located. This was considered by the major hotels in town (the King Edward offered similar connections) to be essential business practices in a settlement that did not boast a direct rail link. Particularly popular in an era before mechanized vehicles were the norm, horse-pulled stagecoaches met all incoming and outgoing passenger and freight trains to ensure that a much-coveted transportation connection with the outside world was maintained. This service added to the business viability of the Arlington Hotel as it brought potential guest directly to its front door. A company-operated stable was located immediately to the Hotel’s west.
Because of these services, the Arlington Hotel was well patronized by locals and the travelling public alike. Special events were the norm. The Hotel also was utilized for patriotic gatherings. Pincher Creek boys, for instance, gathered in front of Arlington during the send-off to the South African War of 1899 to 1902. The Hotel also served as a boarding place for many of Pincher Creek’s single men which added to the business’s profitability. Nearly a dozen such fellows, including local photographer Hector Perrier, resided there as of 1905. A similar set of pioneers, including former coalminer Andrew Christie, claimed the Arlington as their residence some five years later.