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By Farley Wuth, Curator,
Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
Copyright, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society

The King Edward Hotel has been a landmark on Pincher Creek’s Main Street for over a century. Its history speaks of the settlement’s frontier heritage. It's loss by fire in 2020 has proven to be devastating to the town's profile.

The Hotel’s location on the north side of Main Street at the East Avenue corner was strategic. To its west were the Arlington Hotel and the impressive Lebel Block. Across the street were the Union Bank and Bank of Commerce buildings. To their east was the two-storey Scott Block. This was a busy portion of Pincher Creek’s dusty downtown core during the pioneer days and the Hotel’s proprietor and builder, Jack Henderson, realized the economic value of the property chosen for the business. It was virtually guaranteed to have a high volume of traffic.

The King Edward was built circa 1904, and 108 years later it continues to be an eye-catching structure. The timing of its construction had two implications, the first being its name. Often it was in vogue on the Western Canadian frontier to name new hotels after the reigning Monarch. This gave the structures a sense of permanence and importance in newly developed regions just developing their heritage. King Edward VII was the King of British Empire from 1901 to 1910; this hotel was built in the midst of his rule.

The second impact of the Hotel’s construction was the economic boom which the Pincher Creek area faced between the launch of the Crowsnest Line of the CPR in 1898 and the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. The area was opened up to new homesteaders, immigrants and business people. The settlement’s population quadrupled to 1200 pioneers by 1911. Business conditions were ripe for another hotel to be established in Pincher Creek and entrepreneur Jack Henderson quickly took advantage of the situation.

The Hotel’s structure was impressive right from the start, and although it saw many interior renovations throughout the years, it has retained its massive rectangular shape throughout its history. The three-storey building faced onto the wooden boardwalk which skirted Main Street. It ran more than fifty yards to the north – the facility’s rear virtually overlooked the meandering Pincher Creek. During the frontier era impressive full width second and third floor verandahs were attached to the front of the building, affording guests to majestically view the streetscape. Its frontage was impressively decorated with banners during many an annual parade or patriotic event.

The interior of the King Edward Hotel also was noteworthy. The building was steam heated throughout, a new innovation designed to keep the building comfortable for its guests. Henderson had a telephone installed in the hotel which had long distance capabilities. This was a service which he offered to his hotel guests, a true novelty during the pre-First World War era. Like the Arlington Hotel down the street, the King Edward also offered a “bus service” between its establishment and the C.P.R. trains travelling in and out of Pincher City. Critical in an era before motorized vehicles were the norm, this horse and stagecoach service provide a transportation connection between the hotel in this non-railway settlement with its nearest station and depot. Early furnishings in the Hotel’s lobby included three copper spittoons and a comfortable leather arm chair, all of which are artifacts housed at the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village.

Sample rooms also were featured. They were regularly used by travelling salesmen to showcase their wares. One particular exhibit of a cultural nature was advertized in the Pincher Creek Echo. It was an art display with photo enlargements, offering Pincher Creek consumers a “choice selection of the most up-to-date mouldings, oval frames and reproductions of old masters”. Sponsored by the Alberta Picture Gallery headquartered in Lethbridge’s Hull Block, it was seen in the King Edward’s sample room in April 1919.

The King Edward developed its own distinctive letterhead for official correspondence, advertizing itself as the northern gateway to Waterton Lakes. This was in keeping with its appearance as Pincher Creek’s commercial-class hotel.

The hotel’s main floor housed the lobby, dining room and bar. Table and bar service was advertized as being unsurpassed. Special menus oft were offered in its dining room, Christmas 1917 being a prime example. Dinner was served from 12:30 to 2:00 p.m. with a price tag of seventy-five cents per customer, a reasonable enough rate for cost-conscious families during the First World War. Appetizers included blue points with sliced lemons, sweet pickles, salted almonds, French mustard and fresh celery. Salads featured fruit salad with pineapple dressing accompanied by cucumber and tomato salad with French dressing. Highlighting the entrees were young turkey with cranberry sauce and domestic goose with apple sauce. Steamed and mashed potatoes and asparagus tips were the vegetables served. Ever-favourite desserts were green apple and hot mince pies, English plum pudding with brown sauce, Christmas cake, jellies topped with whipped cream, seasonal fruit, cluster raisins and mixed nuts. The Christmas Dinner selections were bound to appeal to the most discriminating pioneer palettes.

On the second and third floors of the Hotel were housed the guests’ sleeping quarters. Rooms went for two dollars a day circa 1906.

The original construction of the King Edward was said to be state-of-the-art but by August 1927, extensive renovations were in order. An innovative change was dividing the billiard room from the bar with the former being provided with public access from Main Street. Improvements to the structure’s plumbing system also were installed.

Mr. L. P. De Pratu, who had extensive “experience as a restaurant and dining room proprietor both in Canada and the United States”, took over the dining room’s operation. He also had experience as a cook. Under his tutelage, the Hotel’s dining room reverted to the European system where guests paid for what they ordered. The dining room’s hours were extended to twenty-four hours a day. Qualified service staff was sought to supplement De Pratu’s work, and further improvements offered to the dining public was made the following summer. By 1929, the King Edward offered to cater its dining facilities for banquets and luncheons. The philosophy was to make the facility a community hotel. Special Sunday dinners served at 12 noon and six in the evening had menus serving “turkey, chicken and the various edibles in season”. This service continued for several years into the 1930s. When Arthur Davies took over the Hotel’s management in 1944, the dining room’s hours were extended to serve breakfast starting at 7:30 in the morning.

The King Edward Hotel was well patronized over the years. Guest lists from June 1929 indicated that twenty-five golfers from Blairmore registered at the Hotel one Sunday. Out-of-town visitors that season included regular traffic from Lethbridge and Calgary, as well as from such rural points as Drywood and Carmangay. Points further afield, including Medicine Hat, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Vancouver also were represented as Hotel guests. Many individuals had family connections in the Pincher Creek area. In spite of the patronage, however, the Hotel’s management had concerns about the level of business taxes levied on it from the Town of Pincher Creek. Years earlier, in August 1916, it made a presentation to Council requesting that the levy be lowered. The municipal response was sympathetic, noting that hotel revenues had gone down throughout the community due to competition from local boarding houses and the implementation of prohibition.

The Hotel’s staff saw a number of esteemed pioneers come through its doors over the years. The original proprietor John Henderson served in that position from the establishment’s 1904 construction through the mid-1920s. He was born in May 1867 in Ireland, immigrating to Canada at the age of twenty-two years. Religiously, he was a Presbyterian. His wife Margaret was born in Ontario in August 1854, more than a dozen years before her husband. She was a Methodist. John Henderson’s personal earnings from the Hotel’s operation in 1910 amounted to one-thousand dollars.

The ownership and management of the King Edward Hotel changed in the late autumn of 1926 with its acquisition by the English-born Richard Harris, the longtime Manager and subsequent owner of the Arlington. His bold venture won public accolades in the Pincher Creek Echo. With the two hotels only a few doors apart, Harris found it easy to look after both business operations. However, the joint proprietorship changed shortly. Both businesses came under corporate ownership with the Kuschel Hotel Company, whose primary shareholder was Paul Kuschel. Further developments took place in January 1929 when the Company founder pulled out of the business. Mr. T. Flaherty, who had previous hotel experience in the Strathcona area of Edmonton, was appointed the King Edward’s new Manager. Mr. and Mrs. Flaherty took up residence in the Hotel. Another Manager from this era was Alfred Siple and his family, who also were active in the Baptist Church. In the late 1930s the King Edward was managed by Stan Walker and his wife. They retired to live on the west coast in December 1943, and were succeeded by Mr. Art Davis and his family.

Early employees were numerous. Two were Alice Wates and Mary Gamache, who worked as Domestics at the King Edward in 1910. The former, born in England in 1890, earned 180 dollars in annual wages. Gamache, who was born in Ontario in 1898, saw 240 dollars in yearly earnings. Jack De Meyer (1885 – 1953) served as a valued clerk with the King Edward. De Meyer was born in Nebraska and had come to the Pincher Creek area in 1914. War veteran John Hall (1870 – 1941) also served as a clerk at this establishment after having previously worked in both the Alberta and Arlington Hotels.

The King Edward Hotel continued to be a commercial landmark in Pincher Creek’s downtown core, with a successful pub, the Grill restaurant, and refurbished rooms catering to the Castle Mountain ski crowd, and to construction workers staying in the community on long-term projects. Unfortunately, the King Eddy was completely destroyed in a devastating fire on Feb 14, 2020. The loss of business, as well as the elimination of the historic profile on Main Street was felt immediately to Pincher Creek residents.

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