Southern Alberta loses historic hotel to fire

PINCHER CREEK, Alta. — Crumbled brick and soot-stained bedsprings are all that remains of a once-proud hotel that was older than the province in which it stood.

The King Edward Hotel on Main Street of Pincher Creek, in Alberta’s southwest region burned to the ground Feb. 15, ending its 116-year history as one of the town’s landmarks.

Firefighters responded to reports of a fire in the early morning hours. The smoke billowing from the rear of the building was soon joined by open flames and by 10 a.m. it was apparent the King Edward could not be saved.

The fire department protected all adjacent buildings, some of which suffered smoke and water damage.

“It was close to being one of the oldest buildings in town. There are others that are older, but it’s one of the old pioneer-type buildings that has been refurbished to its former original glory,” said Farley Wuth, historian with the Pincher Creek and District Historical Society.

“It’s just a tragic loss because it was a historical landmark in Pincher Creek. It was a thriving business downtown. It had a wonderful restaurant and was very active in downtown stuff and its loss will be sorely felt for many, many years.”

The King Edward, named after the reigning monarch at the time of its opening, was one of four hotels built after Pincher Creek started developing in the 1880s at a time of growth in the region. With its loss, only one of those original hotels still stands, the Alberta Hotel located across the street from what is now a debris-strewn lot.

Farley Wuth, curator at the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village museum in Pincher Creek, Alta., touches an antique mirror that once graced the walls of the King Edward Hotel.
The mirror is part of the museum collection. | Barb Glen photo

“The interesting thing about the King Edward Hotel is that it represented the optimism and the boosterism of the farming and immigration time period in our history, which is from 1898 to 1914,” said Wuth. “It was a time of great economic expansion in Pincher Creek’s history.”

One of its advantages was a “taxi service” from the hotel doors to Pincher Station, after the Crownest branch of the Canadian Pacific Rail line was built between Lethbridge and Nelson, B.C. Horse-drawn carriages and wagons filled the taxi role.

Pincher Creek’s settlement dates back to about 1878 and by 1898, it had a population of about 300.

“Then Pincher Creek became the social and economic centre of the ranching industry, started by North West Mounted Police horse ranch here,” said Wuth.

With the rail line came a boom in the region as new settlers and immigrants arrived.

That was the era in which the King Edward was built, first owned by local resident Jack Henderson.

“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,” reads a history of the King Edward written by Wuth.

“The three-storey building faced onto the wooden boardwalk which skirted Main Street. It ran more than 50 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.”

Current owner David McQuaig had restored much of the hotel’s former visage through extensive renovations in recent years. As it had since its opening, the King Edward, better known locally as the King Eddy, featured a saloon, restaurant and guest rooms. McQuaig had recently converted some rooms on the upper floor to apartments that were permanent homes to several town residents.

The King Edward Hotel was one of four hotels built in Pincher Creek in the 1880s at a time of growth in the region. | Pincher Creek and District Historical Society photo

McQuaig was unavailable for comment at time of writing, but in a social media post he thanked emergency personnel, his staff and those who have since offered condolences and support. He also thanked the hotel guests, all of whom escaped safely.

“This could have easily been a huge disaster that took out the whole block of adjacent buildings. (Deputy fire chief Pat Neumann) and his team worked extremely hard to offensively fight this fire, while preparing for the inevitable defensive position they eventually had to take,” McQuaig wrote.

“You don’t really remember what a great little town we live in until disaster strikes and many hands are there to lift you up.”

Cause of the fire is still under investigation.

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