Sure, these two “first class” establishments, the Seymour and the New National in Hanna Alberta, are called hotels but for the last few decades they mostly catered to the drinking crowd. You know, bums, rub-a-dubs and winos. After all, it’s booze where the money is at, although the rooms above may have at times been rented out to various down on their luck people, but certainly NOT tourists or travellers. It’s been a long, long time since these buildings were hotels in the traditional sense.
Once nice places to stay they are located in the centre of a once vibrant but now quiet down town. While we explored the two buildings, we saw few cars and even fewer people.
Hanna was founded in 1912/1913 with the coming of the railway (Canadian Northern Railway, later folded into he CNR – this line is now closed) and both these hotels date from this era. Large and modern for the time, these substantial wood framed structures remained open for nearly a century. Not a bad run I guess.
The first hotel we’ll look at it the Seymour. It’s a fairly plain building, although I am sure if one were to peel away the paint (muck of it peeling) and siding and grime there would something special underneath. It sits right in the corner of Railway Avenue (every small town had an avenue so named) and Centre Street, aka McCrea Drive – both names are used.
This town’s former railway station used to sit across the road, putting this hotel in an envious position. It was the first one seen by those coming off the trains, and this no doubt brought it lots of business. In the early years the town boomed, and more than likely so did the Seymour Hotel and its rivals.
As the years passed the world changed but this hotel didn’t. Not by much anyway. Sure it’s got some new paint now and then but otherwise it stayed the same as it always was. Once fashionable it became simply old fashioned, a dive hotel in a forgotten corner of town. This change was not something that happened overnight and in fact it probably took many decades.
Like all these old hotels, the Seymour had a tavern, or beer parlour as they were often called, likely its main source of income. Once catering to the working man, later it was winos and the like who frequented the establishment. Near the end the rooms were often long term accommodation for those who would be otherwise homeless – the old, the forgotten, the mentally ill, alcoholics and the destitute.
Years of neglect take their toll and over time these building fall into disrepair. Soon they become uninhabitable and then close, too costly to update or repair. This is the fate of many old hotels in small prairie towns. One by one their ranks thin.
It’s not clear when the Seymour closed, but given the pictures this author has seen online, it appears to have happened a few years ago. In that time it has sat boarded up and forgotten, its fate uncertain. There is talk of it being demolished, but it’s only talk so far. Let’s hope there is a better plan than that. It is too big a part of Hanna’s history and should be saved if possible.
We scared a feral cat while exploring the Seymour and it ran away at in incredible speed. Turbo-kitty!
The other hotel in this report is the New National, a few blocks away from the Seymour. Like its rival it has also been around for a century or so and has been closed for a few years. Based upon news clippings found while researching this article, this establishment was more upscale than the Seymour, and in fact it was hailed as the “finest”, a bold statement. It was very modern for its day. The building was missing many of its signs.
Over the years the New National changed, or actually failed to change as the world did so around it and in that time fewer and fewer people stopped in. The public did not want an old fashioned creaky hotels right downtown, they wanted a modern motel along the highway, with parking for their car. And so the customers left and the building deteriorated and near the end, it was simply just another dive hotel with a dive bar, catering to the down and out.
Then abruptly the New National closed. One can safely assume that it required too much work to keep it up to standards and the money coming in was no where near enough to fiance such an endeavour. It hung on until 2011 however, just shy of its centenary.
And so these two hotels sit, empty eye sores with broken windows, probably too expensive to tear down. There has been talk of just such a thing happening however and it’s possible they may not have much time left. One question comes to mind though – if torn down, what will take their place? An empty lot? It’s not like there is need for more building space in an already depressed downtown. Maybe that reason will buy them some time?
Perhaps they can be renovated and restored to their former glory as heritage hotels. These seem to be gaining in popularity (check out Nelson BC) and in fact Connie and I have stayed at one, in Ymir BC. That’s just one possibility. Of course it’s easy for me to make suggestions, since I’m not the one putting up the money. Regardless, I hope someone can save them.
Till then, the Seymour and the New National have served their last drinks.
to see some old railway remains not far from the Seymour Hotel, go here…
Hanna roundhouse and turntable.
If you’d like to know more about these places, by all means contact us!
Date: August 2013.
Location: Hanna, AB.