In operation from the 1950s until the mid 1980s, the Sleepee Teepee Motel in Blairmore was a local landmark. Kitschy to the extreme, it was made up to look like a western fort with a First Nation’s encampment out front. With battlements, a chuckwagon office, those brightly painted conical-shaped tipi rooms, it was a head tuner. There was even a buffalo standing guard near the entrance, to greet those stopping in for the night.
The motel harkens back to the days when a road trip was an adventure, and when the lodging was a memorable part of that experience. Often gaudy in appearance, dictated by the styles at the time, and always with a flashing neon sign with the obligatory office-this-way arrow, this style of motel or motor court as they sometimes called, always had personality. Now it seem that most people consider road trips boring and overnight accommodations are sterile boxy affairs that are instantly forgettable.
Kids must have loved this place – “daddy, daddy, stop here! We want to sleep in a teepee!”
Armed with only an old photo, supplied by a reader, and a with few clues sourced from some locals, we set out to find the motel, or rather, what remains of it. We knew roughly where it was and by lining up the mountain in back, we confirmed in no time that we are at the right spot. Good!
Then it was off to find other remnants of the Sleepee Teepee that we were told still exist.
First, we search out the buffalo seen in the old photo, which as it turns out is located at a nearby park. Also, one of the teepees was still rumoured to be in the area and following some vague clues given to us, we eventually find it down a dirt road. It’s not far from the Crowsnest Highway west of Coleman and can been seen from it (briefly) if one knows where to look. It has lost its over-the-top pastel paint job and is looking a little worse for wear, but it is intact.
It’s not known exactly when the motel opened, but this author has found numerous references that date back to (roughly) the mid-1950s mentioning it (old ads, postcards, etc), but none before. Unless we turn up more information, for now anyway, we’ll assume it was built around that era. It closed in 1986 and today a building supply store occupies the site where it was located.
Seen in behind the Sleepee Teepee Motel is Bluff Mountain and without it, we would have never been able to line up the shot. It was the only constant.
While researching this article we came across many postcards, from numerous times in the motel’s history, showing our subject. In everyone it appears that the grounds and buildings were always well kept and freshly painted from time to time. Here’s a poem about the business, found on one of them…
With hammer and nail,
On this ancient trail,
Where the Rockies touch the blue,
On the sunny side,
Of the great divide,
It was built and priced for you.
Sleepee Teepee Motel, Blairmore, 4 star accommodations.
We’ve seen the name of the motel spelled many ways – Sleepee Tee-pee, Sleepy Teepee or Sleepy Tipi – clearly though the motel’s own sign shows it as ”Sleepee Teepee”.
While writing this article I came across a number of other motels that had or have teepee style rooms. Most were built in the 1930s and 1940s and are now gone. There is however a small chain of teepee themed motels in the US that are still in operation for those who wish a real retro experience. I sense a road trip! They mistakenly refer to the rooms as Wigwams.
Based upon any pictures we’ve seen , it appears that only three teepee style lodges were located here, along with what appears to be some traditional style side by side rooms in the building to the left.
We would not have been able to find the motel’s location and that of the buffalo and the still extant teepee that was moved away, had it not been for some local help. I wonder if any other bits from the motel survived, other teepees or maybe that cool chuckwagon? Research continues and of course (like we always say), we invite input from our readers.
The 1970 image is courtesy of and copyright Weston Langford and is used with permission. Sadly, Weston, a well known train photographer (although he shot other things as well), sadly passed away only a week before this report was published. Thanks Weston, we appreciate you allowing us use of your pictures.
If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: December, 2013.
Location: Blairmore, AB.