Over six decades separate the two images seen in this report. We’ll be looking at the Bell Hotel (now the Claresholm Inn), a large brick structure located in the small town of Claresholm Alberta. The first view is from the early 1950s and we’ll compare that to how the building appears today. Time seems to have stood still and as you can see little has changed in the years that have passed.
The text in the first image states that Claresholm is 82 miles south of Calgary. Today we say 131 kilometres. The town was established in the early part of the twentieth century and is currently home to some 3700 souls. Further, the card goes on to say that the hotel sits along side Highway #2, which it still does, at the south end of “downtown”.
The Bell Hotel was built in 1951. It was owned at the time by (you guessed it) a person named Bell, John Bell to be exact, and this was the second hotel he was connected with. He owned the Wilton Hotel in the same community, starting the 1920s, interestedly enough purchased from another person named Bell. It’s not made clear what happened to the Wilton and when. One can assume John Bell either sold it to finance the new or simply replaced one with the other. No mention is made where exactly the Wilton stood so was it earlier on this same spot or somewhere else in town? These are all unanswered questions.
The front facade is built of brick of many shades or tints, laid down randomly, while the side walls are cinder blocks arranged in a slightly staggered form. The building is rather plain architecturally and has no particular design elements of note. It’s still an interesting structure however and reflects the design philosophies of the day, which was rather simple and utilitarian in nature.
When built the hotel offered all manner of modern conveniences and amenities for the passing traveller. Not just accommodation, there was also a place to eat, and I am sure to drink, although it’s not stated in any Bell literature. For many hotels back then, the “beer parlour”, as they were called at the time, was a big money maker. The same holds true today although most watering holes are refereed to by other names – bars, pubs, saloons, taverns or as is the case with this establishment now, a cantina. In the early 1950s, when the old image was captured, women were not allowed to drink in many establishments. And if they were, they had to be accompanied by a husband or boyfriend (an escort) and both were segregated from the male only section either by an open space or physical barrier of some sort, often a wall.
It’s not known when the hotel’s name was changed to the Claresholm Inn. Research shows it being referred to by the Bell name well into the 1970s but then the trail ends and no further references in respects to this could be found after that date.
Comparing the two images, it’s clear that little has changed in the years that have passed. The signs differ and a mural has been painted on the building’s south wall for example and of course there is the outdoor patio added at some point. Outside these, everything else looks much as it was.
It’s assumed the inn still provides accommodation, although to what degree is unknown. Many old hotels end up catering to locals and act as ersatz apartment complexes for the downtrodden, often single men of senior age. I doubt many travellers stop by anymore. The hotel today has a pub and liquor store – booze is where the money is after all – in the past there used to be a coffee shop and dining room here too.
The original image is a scan of a postcard sourced by this author. I have seen two variations of it, both showing the same image, but with different text. While ours says “Claresholm – 82 miles south of Calgary on Highway No. 2”, others I have seen say “The most modern hotel in Southern Alberta”. This postcard seems to be quite common and many have been seen for sale on eBay. It’s undated, but since we know the hotel was built in the early 1950s, it would be a good bet it was shot around that time.
On the back of the post card, the following text is written: “The most modern hotel in Southern Alberta, shower, bath, air conditioned, elevator, coffee shop, dining room”.
A number of interesting cars are seen in front of the hotel. These include (from left to right, not counting the half car seen far left), an early 1940s Ford, a late 1940s or early 1950s Chevrolet panel wagon (sedan delivery), an early 1940s Plymouth and what looks to be a second early 1940s Plymouth. I am little uncertain in regards to that last one in particular, given the limited view and the grainy nature of the photo. Of course, we always welcome input from our readers too if we’ve made a mistake. The last car, which on close examination, seems to have a flat tire,
This author knows of another Bell Hotel, a notorious watering hole located in Winnipeg Manitoba and frequented by my folks back in the 1970s. That’s another story…
These “then and now” posts are a passion for us and to see some of our favourites, follow these links…
Calgary then and now – the Saddledome.
Edmonton Transit then and now – 115th Ave.
Then and now overlooking Wayne Alberta.
Superman 3 then and now – Smallville.
If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: March, 2014.
Location: Claresholm, AB.