The Greenhill Hotel can be found in Blairmore (well…West Blairmore) Alberta, in the historic Crowsnest Pass, in the southwest corner of the province. The barn-shaped structure has been around for well on ninety plus years. Once a busy watering hole for local coal miners and also accommodation for those visiting the area, today things are pretty quiet there. We’ll be looking at it, first in the 1920s, an image seen on a vintage postcard sent to us by a long time reader, and again in waning days of 2015.
Goodness, it’s hardly changed at all.
The hotel dates from 1920/1921 (records differ a bit) and was built by West Canadian Collieries (WCC), a coal mining firm established a number of years prior. They operated the namesake Greenhill Mine at the base of Greenhill Ridge (I see pattern here), to the north, across the Crowsnest River. A huge operation, much remains of the old mine complex.
The WCC’s offices were located in the opposite the hotel (brick building centre distance). The company ceased to be in the late 1950s/early 1960s (reports differ somewhat, again). Their former building, dating from the early 1920s, is now home to hair salon and some other small businesses.
One major function of the Greenhill Hotel, in the early days, was as a meeting place for mine functions. It was also convenient accommodations for single mine workers, visiting dignitaries, investors, company directors, government officials and the like, who might come to visit the company’s vast coal operations in the Pass.
The “beer parlour” was a popular diversion for mine employees and locals alike. When the hotel opened, Alberta was still in prohibition so only a light beer of sorts (2.5% alcohol) could be served. Just drink more – same effect. The WCC firm probably made good money off employees who came to partake of libations. Pay ’em and get it right back by selling some brewskis.
West Canadian Collieries sold the hotel just after World War Two and ever since it’s been in private hands. Mention is made over the years of the owners living on the top floor – not sure if that’s still true today.
It’s not clear if accommodations are still offered or it only the “tavern” operates. Many old hotels can’t afford to update their rooms and as such they may not get rented out – or at best, sometimes they are used as long term living quarters only, apartments of sorts, for single old men and the like.
We came back after dark and no lights were burning on the upper floors, so we figure the rooms are not used. The tavern was quiet on our visit. I suspect it’s rarely busy.
On road trips back in the day it was normal for my folks to stop at the Greenhill Hotel, for a couple “quick ones”, while us kids entertained ourselves in the car, unsupervised.
The building has been historically recognized and is a connection back to the heady days when coal fuelled the local economy (the last mine closed in the early 1980s). The building exterior is stucco and wood, over brick – it’s of more substantial construction than it appears. The architecture is Queen Anne (ish), a style most characterized here by that wood framing seen on the exterior.
Notice how little has changed at the Greenhill Hotel between then and now. It’s amazing really, like time has stood still. The only major difference is the old sign seen in the postcard, and the fence connected to it, both now gone. Too bad, they had lots of character.
The other buildings seen across the road, ahead of the former coal mine offices which we spoke of earlier, were built around the time of the hotel. They’ve housed various businesses over the years, restaurants, stores, retail outlets and the like. The newer building far right, was a Super-Valu until recently but is now empty. The local economy is in the dumps (it seems they never recovered post coal).
When the “then” image was captured, the roadway in front was called Victoria Street (West). Now it’s 20th Avenue. Most would agree, the old name is better. The CPR’s Crowsnest Line runs to the right of the building, just off frame. We just missed a passing freight.
Seen poking out above the roof line in the now photo, far left (not clear in the old photo due to fading), is Crowsnest Mountain. Iconic of the area, it stands strangely alone in a wide valley and towers over Blairmore and nearby Coleman.
The old photo comes in from a reader, Gary Lange, of Blairmore and is dated 1924. A big thanks! We’ve in fact used this photo before, but this example is better cropped, so it demanded a revisit of the subject. If you have or know of an old photo or postcard, either one you own (your copyright), or in the public domain, that you think would make for a good then and now, we’d love to hear from you. Go to our contact page to find out more.
Our photo, as it always the case when we shoot a trademark BIGDoer then and now, was lined up in-camera. No post production razzle-dazzle! Just doing it right by eye. If you look close you will notice the hanging Santa in our 2015 image just to the left of and above the entrance.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: December, 2015.
Location: Blairmore, AB.
Article references: Book: Crowsnest and its people, Crowsnest Heritage Initiative.
Our photos were shot from public property.