Today’s then and now subject: the oh-so-charming Chinook Motel, Sentinel Alberta, in the scenic and historic Crowsnest Pass. With Crowsnest Mountain looming overhead, we’ll look at first in the 1960s, by way of an image taken from an old postcard sent to us by a reader, and then again today. You know, to see what’s left and what’s changed.
We visited on a cold and blustery day, with a bone-chilling -35c windchill, but that didn’t stop the BIGDoer.com crew. We get our shot no matter what, but oh my gosh, damn was it blinkin’ cold! I can’t feel my hands! The things we do for love. Who ever captured the original had much better conditions than us.
The Chinook Motel, sometimes referred to as Kerr’s Cabins, after the family that owned it, opened in the early 1950s. The location, alongside the #3 or Crowsnest Highway, assured the business a steady stream of customers. As was popular at the time, accommodations were individual cottage units, cute little log ones at that. There was ten of them in total – looking close we can see eight in the “then” photo.
The motel did not last long and closed in the early 1970s. It’s been suggested it was a sawmill across the highway (so just behind our shooting position), a dirty, noisy, unsightly operation built after the motel, that was responsible, over time at least, for killing it off. Who wants to see that out their front window and who the heck wants to hear it? All…bloody…night…long! I could see how that would impact business.
The former sawmill site today is now an empty field (the Atlas Sawmill ran from the 1960s-early 2000s), with nary a trace left of what was once there.
After the Chinook Motel closed, some of the cabins were moved to another part of the Pass to be used as…well…rental accommodations. Seems fitting I guess. That operation folded some time ago although the cabins themselves remained in place until fairy recently. What happened to them is not known.
One cabin, as you can see, remains at the Chinook site. It looks like it’s some sort of small living quarters. A guest house perhaps? Nice!
Outside the obvious – the cabins gone, that cool western-themed highway sign all adorned with elk horns and wagon wheels, gone – the Chinook Motel site is not all that different otherwise. The house, the one remaining cottage, the shed on the right, although all painted up differently today, look much as they were. Of course the scenery is little changed. The rolling hills in behind, with windswept pines (in the Pass, wind is a constant) and Crowsnest Mountain, they’re all pretty timeless. Okay, the trees are a bit taller.
The then photo is a scan of an old postcard sent to us by a reader who wished to remain anonymous. No problem. While there is no date on the card, a few things can help us make an educated guess. The blue car in front of the first cabin is clearly a 1960s model. The Canadian flag seen flying in front of the third cabin is the pre-1967, pre-Maple Leaf “Red Ensign”. With that said, the photo must be from the mid-1960s or thereabouts.
On the back of the postcard, is the following information…
“Chinook Motel – 10 fully modern, large and small housekeeping units. Quiet surroundings, reasonable rates. Store. Spring water. Open April 1 to Nov 15. No. 3 Highway, 4 miles west of Coleman, Alberta – Your Hosts: Mr. and Mrs. James R. Kerr. Printed in the USA.”
Interesting Spring Water? That’s got us curious. Any readers know more? G. Morris Taylor was listed as the photographer – looking online, he was quite active!
It was quite common, by the way, for motels to issue postcards, as a cheap promotional item, which were freely distributed to guests. Nearly every motel in the old days, it seems, had some printed up.
A Chinook is warm and dry eastward blowing wind, common in the area (and welcome in winter).
We’re often asked how we line our now shots. Simply, we use a grid system, incorporating select unchanged background elements as reference points within the now frame. All the heavy lifting is done in camera! It’s how we roll.
We’re always looking for then and now subjects. If you have an old photo or postcard showing a street scene, historic building, or a motel like this one, either way something that still exists in some form today, send it to us. Please! We’ll revisit the locale, shoot a similar photo, and post the results here along with a small historical write up on the subject seen.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: December, 2015.
Location: Crowsnest Pass, AB.
Article references: Book: Crowsnest and its People, Dale Kuta.
We shot from a public road.