In this then and now series we take a look at the Greenhill Hotel, a prominent Blairmore landmark for over ninety years. In the early days this distinctive barn shaped structure was a watering hole for coal miners, locals and visitors and it today it serves in much that same capacity. Except the miners are gone, long gone, and out of town visitors are probably few and far between.
In spite of its long life there is little history to be found about the hotel. We know it was built in 1921, that much has been confirmed, and that it was built by or for the West Canadian Collieries Company. Why would a mining company need or build a hotel? Well…they required a suitable place to house visitors and hold meetings. Or to have a beer < -- probably the main reason.
Note how little appearance has changed over the years. Everything seen in the first picture is the same in the second, the trim, the balcony, all of it.
Oddly, the hotel was built at the time of prohibition in Alberta, so for the first couple years of its existence, technically at least, it would have not been able to serve beer or liquor. That is except for a special light beer with a 2.5% alcohol content that was still allowed under the law. Prohibition was confusing and open to much interpretation and not heavily enforced either, so I am certain one would have no trouble purchasing a drink of any kind at the hotel regardless. The law had bigger fish to fry and likely just looked the other way. Miners need to drink!
Interestingly even after liquor sales were officially legalized again, a bar was required enforce some pretty strict rules on it patrons. For example…
1) Ladies were not allowed in most drinking establishments, a law which would not be completely repealed until the 1960s! Even after and into the 1970s, she could only be served if she was escorted by a man (I am not making this up). Recall those “Ladies and Escorts” signs seen above the doorways of old bars. Perhaps this a moot point here as no self respecting lady would be seen at a miner’s bar anyway. I am pretty sure the Greenhill Hotel was a rough place.
2) Beer was the only drink available at many bars, or as they were called beer parlours or taverns, well into the 1960s. If you wanted wine (miners and wine – hahaha that’s funny) or hard liquor, you had to purchase it at government liquor store and consume it at home.
3) Patrons were forbidden to move to another table or stand while drinking. Unbelievable!
4) Dart boards and other amusements were not allowed and even late into the 1970s TV’s were frowned upon.
5) And of course who does not remember the standard ALCB (Alberta Liquor Control Board) beer glass that every single bar used. It was a tall plain tumbler often stained and scratched, with a white line near the rim that dictated he maximum beer level allowed in the glass. It was a no-no to fill it past that line. Even a drop more was forbidden under the rules. Funny, I recall my mom having a lot of these glasses, so I assume she swiped them. Perhaps some were from the very hotel I am writing about – as a kid I recall my folks stopping here while passing through. For one beer…just one.
All of this of course was a heavy handed effort to restrict drinking. At least public drinking and I am certain if you examine records, these crazy laws did little to stop the flow of booze. All they did was make things complicated.
So as the years passed, the drinks flowed and the miners partied and got hammered and fought and of course the whole time the hotel provided accommodations to visitors passing through. Like many old hotels now, it’s likely to see few out-of-towners and instead would be patronized by the old, forgotten and downtrodden. These types of places often cease be hotels really, even if the signs out fronts says otherwise, and often become long term residences for societies cast offs.
The namesake mine the hotel was named after was located north of here and operated from 1913 into the late 1950s (some sources say 1961). It was the lifeblood of the local economy and provided work for many and when the Greenhill Mine closed, Blairmore and the Crowsnest Pass as a whole was dealt a large blow.
In addition to the Greenhill Hotel there are some other buildings of interest to be seen in this series. For the example, the the large brick structure across the street furthest away. Built in 1920, this building housed the offices of the West Canadian Collieries Company (just a short walk across the street for a beer). Note how it’s similar in appearance to another building that’s closer up the street towards the photographer – it’s history as of the writing of this report is unknown. As are those of the others building seen in both photographs.
To see our tour of the Greenhill Mine buildings nearby, follow this link…
Greenhill Mine, an incomplete tour.
If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!
Date: December 2012
Location: Blairmore, AB.