Jan 042013
 
International R200 truck

The notorious American Hotel doesn’t look so menacing today. Vacant, sombre and forgotten, in the not too distant past it was ground zero, a place for trouble, BIG TROUBLE, and not a weekend went by without seeing it in the news. Fact is you would not want to be standing where I was on a Saturday night.

Located in the historical town of Fort MacLeod, it’s a fairly plain but attractive building and represents a fairly typical hotel of the era – brick construction, boxy lines, a rub-a-dub dive tavern, and so on. This one however has a reputation, and not necessarily a good one.

I’ve always wanted to stop and photograph the hotel and while on a trip back from the Crowsnest Pass, we had some time and decided to pay it a visit. The hotel itself was our the goal but since our last visit an old truck and car had been parked beside it, which made the site that much more interesting.

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The current building seen here dates back to 1913, although prior to that a wooden hotel stood on the same property. It was called the Klondyke Hotel and dated from the 1890s. Later, in 1900, the name was changed to what you see today.

The hotel itself is simple and square-ish, yet it’s still quite charming and beautiful, as brick buildings often are. Of substantial construction, grey sandstone lintels and sills at each window contrast with the deep red brick. While it looks like many other modest sized prairie town hotels from that era, this one stands out as it retains most of its original charm (if charm is the right word). I have seen pictures from the 1940s showing it looking much as it appears today.

While not much information can be found on what happened to the American Hotel in the years between the time it was built and the 1970s – except for a brief blurb that prohibition and the great depression were hard on business – by the 1980s it was making the news…a lot. Not for good reasons either and it’s at this time that its notorious reputation was forged.

Out of nowhere it became a wild place, out of control and police were regular visitors. Every weekend Fort MacLeod would prepare itself for trouble – fights, violence, heavy drinking, drugs and more. So much so that it was unusual to NOT hear news about something bad happening here. For a town of three thousand, this troubled bar would have been more home in a large city.

Coming to a head in the mid-1980s (or thereabouts), it’s assumed the hotel either closed outright after that, or there was a change in management or attitudes that calmed things down, as the news seemed to stopped. Either way, by that time it’s reputation as hell-hole was already cast.

There are those who will say it’s proximity of the local First Nation’s Reserve that was the cause of the problem but I think it my have been the attitude of the hotel owners who were to blame. Regardless of where they people came from, the management allowed things to spiral out of control. They could have simply clamped down and fixed it. There are bad troubled people everywhere and not all of them are natives.

So when did bad era start and what was the catalyst for it and was it the cause of the hotel closing? I have no answers now.

I just love the sign on the hotel, it’s just so classic. This author has seen pictures showing the hotel at earlier times and a “licensed” sign is also seen hanging proudly above the entrance to the beer parlour.

While I do not know what’s in store for the old hotel, it appears to be in fine shape, at least on the outside, and given it’s historical significance I am hoping plans are afoot to save the building. If anyone knows more, please let me know.

Sitting behind the building is a slightly beat up truck (maybe an understatement), an International R200 crane carrier. Looking forlorn, it adds a nice dimension to the shots. An old abandoned truck sitting next to an long forgotten hotel, how much better can it get? And that blue colour, wow I love it.

This model of truck was produced from 1953 to 1967, so it’s a real old timer. In spite of outward appearances, it’s actually quite complete, although the crane, a P&H model 55 I am told, is missing its boom. What does the future hold for this truck – sadly it’s probably the scrap yard. Very few large trucks get restored.

I have seen pictures from about 2009 and the truck was not seen then, so it arrived some time after that date.

Rules of exploration: show respect, don’t knowingly trespass and take only pictures.

Nearby is an old Ford Custom 300 sitting on a trailer, a real beauty with it’s pink and dark green two tone paint (or maybe the green is faded black). Dating from 1958, assuming my car id skills are correct, it looks fairly original and complete, if not a little bit rough. I am hoping someone has intentions to restore it as it’s a real looker.

Sitting on the south side of the building is a motor home and some travel trailers, which look to be lived in. Perhaps someone is watching over the hotel?

Fort MacLeod is a town south of Calgary and west of Lethbridge. Founded as a Northwest Mounted Police fort in the 1870s, it is home to a huge number of historically significant buildings and those make it worth a visit.

When shooting these pictures I used some tips that were given to me by a professional photographer, John Sharpe. To read his informative article on photographing old trucks and things, follow this link…
12 tips for shooting old vehicles – by Sharpeshots.com.

To see an equally interesting old hotel in Calgary, follow this link…
The Nash aka the National Hotel.

To see some old railway ruins in Fort MacLeod, click this link…
Fort MacLeod turntable and roundhouse remains.

Check out this post…
Genealogists don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.

If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!

Date: January 2013.
Location: Fort MacLeod, AB.

American Hotel Ft MacLeod

The notorious American Hotel in Fort MacLeod. Love the Christmas lights!

Fort MacLeod American Hotel

While closed for some time, it’s still in very good condition.

International R200 truck

An International R200 used as a crane carrier, sitting behind the hotel

Sharing the parking lot is a nice Ford car from the 1950s.

Sharing the parking lot is a nice Ford car from the 1950s.

International R200 cab

This model truck model was made from 1953-1967.

P&H model 55 crane

I am told this is a P&H model 55 crane.

International and Ford

I am sure the car will restored, but what about the truck?

American Hotel back

The hotel is in surprisingly good shape.

American Hotel side

Not a bad looking building really.

Native art Ft MacLeod

“The American Hotel – Native Art”. Someone looks to be living the motorhome on the left.

American Hotel sign

A LOVE this sign.

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35 Comments on "The notorious American Hotel"

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Dan Overes
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Dan Overes

I also marvel at how this place never changes. Growing up in Coaldale it was a common sight on our way to camping in the Crowsnest Pass.

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ChrisBigDoer

I’ve seen a picture from the 1940s and the only differences from today was a sign over the tavern door, and that large Indian on a horse paining was not there. Otherwise the hotel looked exactly the same. I’d love to explore the inside!

Lonni Frome
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Lonni Frome

Notorious is an understatement! I lived in Lethbridge in the early 90s and this place made the news on an almost daily basis.

Guest
ChrisBigDoer

I hear ya!

TWP
Guest
TWP

I’ve been in the American, nice room.
Boots stick to the carpet, check.
dirty glass, check.
terry-towel table cloths(red), check.
sit with back to the wall, check.
stay sober, absolutely!!!!! 😉

Mr Linky
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Mr Linky

It sounds like the old King Eddie in Calgary!

King of Englund
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King of Englund

Or the National, the Nash! I lived in Calgary in the 1970s and that hotel was a rough place. We’d go slumming, grab a cold one, sit back and watch the action.

The Fugitive
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The Fugitive

Stayed in places like this in 60s 70s they called them transport accommodation in the U.K. The days before sleeper cabs became legal it would have been nicer sleeping across the seats of that LOVELY old truck. BOB

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ChrisBigDoer

:>

Fort MacLeod
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Fort MacLeod

Your article is interesting but at the same time paints a negative picture of Fort MacLeod. I think some of your sources have embellished the story and while the American Hotel had it’s problems saying it was “in the news” as often as you did was perhaps a stretch. The hotel was not shut due to social issues but because it required major renovations. A new possible owner is looking at it with the intentions to convert it into a heritage hotel, keeping it’s charm but modernizing it. I live in Fort Mac.

Guest
ChrisBigDoer

Thank you for your input. In fact I toned down much of the negativity in my post and my sources paint a much worse picture than I did. Looking at the data presented the American Hotel was a very out of control place in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I’d love to see the place fixed up though and am happy to hear things could change. I just dig the simple but classics lines and of course just love the history. That history by the way, good or bad, should be celebrated!

Cable Hauler
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Cable Hauler

I agree with Chris and Connie the article was kind to the American Hotel. I lived in the bridge in 1989 and 90 and as they said the hotel was on the local news an awful lot.

Guest
ChrisBigDoer

I’m a big boy and can hold my own in any sort of dangerous situation, but I would have never and I mean never ventured in there during the height of its fame.

Wojtalewicz
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Wojtalewicz

Ahh the American, what memories. My father used to talk about the place.

HollyHolly
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HollyHolly

When passing through I’ve often wondered about this place, it’s clearly a dive but at the same time I’d love to see the insides.

Sean 1870
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Sean 1870

The crane is a P&H model 55, 7 ton crane. The load chart is still in the upper cab. Don’t know the year, but that is what the load chart says.

Guest
ChrisBigDoer

Thank you so much for your post, that helps with one part of the mystery and all we need to know now is the year. I guess I missed that chart when I photographed the truck and crane.

Nat
Guest
Nat

Nice shots! I work at the Fort and see this beaut every day! Its so classy looking. I would love to see inside, before it’s renos. I have a thing for old buildings.

I hope if what the previous comment says that they are re-doing it, I hope they don’t modernize it too much,I hate it when big companies come in and keep the exterior old-timey then you get inside and its all new… worst disappointment for me anyways.

Jerry Potts
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Jerry Potts
As a 4th generation from the Piikani Reservation the American Hotel was a destination for Party Guys/Gals of the time. If you grew up during this time in the 80’s you were nobody unless you were seen at the American Hotel and Silver Grill in a Happy state of mind. If you were looking for trouble you would be accommodated with a good beating in a hurry. At this time the same patrons would be seen at the Babb Tavern (Boarder Town) in Montana to go and keep the party going because you could not consume alcohol on Sundays in Alberta. The mayor in the late 80’s drove the American Hotel business into the ground with racial profiling (by the RCMP) of First Nation Patrons of the Taverns’. Too Bad,Fort Macleod does not get it on how they could Partner with some of the First Nation’s and make there town… Read more »
Jake Hirsch
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Jake Hirsch
Hi Chris & Connie, I thought I’d chime in here as it was my family that ran this establishment from 88 to around 95. Although I appreciate your take on what the bar was like in its prime, I can assure you a lot of what has been said has been grossly exaggerated. My Aunt and Uncle ran this bar before we moved to Fort Macleod and when my Mom took over, the bar actually took a much better turn towards being a nicer, cleaner and safer environment. As I can’t attest for what transpired before we got there, my Mom worked really hard at making it a lot better and welcoming for tourists and clientele alike. Was it a rough place? Oh 100%. Anytime you put a watering hole between two reserves, it’s going to be Kung fu theatre on the weekends without a doubt. But I can also… Read more »
June Fox
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June Fox

It must have been something back in the day.

frankie
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frankie

My great grandmother’s father in law built a hotel in MacLeod and I’m wondering if this is the same one.

Kevin McMahon
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Kevin McMahon

(via Facebook)
Cool Binder, and nice ’58 Ford!

Lewis J Lambert
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Lewis J Lambert

This is the stuff we like to see, keep it coming!!

Randy
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Randy

Drove by the old hotel this week and it doesn’t look good as it has a construction fence up around it .. I made a point of stopping to take a few pictures as it is one of many buildings I always watch out for on my road trips . It always amazed me that this building being abandoned looking but having very little vandalism .. Apparently the roof blew off a month or so ago and it looks like they are stripping the interior of metals . I’m wondering if its going to be tore down . Hoping I’m wrong . I tried to talk with an older fellow that was going in and out of the building but he was not interested in talking about it . Anyone know what is happening with the American Hotel??

Member
Eleanore Noturmom McTrowe

The bar closed down not long after ’96. I had friends who lived in the hotel, working for the owner. We used the fire escape in the back to get into the building. The roof blew off last year and I heard that the building may end up demolished soon.

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