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.
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.
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.
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.