The Queen of the Queen’s Hotel

Jim Cameron looks as the history of the Queen's Hotel in early Cranbrook.

The Queen's Hotel.

The Queen's Hotel.

Jim Cameron

The Queen’s Hotel stood on Baker Street in the heart of Cranbrook’s downtown business district for over 60 years; in fact it first stood when there was no heart at all, except, of course, the brave hearts of the sturdy pioneers who travelled across the lonely, barren wastes to settle a strange and savage…START AGAIN!

In the final days of March, 1898, months before the railway came through, there were four buildings in Cranbrook aside from those on the Baker homestead: the CPR storehouse, Hilliard’s blacksmith shop, the Cranbrook Hotel and the East Kootenay Hotel, the latter of which stood two blocks – two very empty blocks – away from all the others, near the corner of what would become 10th Avenue and Baker Street.

There were five women in town at the time and one of them, Mrs. Mary Hannah Donahue, age approximately 45, was the lone proprietress of the East Kootenay Hotel and a local property owner of note. To say that she was an astute, determined, independent woman would be pretty much on the mark.

She was certainly the first businesswoman in the town and would remain so for many years. Mrs. Donahue came to Cranbrook by way of Golden and the North Star Landing on the Kootenay River near Fort Steele, where she opened her first boarding house a year or so previously.  Determining the nearly vacant townsite of Cranbrook to be on the cusp of rapid growth, she purchased numerous city lots and erected a small hotel on a piece of ground that seemed a long way off from the site of the CPR rail yard.

Her ad, one of the first and few in the March, 1898, Herald newspaper read, “East Kootenay Hotel – Mrs. Mary Donahue, Proprietor: Cooking in Home Style, Warm Rooms and Comfortable Beds. No pains spared to make everything pleasant for visitors.” And that was, indeed, the tone of the hotel for years to come.

As the town of Cranbrook rapidly grew, Mrs. Donahue continued both improving her hotel and gradually relinquishing control. By July, a two-storey addition to the east side of the hotel was underway which added over a dozen new rooms, office space and a bar.

Shortly thereafter, Mrs. Donahue passed the management of the hotel over to Oliver Burge and Frank McQuinston, who immediately ensured an ample supply of good cigars and liquors on site. By December, 1898, the town boasted a population of 1200 people and five hotels with the East Kootenay Hotel continued to enjoy an excellent reputation and steady clientele.

Management of the East Kootenay Hotel passed from the hands of Burge and McQuinston to T.T. Richards to Hugh Cameron in the space of months at which point Mrs. Donahue attempted to sell the building following another round of renovations and the securing of a public liquor license for the bar.

A series of managers followed with Robert Shaw, Peter Matheson, A. McPeak, Alexander Chenette, George Gougeon, J. Netterfield, N.P. Molander and Gus Andeen  taking charge in the space of the next seven years, during which time the name was changed to the Queen’s Hotel, and another two-storey 10’ x 18’ addition was added.

Although Mrs. Donahue was by now living primarily in Calgary she still visited on occasion to see old friends and attend to her local business interests. The hotel continued to undergo renovations and improvements including one of the earliest metal roofs in the city added in 1909 by local carpenter and undertaker W.R. Beatty.

Local entrepreneur Nils Hanson, a good friend and business partner of Mrs. Donahue announced yet another addition to the hotel in1910. The lean-to kitchen at the rear was replaced and that, in conjunction with opening up the top story, added another 13 rooms.

It was during this construction that contractors Christian and Jones set a somewhat controversial local precedent by allowing workers a half holiday on Saturday afternoons. The entire façade of the original building – or rather, what there was of the original building – was remodeled and plate glass windows added.

The construction next door (the corner of 10th and Baker) of the three-storey, brick, Hanson Block in 1911, which later became the Norbury Hotel, would likely have taken much of the Queen’s Hotel’s business had not the two buildings been joined via a passageway on the second floor and, in effect, became one unit.

Frank Carlson took control of the Queen’s in 1913, passing it on to Teddy Clauson a few years later, then to Benson and Veeburg, Gunnar Swanson, back to Clauson, over to Dencoe, Shypitka, Lynch and Skene and finally on to Jack Dowart, who was in possession during the early morning hours of May 17, 1959, when Norbury Hotel proprietors Mr. and Mrs. Harry Walkley, awoke to discover the ground floor filled with smoke.

Firefighters were on the scene directly and both hotels were safely evacuated. Within no time both the Queen’s and Norbury Hotels were a raging inferno of flames, one of the city’s most notable conflagrations. Both building were completely razed as firefighters, using one-and-a-half miles of hose, worked well into the morning to save the downtown core. Heat from the blaze shattered the windows of buildings across the street and melted the face of the post office clock facing the blaze.

All that remained was the large safe of the Norbury Hotel which was incorporated into the Phoenix building which was constructed on the spot of the Norbury Hotel in 1961.  Mary Donahue died in Calgary in December, 1934.

Trivia: The very first religious service in Cranbrook was held the dining room of the East Kootenay Hotel on March 20, 1898. On October 8, 1898, Mrs. Donahue’s private residence was destroyed by fire, the first such occurrence in town