BOWDEN - Just a few minutes past midnight on Jan. 1 the Bowden Hotel caught fire.
Firefighters from all over the region came. Citizens heard the sirens. Many became witnesses to the end of an important landmark of the town’s history.
The old pioneer structure, originally built in 1904 and once named the Bowden Inn, was previously victimized by fire in 1925. It was rebuilt and reopened in 1930.
For the next 91 years the Bowden Hotel stood proudly, albeit abandoned since 2015, at the corner of 20th Avenue and Highway 2A until the New Year’s Day fire reclaimed it again, but this time forever. It was demolished the same day.
In 2014, while working for the Town of Bowden, I had the pleasure of touring the Bowden Hotel with Johnny “Cat” May. At the time he had worked at the Bowden Hotel for 22 years, and knew the hotel’s long glorious history well.
At the time of the tour the hotel was offering locals and visitors Happy Hour, Monday through to Saturday from 4 to 8 p.m., and all day on Sunday, which was also free pool day. Friday night was karaoke from the stage. During the summers patrons took advantage of the large shaded patio at the back of the hotel.
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Johnny started the tour on the main floor where the bar was located. There were two pool tables, a stage, a jukebox, big screen television and a great punching bag game.
I noted that coming up soon the Bowden Hotel staff would be hosting their annual Tricycle Race in conjunction with St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. There would be teams of two competing on event day. Prizes would be given for the three fastest teams.
Johnny then gave me a tour of the upstairs hotel area of this wonderful pioneer building. There were several neat little rooms that reflected the original charm of this hotel. Each room had a double bed and sink with a common washroom area just down the hall.
When the Bowden Hotel reopened in 1930 after the fire of 1925 it was proudly touted as having the best accommodations in the West. Rooms were $1.50, meals and baths were 50 cents.
When we completed our upstairs tour, I asked Johnny if the hotel had a basement. He smirked and said, ‘Yes, but not many people like to go down there.’ I countered that I would like nothing more than to go and see it. In my opinion this was the best part of the tour.
We proceeded down a small wooden staircase into the depths of the hotel.
“Cool”, was the first thing I said upon reaching the basement. It seemed like time stood still and the years of the hotel revealed themselves to me.
In the centre of the first room stood a boiler as large as a minivan.
Johnny explained the hotel had literally been built around the boiler because of its size. He said when the basement was constructed the boiler was brought in and the rest of the hotel was then built afterwards.
The amazing thing, I thought at the time, was that this giant was still operational and served to heat the rooms upstairs.
It was obvious the basement had served many purposes over the decades. There was an old coal room and chute, a doorway that had been back-filled with earth and leading to the outdoors.
There was also a fantastic electric water pump that quite possibly was one of the first in town, as well as metres of liquor service piping.
When the tour was over, I thanked Johnny for taking the time to share the history of the hotel corner in our little town. It left me with a greater appreciation of the Bowden Hotel and the stories that laid within.
As for me, the Bowden Hotel will always be special, especially the staff who always welcomed everybody with laughter and smiles. It was a place of community that was held tightly in our hearts, and where all memories will last forever.
Jade Prefontaine is a longtime Bowden resident who works for the Town of Bowden.