September 27th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 39
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Looking Back - John Kinnear
The Prince of Wales – She’s Still Standing
Looking Back
Photo: Ray Djuff collection
Construction crew posing on top of lobby section prior to closing in the roof. Note: dormers yet to be modified.
We all held our collective breaths as the continual stream of reports came out recently about that catastrophic and lightning fast spread of the Kenow fire into the Waterton town site area. A remarkable effort on the part of several fire departments and government and park officials pulled off a minor miracle there. And when the smoke had cleared and that demon had torn past the lakeshore and out onto the prairies, there stood the Prince of Wales proudly intact on the hill.

So, as promised, I will try and wrap up the story of the construction of that iconic piece of Rocky Mountain architecture. Where I left off last time was with a hint of what the horrific winter of 1926 would bring to Oland and Scott’s construction efforts. And believe me it is a wild and wooly tale.

With a June 15th, 1927 deadline construction was going full tilt that December. Incredibly, because of Louis Hill’s continuous modifications, the design for the massive center section (lobby) were still not complete and the crews had built most of both wings of what was a four storey hotel. There were 12 dormers on the wings but that was to change later, yet another Hill twist.

That winter was one of repeating snowfalls and when all was said and done that season about 14 feet had fallen. One storm dumped 46 ½ inches of snow in three days. You can imagine what a construction nightmare these storms presented to keeping the building operational and safe. Clearing scaffolding of snow meant many construction halts.
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It was the storm of December 10th of that year that took Waterton weather to a level unanticipated by this harried crew. It started on Friday with the wind picking up from the south off the lake until it was a “howling gale”. Its average speed was 66 mph but we all know from past (Pass) experience that there would have been gusts a helluva lot higher than that.

It wreaked havoc with pedestrians and workers alike, blowing people over and it was reported one man was: “blown flat and his nose used as a plow in the gravel.” Too funny! That gale whipped the Upper Lake waters into 12 foot waves and carried curtains of mist up 150 feet from the lake level to the hotel and the nearby construction camp, soaking everything. The many stacks of planks and boards around the site, that were supposedly secured, were flying in all directions over men’s heads and at one point the scaffolding on the west wing crashed to the ground. My favourite story in all this calamity is of a plank that ripped through the wall of a building and “cut the legs clean off a chair in which a man was sitting, but without injury to the man other than to his dignity.” Attempts were made to read the wind gauge that night but no one could even get to it never mind read it.

The next morning workers found 15 inches of fresh snow and material scattered everywhere. Contractor Oland found the floor of his office covered in small stones and what looked like bullet holes in his windows. It seemed the wind had literally shot rocks through the glass. Of the wind, assistant engineer Floyd Parker judged that:”the maximum velocity was over 90 mph.” An assessment the next day revealed the hotel had been knocked three inches out of plumb and horse-powered winches were used to pull sections of the hotel back into alignment.
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Now that’s wind power. Yet another wind storm in March hit over 80 mph which was enough to once again knock the building out of plumb. Oland decided this time that to realign the building risked too much structural damage so he chose to leave it “out of rack”.

Coincident with the weather construction issues was still the road issue and as you can imagine they were atrocious with no relief in sight from the Alberta Brownlee government. At one point they chose to haul from Cardston to Hillspring and then south but that road turned to a hopeless quagmire also. And let’s not forget Hill’s continual meddling and nit picking of the plans. I don’t know how Oland and Scott kept from losing their minds.

After many meetings and much cajoling a deal was worked out between the Alberta government and Great Northern for the Cardston/Waterton road improvement. GN agreed to buy $150,000 worth of government bonds and waive interest for a year and a half and the government began immediately on the road. Unfortunately the road was in such bad shape it was literally unusable and was shut down for the summer which did Oland and Scott no good. It was however important for the 1928 season that GN could guarantee its customers could come and go from the hotel without being stranded for days.
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On the issue of Hill’s constant revisions there was one really substantial one that came up that spring. It was to expand the hotel rooms on both wings by one floor to five which meant the twelve existing built dormers had to be torn apart and rebuilt as “peaked or gable design”. When one looks at the existing beautiful gables on the Prince’s wings as compared to the dormers on the middle lobby section one can see what a nice tweak this was. While Hill was a big pain in the you-know-what to Oland and Scott, his almost fanatical refining of the hotel design was what helped turn it into the magnificent structure it is today.

GN continually pressed Oland and Scott about the deadline and after all the logistical headaches they had and were enduring, Oland finally told them in April if they could guarantee building supply deliveries and reign in Hill he felt he could deliver. But of course Mother Nature was not to be denied and that May was one of the wettest on record. With roads looking like porridge they deadline was extended to July 15th.

Another of the logistical headaches that confronted the contractors was the transport of the hotel boilers, to be used for heating, hot water for guests and the separate laundry facilities. In May these six foot in diameter by twelve foot long nine ton boilers showed up in Cardston. Of course there was no truck that could manage these monsters on those atrocious roads so the solution was to haul them from the newly opened CPR spur line at Hillspring to Waterton on skids. Towing them would be 24 horses in front pulling with eight or more pushing from behind. The mental picture one gets of this is interesting.
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It was a heavy late May snowfall (of course) that prompted this solution and it worked but a chinook (on June 1st of course) blew in. Apparently the horse drawn skids moved as well if not better in mud and wet grass as they did in the snow and they got the boilers to the site.

I will close part three with this trilogy with a story about a near disaster that occurred during the final finishing touches to the hotel, which had been rescheduled to open July 25th. As you can imagine the final painting of this gem was a huge task and Oland was well aware of the potential of a fire in an all wood building like the Prince. He arranged for all painters rags to be stored in an iron barrel away from the hotel but one hot day apparently the barrel exploded: “blowing rags into the air.” The night watchman discovered a fire that rags had started in a closet and had burned through the floor and was burning the joists underneath. It was quickly extinguished but if left for another hour Oland felt that: “nothing could have saved the building.”

So it seems the threat of fire is no stranger to the Prince. Author Ray Djuff summed up its completion nicely by quoting an ad Oland and Scott posted in the Lethbridge Herald. “The hotel was as the ad said: “a monument of beauty, dignity and character”- its beauty was Hill’s inspiration, dignity the architect’s design and character the result of Oland and Scott’s craftsmanship”.

Author’s Note: There are 11 chapters to Ray Djuff’s in-depth look at the Prince of Wales hotel. I made it to chapter 5 with the trilogy. The rest of the story is equally amazing and a must read.
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September 27th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 39
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