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Long Live the Greenhill

In the remote deserts of Africa watering holes are pretty important places and dangerous ones to boot.  In the Crowsnest Pass there are several strategically placed “watering holes” that are also pretty important places but not quite as dangerous. Of course that depends entirely upon how much “water” one consumes at these places.
When I came of age in the Pass, I had occasion to frequent several of these watering holes and usually chose to ignore my grandmother’s advice about “everything in moderation.” By the way, I had to wait until I was 21 to be legal in the bars here and then two years later, in 1971, they changed the legal age to 18 which really browned me off.
Probably my most favourite watering hole when I came of age was the good old Greenhill Hotel and from 1969 on, whenever I could, I would hang out there. Those were the days of the tapered draft beer glasses with the curved lip.  My special trick was to hoist a full one up with my teeth and toss it back in seconds and then set it down. I could do several glasses in rapid succession and then as they say, I was well on my way.
According to Stephanie Laine Hamilton’s in-depth look at the history of our watering holes (Booze and Bars- A Brief History of Pub Culture in the Crowsnest Pass); the Greenhill celebrated its centenary this March. The history of this iconic landmark is pretty fascinating, so knowing how I love to look back, I will do just that.
In March of 1922 the Greenhill was opened as part of a huge building project by West Canadian Collieries that involved the hotel on the south side of Victoria (20th) Avenue) and several buildings on the north side of the avenue. These were the West Canadian Collieries (WCC) offices built in 1920, the F. M. Thompson West End Store and the Greenhill’s Grill.  All this investment in West Blairmore speaks to the après war optimism that WCC had for the town and the coal industry itself.  
The Greenhill Hotel was built for $62,000 by W. Pettifor, a Calgary contractor and was designed to accommodate mine company directors, employees and visitors conducting business with the company, many of whom came from Europe. It was also a luxurious locale for meetings and special events. While the original u-shaped hotel appears from the outside to be a wooden structure it was in fact built with 12 inch hollow brick tile covered in stucco.
In its early years the north entrance facing 20th avenue (now disabled) was the main entrance and is what they call a neoclassical portico style, with columns supporting the small roof over the entrance. The east and west side, as we know, have matching verandahs with second story balconies that must have afforded wonderful visitor views at one time. The sunrises and sunsets would have been highly visible from them and they originally overlooked well kept lawns dotted with flower beds and shrubs.
With its French influenced architectural style the Greenhill was ranked as among the finest of tourist and commercial houses in Western Canada through the 1920’s. A gambrel roof design on a hotel is very rare in Canada, and is just one of many unique features of this old girl. In June of 1922 the Lethbridge Herald described this new kid on the block thusly, “The first floor of the Greenhill comprises the office, lobby, spacious smoking and lounging room equipped with leather upholstered chairs and enhanced by a handsome electric fireplace. Opposite, on the west, is the ladies parlour, a work of art, elegantly furnished with heavy tapestry, harmonious rugs and wicker furniture. The parlour is the writing room, a beautifully furnished and lighted room…..The second floor is devoted to elegantly furnished single rooms and suites with tub and shower baths connected. All the floors are hardwood. The decorations are soft and harmonious and the views from the windows uninterrupted and inspiring.”
There were some modifications early on in 1924 with the bar appearing then but the most interesting change to the Greenhill has to do with the u-shaped area facing south.  The aforementioned WCC buildings (office, hotel, grill and store) all had one common connection other than the fact that WCC had built them. The connection is that none of them originally had their own furnace or boiler systems to heat them. All these buildings plus a couple other company houses were heated by steam generated by the boiler house located at the Greenhill coal cleaning complex across the river. The steam was piped into them by pipeline across the river and when the mine finally shut down in the late 1950’s all were forced to install heating systems. So the first floor space in back of the U was filled in with a new boiler for just that reason.
According to Laine-Hamilton, “Flooding of the Crowsnest River in 1934 caused extensive damage to the floors on the main floor (to the tune of $2000!). That’s $34,000 in today’s dollars.  Despite diverting the river’s course to reduce subsequent floods, massive flooding in 1942 would also affect the basement of the Greenhill.”  Over the years a long list of notables have stayed at the Greenhill Hotel including  the boxer ‘Sugar’ Ray Robinson and Queen Maria of Romania.
In the first few years the hotel had 42 rooms but about in 1967 the third floor was converted to living quarters for the owners. The Greenhill is about as strategically located as you could ask for and in the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s it was used a lot by skiers. Its proximity to the train station, the ski hill, the golf course, tennis courts, hiking, fishing and mountain climbing made it the perfect jumping off point.
The Greenhill Grill building across the street, that now houses Ashcroft Homes on the left and Gilded Haus on the right, was built to compliment the hotel with a restaurant and dance floor. It was common to hold meetings and wedding receptions there. My dear cousin Faye (Blake) Hutcheon had her wedding reception there in May of 1952 and her husband’s family from Quebec all stayed in the hotel. The Grill is very similar in design to the WCC General Office on the corner and speaks to the continuity of the company and the influence it had.  The Grill’s west half was once occupied by tailor John E. Upton who had Blairmore’s only custom tailor shop. According to the Blairmore Enterprise he opened up shop there in April of 1921, so the Grill was opened before the Greenhill Hotel.  Interesting!  J. E. Upton was a founding member of our still thriving music festival and founder, in 1926, of the Hillcrest Orchestra, which would later become the Crowsnest Pass Symphony.
From its opening until 1950 the Greenhill remained in WCC hands but was sold to J.L. Kubik that year. Kubik did extensive remodeling including neon lights and a conversion of the dining room to dine and dance for functions. In 1979, the hotel was purchased by English-immigrant Rob Crookes; he still owned it in 1986 (and the Grand Union Hotel in Coleman) when it was described as having 25 rooms, only four of which had attached bathrooms, and mainly earning revenue through its pub. The next year Crookes sold the hotel to Earl and Vi Schmidt.
The hotel has seen several owners and many managers and today it is owned and run by Karen Mosby Kubik who took it over in May of 2009.  Karen informed me that they still have Jams Wednesday with music in the afternoon and again in the evening and that she is contemplating a big birthday party with music this summer to celebrate the centennial of this marvelous heritage building. The hotel has huge potential and Karen is examining some options which are complicated to consider in these uncertain times.
I recall being in the tavern one Saturday afternoon in those early days and realizing I was about to miss Bugs Bunny, just about the best cartoon show ever and one that came on at 5 P.M every Saturday .  Undeterred, a couple of us guys packed the old TV from the lobby into the bar, plugged it in and proceed to cheer on Yosemite Sam and all the gang. I found it quite ironic that we had to use rabbit ears to be able to watch Bugs Bunny in the good old Greenhill bar.
 
Author’s Note: Stephanie Laine Hamilton’s book “ Booze and Bars – A Brief History of Pub Culture in the Crowsnest Pass” is a wonderfully entertaining read and available at the Crowsnest Museum.

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Signage at the hotel in 1924 - Photos courtesy of Crowsnest Museum and Archives

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1930- East side lawn and shrubbery prior to adding Ladies and Escorts entrance - Photos courtesy of Crowsnest Museum and Archives

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Greenhill Grill building today - Kinnear photo

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Signage at the hotel in 1924 - Photos courtesy of Crowsnest Museum and Archives

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