Biggar’s Empire Hotel Became the Eden

Railway & Main

Joan Chase

One of two hotels built in Biggar in 1909, the Empire Hotel on the corner of First Avenue and Main Street was first owned by a Mr. Heather and the Fisher Brothers. Sometime before the hotel opened in August, Quebec-born Charles Neil bought the Empire. Neil advertised that his hotel had 40 well-furnished rooms and a first-class dining room, serving the finest wines, liquors and cigars for their guests.

In 1912, Louis Perilmuter, his wife Sarah and their three children bought the Empire Hotel. Russian Jews from Poland, the Perilmuters came to Canada in 1888 and first settled in Winnipeg. The Perilmuter family lived in the hotel for several years along with four staff members – three waitresses and the hotel porter.

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The Empire Hotel in Biggar, c. 1910. Source: prairietowns.com
The Empire Hotel in Biggar, c. 1910. Source: prairietowns.com

Biggar was a railway town, and the hotel saloons were always full of single men working on the railway. When Prohibition hit Saskatchewan in 1915, times were tough for the hotels. “Railroadin’ in the early days was based on a bottle of whiskey,” one Biggar old timer told Heather Robertson for her book, Grass Roots (1973). “Bootleggers were thrivin.’” As for the hotels, he said that “you could commit murder in them and if you didn’t let the blood run out under the door nobody’d say anything.” Prohibition ended in 1924, and things settled down.

The Empire later became known as the Canada Hotel and finally as the Eden Hotel. Mrs. R. S. (Betty) Spooner owned the Eden during the early 1950s. In September 1950, Mrs. Spooner’s barking dog was credited with saving her life from a fire that burned through several rooms of the hotel before it was brought under control. Mrs. Spooner, daughter of C. T. Oldcroft of Saskatoon, was a recent bride and lost all of her wedding gifts in the fire. She sold the hotel to two businessmen from Humboldt, Ben Ackerman and Sid Greenberg.

Mr. and Mrs. John Woodworth of Landis were proprietors of the Eden Hotel during the early 1960s. The Woodworth’s priority was to redecorate the hotel’s rotunda on the main floor.

“The beer parlour of the Eden Hotel is always full, and it’s jammed to the rafters on a Saturday night,” Heather Robertson wrote about her visit to the Eden Hotel in 1972. “With its sophisticated bordello-red-and-black décor, two shuffleboard tables, and plush red carpet, the beer parlour is the most lavish establishment in Biggar.”

In 1973, John McLeod, former assistant manager of the Saskatoon Centennial Auditorium, and R. D. Love, former manager of Belmac Supply in Saskatoon, bought the Eden Hotel from Ralph Chicoine. The two men moved their families to Biggar and renovated the hotel once again.

Fire destroyed the Eden Hotel on July 14, 1982, caused by some type of equipment malfunction. The building was evacuated quickly, but it took the Biggar volunteer fire department 18 hours to fight the blaze. The hotel’s site remained vacant for 25 years until the Fields Department Store (now Red Apple) was built on the corner lot. Biggar is located 94 kilometres west of Saskatoon on Highway 14, and 100 kilometres south of the Battlefords on Highway 4.

The Eden (former Empire) Hotel in Biggar, c. 1950. Source: Biggar Encycolopedia, wikifoundry.com
The Eden (former Empire) Hotel in Biggar, c. 1950. Source: Biggar Encycolopedia, wikifoundry.com
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