Black Gold in Coleville

Railway & Main

Joan Chase

In 1951, the year that oil was discovered by the Royalite Oil Company near Coleville, the sleepy farming hamlet had a population of about 80 people. Over the next five years, the population of Coleville grew to over 430 residents. A refinery was built, 284 heavy crude oil wells were drilled in the area, and oil people moved into town. “Coleville’s boom has none of the earmarks of a temporary boost,” Munro Murray wrote in his Aug. 7, 1954, feature on Coleville for the Star-Phoenix. “The new population are people who are building substantial homes and taking a real and intimate in the community life of the village.” A hotel was also built in Coleville to accommodate oil workers during the boom.

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The Prince Charles Hotel on Main Street in Coleville, August 1954. Source: Saskatoon Star-Phoenix

In 1953, Bill Crawford formed a public company called the Coleville Development Company Ltd. with the sole purpose of building a hotel. The building was only partially completed when, in the spring of 1954, construction ceased due to lack of funds. Only the basement and part of the framing had been built.

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Promoters of the company, Laird and Rumball of Regina, placed an advertisement in the Star-Phoenix in August offering shares in the Prince Charles hotel at $100 per share. In the meantime, part of the hotel structure was used as offices for the Royalite Oil Company.

After sitting idle for a year and a half, Bill Crawford ended up buying most of the shares in the hotel at a reduced price. He refinanced and completed the hotel in 1956. Greg Baribeau oversaw construction. Office space was completed first, and the hotel, when completed, contained 21 guest rooms. Originally called the Prince Charles Hotel, the two-storey hotel also had a café and a beer parlour. Other businesses in the hotel have included a liquor board store, an arcade, a hair dressing salon, and a movie rental store.

On Jan. 21, 1956, the Star-Phoenix announced that Saskatchewan baseball great, Don Stewart, was retiring from the game to take over the Prince Charles Hotel at Coleville, “one of the best businesses in the province.” Stewart was considered one of the premier athletes on the prairies during the 1950s and gained a place in the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame.

Oil continued to drive Coleville’s economy. The Star-Phoenix’s 1954 feature on the town stated that refinery was built and operating by March 1953, “and the town that used to see two or three trains a week now has two or three trains of tank cars leaving each day.” The Calgary Herald reported on Jan. 17, 1957 that Royalite Oil Company had been turning out approximately 5,000 barrels of oil per day over the past three years. In September 1959, according to the Regina Leader-Post, Royalite sold its oil and gas producing properties in the Coleville field to General American Oils Ltd. for $2 million.

In the fall of 1984, owner Barry Sherstobitoff advertised in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix that the Coleville Hotel was for sale. The business featured a newly renovated, 58-seat beverage room; 14 hotel rooms with, he claimed, 100 per cent occupancy; an 840 square foot office space currently leased; one 2,000 square foot office; and a three-bedroom living accommodation for the owner. The main economic activity in Coleville was still the petroleum industry.

Today, Coleville, located just off Hwy 21 between Kerrobert and Kindersley, is an agricultural and oil community with a population of about 300.

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Coleville Hotel in 2007. The stucco exterior has since been painted beige. Photo by Joan Champ

 

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