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Railway & Main

Joan Chase

This will be my last “Railway & Main” column for the Battlefords News-Optimist. After much deliberation, I have decided that it is time for me to turn my attention to other writing projects.

Thank you for reading my columns. Thanks especially to those of you who have reached out to me with your letters, emails and phone calls with your kind words and your own interesting stories about Saskatchewan’s rural hotels. It’s been nice to have people come up to me and tell me they enjoy my columns. You kept me going.

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Small-town street signs. Photo by Joan Champ

If I may be so bold, I believe I have contributed to our collective knowledge and understanding of these old hotel buildings, many of which still stand in small towns throughout the province. They were built in the early days of settlement to accommodate railway crews, construction workers, and families arriving to stake homesteads on the prairies. Right from the start, the tavern / saloon / bar / beverage room was an essential part of the hotel’s operation. Most hotels never fully recovered from Prohibition (1915-1924). Changes to Saskatchewan’s liquor laws over the following decades did little to sustain these businesses, to the point that, today, most are hotels in name only. They are bars – sometimes the only business in town – operated by hard-working people trying not only to make a living but also to provide a gathering place for their neighbours.

There is still much to be written about Saskatchewan’s rural hotels. For example, there are stories about American hunters who swarm into the province every fall, filling up every available hotel room in town after town – helping out local economies in big ways. There are stories of hotels that served as refuge for storm-stranded travellers during the many blizzards that have swept through the province over the years. I haven’t yet written about the impact on small-town hotels of the provincial smoking ban in 2005. Or about long-term hotel residents. Or about barbershops in hotels. And of course, there are many, many more individual hotel stories still to be told. As time permits, I will add new posts to my blog, “Railway & Main,” at I would be pleased to have you as a follower online.

Finally, a big thank you to the News-Optimist publisher Gordon Brewerton and editor Jayne Foster for their encouragement and support for my column over the past two years. It has been a privilege to write for a newspaper that is committed to good journalism in service to the community. Please continue to subscribe to, and advertise in, this valuable asset to your city. Newspapers matter!

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The King George Hotel at Watson, c.1912. Source:
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The Del Hotel at Wilkie, c. 1950. Source:


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