Colourful Characters at Oxbow’s Alexandra Hotel

Railway & Main

Joan Chase

In 1904, Harry Gleiser and his family took over Oxbow’s Palace Hotel, built on the corner of Railway and Main in 1892. Gleiser enlarged the hotel’s dining room and built an addition at the back, giving the hotel 34 guest rooms. Gleiser’s son Percy opened a jewelry store in the hotel.

On Aug. 14, 1907, a fire started at the rear of the Palace Hotel, sweeping through the business section of Oxbow, destroying many buildings including the hotel. The cost to Harry Gleiser was $25,000.

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In 1908, with financial assistance from Oxbow businessmen, Gleiser replaced the Palace Hotel with a three-storey, 40-room, brick hotel called the Alexandra. It had a good-sized bar. Percy Gleiser opened a jewelry and watch repair store in the hotel. Two years later, Percy died of blood poisoning, and his sister Ruby took over his business. She was 19 years old.

Ruby Gleiser was a force of nature. When her father Harry died in February of 1927, Ruby took over the operation of the Alexandra Hotel. By that time, she was living in Estevan.

“Who shall say what made Ruby Elizabeth Gleiser great?” a Regina Leader-Post editorial asked shortly after her death in August 1953 at age 62. “She had courage and even high daring from the beginning.” As a girl in Oxbow, she played hockey and baseball, rode horseback, and won medals for her shotgun marksmanship. Ruby had a strong head for business. Not only did she take over her brother’s and father’s businesses in Oxbow, she also operated the Delight Theatre at Estevan, a taxi service and the Estevan Dairy, which she purchased in 1933. Gleiser was the first woman in Saskatchewan to hold a motion picture operator’s license and the first woman in the province to obtain a chauffeur’s licence. Her most notable achievement was when she became president of the international Association of Rebekah Assemblies in 1936, the highest office possible in that benevolent society. At the outbreak of the Second World War, Gleiser was named Saskatchewan director in charge of welcoming and placing children evacuated from England – the “Guest Children” as they became known. “[A] church so filled with flowers and friends that not an inch remained, with people standing outside and along the streets, must indicate that the day of Ruby Gleiser’s funeral was a sad day for all of Estevan,” the Leader-Post’s editorial concludes.

Ruby Gleiser sold the Alexandra Hotel to the Indridason family in 1936. The Oxbow local history book, Furrow to the Future, contains the reminiscences of Margaret (Indridason) Grisdale about the years her family owned the Alexandra Hotel at Oxbow up to 1984, the year the book was published. “Since Oxbow did not have an old folks’ home it seemed a lot of bachelors came to the hotel to spend their last years,” Grisdale writes. One of them was Albert (Ab) Salter, who had come to Cannington Manor from England in the 1880s as a 17-year-old stable boy. After a stint with American rum runners, Salter, “a likeable old guy,” moved into Oxbow’s Alexander Hotel where he did odd jobs.

According to Grisdale, the 1950s were good years for the Alexander Hotel. In addition to rooms filled with oil workers, the hotel had one of the first televisions in Oxbow, which, thanks to the antenna on the roof, could pick up a TV station in Minot, N.D. Grisdale remembers the hotel lobby would be jammed with kids who came to watch television after school. 

When the oil companies left and the Bow Manor Hotel was built in Oxbow, business declined at the old Alexandra Hotel. “Today there isn’t much business for the rooms, but the bar is still a regular ‘watering hole’ for many people,” Grisdale concluded in 1984.

A vacant lot now holds the space where the Alexandra Hotel once stood. Oxbow is located 64 kilometres east of Estevan on Highway 18.

Contact: joanchamp@shaw.ca

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