Hot Times at the Biggar Hotel

Railway & Main

Joan Chase

Eugene Baron, a native of France, built the Biggar Hotel at 115 First Avenue West in 1909, just down the street from the town’s other hotel, the Empire, built that same year. The original three-storey hotel had a wrap-around veranda on the first two floors. According to the 1911 Canada census, Baron, a widower, lived in the hotel along with the porter, the bartender, and four domestics (chambermaids and waitresses). Baron built an addition onto the right side of his already roomy hotel due to increasing business. In January 1910, the first school classes in Biggar were held in the second storey of the hotel.

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The Biggar Hotel, c. 1914. Source: prairietowns.com

Mr. and Mrs. J. Markling owned the Biggar Hotel through the Prohibition years and into the 1930s. In January of 1925, the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix reported that the people of Biggar held a surprise party for the Marklings, presenting them with gifts (a gold watch for him and a diamond ring for her) and “thanking them both for their efforts in making their hotel ‘A Home Away from Home.’”

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On Jan. 24, 1927, a fire broke out in the Biggar Hotel, thought to have been started by a cigarette stub. Fortunately, a travelling salesman staying at the hotel, J. L. Mulligan, was a former member of the Calgary fire department. According to the Star-Phoenix, Mulligan “resumed his old role of smoke-eater and commanded a one-man brigade which probably saved the Biggar Hotel from destruction and certainly saved the local brigade a tough battle.” Mulligan grabbed the hotel hose, unwound it and battled the flames. “When the local brigade arrived,” the newspaper recounted, “Mulligan was ‘all in’ and full of smoke, but the fire was practically out.” Markling was thankful that he had been entertaining “an angel” unawares.

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The Biggar Hotel, c. 1920. Source: The Biggar Bar's Facebook page

In August of 1938, the Star-Phoenix wrote that the Biggar Hotel, still operated by the Marklings, had “48 well-furnished guest rooms where standard beds and bedding such as is found in best class hotels, bed reading lights and other equipment are most conducive to rest and comfort. Hot and cold water and shower bath always available. … Sample rooms for commercials. Modern refreshment parlor. Porter meets all passenger trains.”

Several owners followed. In 1941, Mr. R. P. Hassard was proprietor of the Biggar Hotel. Owner George Hilsenteger spent 1964 to 1968 doing renovations to the hotel. The business was sold to Ida and Ewald Hicke in 1968, and they ran it for four years. The Victor Derbowka family owned the Biggar from 1980 to 1985. The Dewbowkas opened a new entertainment spot in the hotel called The Cave. After that, the business was co-owned by Irvin and Jane Bayda and Wally and Gloria Pidwerbeski.

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Biggar’s two hotels, the Biggar and the Empire, c. 1910. Source: prairietowns.com

One of the more exciting things to happen at the Biggar Hotel was the day a streaker ran through the beverage room in March 1974. The Star-Phoenix reported that the streaker, who wore only a mask to cover his face, let out a yell from the back entrance of the hotel then ran through the premises and out the front door where he was picked up by a friend in a waiting car.

In 2004, the newly upgraded Biggar Hotel was advertised for sale, asking $475,000. According to the real estate ad, the main floor of the hotel included a one-bedroom living quarters for the owner, a kitchen, a café, a steak pit, a lobby and a bar. The second floor was closed, but the third floor had five modern guest rooms and eight non-modern guest rooms (meaning no bathroom facilities). The ad also stated that the hotel was “possibly a heritage site.”

Today, Biggar’s old hotel is almost unrecognizable. Now a bar only, the building’s front is completely covered with brown metal siding. Biggar is located 94 kilometres west of Saskatoon on Highway 14, and 100 kilometres south of the Battlefords on Highway 4.

The Biggar Bar, formerly the Biggar Hotel, 2017. Source: The Biggar Bar’s Facebook page
The Biggar Bar, formerly the Biggar Hotel, 2017. Source: The Biggar Bar’s Facebook page
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