“Among northern Saskatchewan Roughriders fans, driving past the Aylesbury Elephant Bar on game day is considered a sin.” So wrote Austin M. Davis in his story about the 90-year-old Aylesbury Hotel in the Regina Leader-Post on May 19, 2017.
Rider Pride was alive and well in Aylesbury during the late 1980s when the hotel owner Nigel McAlpine put up the hotel’s well-known “Rider Priders” highway sign. When Terry and Shannon Scott took over the hotel in 1997, most of the town’s 55 residents would turn out to watch the game in their bar. But it wasn’t until after siblings Lana and Lyle Hodgins took over the Aylesbury Hotel in 2000 that the hotel became an iconic gathering point for Riders fans travelling south on Highway 11 to Regina on game day. Legend has it that what started as an occasional pit stop for one of the fan buses soon became a game-day tradition for vehicles of all descriptions.
Ten times a year, thousands of cars, trucks, vans, and buses packed with Riders fans make their way south down Highway 11 to watch the Saskatchewan Roughriders play football at Regina’s Mosaic Stadium. Part of the game-day travel ritual for many of those fans is a stop at the Elephant Bar and Grill located in Aylesbury’s only business, the hotel.
Inside the Elephant Bar, so named for Lana’s huge collection of elephant figures prominently displayed in the establishment, the green-clad throng order drinks, admire the hundreds of photos lining the walls of Riders fans who have stopped in over the years, and sign a Roughriders flag laid out on the pool table. Many Riders flags adorn the hotel bar’s ceiling.
The five-month-long football season sustains the Aylesbury Hotel’s bar. “People need to keep in mind that small-town bars like that, particularly a place like Aylesbury where there is no gas station, there is no convenience store, the only reason people stop there is for a beer and some fun at the Elephant Bar,” Rider fan and customer Gillian Lloyd told the Leader-Post on May 19, 2017. “The only time that those guys make really any money is on game days.” People care about the little bar, she pointed out, so they tip generously.
The two-storey, 10-room Aylesbury Hotel was built in 1928 and opened in 1929. The village had another hotel before that, but it had burned down. In 1943, owner E. J. Pallansch applied for a license to sell beer in the hotel. Subsequent owners included Mrs. Morin (1940s), Fred and Zita Meger (1960s) and Al and Christiane Sapieha (1970s).
When the provincial government allowed live music in beverage rooms in 1979, the Sapiehas renovated the hotel beverage room, increasing the seating capacity to 52 seats from 44, and installing a dance floor with a mirror ball on the ceiling. Al Sapieha noticed a change in their clientele. “Instead of a few people coming in and drinking a lot,” he told the Leader-Post on Nov. 10, “we have a lot more people drinking less. People don’t drink as much because they’re too busy dancing.”
The Aylesbury Hotel is a meeting place for residents of the village. In 1989, after Canada Post closed the community’s post office, hotel owner Nigel McAlpine took over the mail service as a franchise operation. The new post office was in the hotel lobby next to the coffee shop, replacing green metal group mailboxes. “The new service is 200 per cent better,” Mayor Henry Watkins said in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix on Feb. 27. “Those old green boxes were rather cold and unfriendly. They never said hello in the morning.”
Today, the Elephant Bar and Grill in the Aylesbury Hotel is still going strong under the co-ownership of Glen Schroeder and Lyle Hodgins. Lyle’s sister, Lana, passed away from cancer in October 2014. Her remains were cremated and Lyle found a perfect receptacle for her ashes – a ceramic elephant cookie jar now on display behind the bar.