Unfair Play at the Windthorst Hotel

Railway & Main

Joan Chase

In 1907-08, Albert E. Playfair built the three-storey hotel at Windthorst, 140 kilometres east of Regina on Hwy 48. By 1911, hotelkeeper William Williamson was living in the hotel with his three children. Williamson sold the hotel to Thomas Henry after Saskatchewan introduced Prohibition in July 1915.

Tom Henry had marriage issues. The 1916 Canada Census shows that owner Henry, age 58, was living at the Windthorst Hotel along with his 13-year-old daughter, Vivian. There is no mention of his wife, although he is listed as married. Tom’s wife, Ellen, is listed in the census as residing, unemployed, in a separate residence from the hotel with her seven-year-old daughter, Ethel. The same census shows that 21-year-old Alice Ellen Playfair, daughter of Albert Playfair, the builder of the Windhorst Hotel, was working as the housekeeper at the hotel. Alice was living with two of her brothers in a private home in the village. Alice and Tom may have had an affair, because genealogical records show that Alice eventually became his second wife.

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Tom Henry also got into some trouble with the law while operating the Windthorst Hotel. In the spring of 1919, he was convicted of perjury and sentenced to a year of hard labour in the Regina jail. This resulted from his appeal of his previous conviction for hiding liquor in with his stock of soft drinks at the hotel in Windthorst – a no-no during Prohibition.

In 1918, Jack Johnson and his wife Olga bought the Windthorst Hotel and ran it until 1945. “Mr. and Mrs. Johnston made their hotel business an asset to the community in many ways, opening their doors freely for public functions and making the hotel a gathering place of the district,” the town history records. “Social functions which included weekly card parties, bridal showers, and wedding receptions were held at the hotel.”

The Johnstons, who had no children of their own, opened their hearts to three children of the Lenius family, following the death of their mother in 1920. Annie, Frank and Joe Lenius were foster children of the Johnstons, who gave them a happy home while they continued their schooling. 

Jack Johnston had many interests. “His main hobby was taxidermy and he mounted birds and animals with an artist’s touch,” states the Windthorst history book. “So much so that some of his specimens are in the Smithsonian Institute … and some are in the Provincial Museum in Regina.” After he retired from the hotel business in the mid-forties, Johnston sold it to Joe Lenius.

Jack’s foster son, Joe Lenius, and his wife Emmie ran the Windthorst Hotel from 1945 until 1950, when they sold it to Ron and Marg Morrison. The Morrisons renovated the hotel extensively between 1950 and 1976. The biggest change they made was to remove the third storey of the building in 1966. A café replaced the hotel’s dining room.

The Windjacks became the owners of the Windthorst Hotel in 1979. Once again, renovations were undertaken, and a steak pit was added. A variety of entertainment was featured in the hotel bar.

Norm and Karen Jones bought the hotel in 1993 and changed its name to Norm’s Place. The hotel was put up for sale by the Jones in 2009 – asking price: $235,000. The price went up to $350,000 in 2013. The listing for the hotel in Windthorst stated that it had a 100-seat beverage room and steak pit, a commercial kitchen on the main floor, eight non-modern guest rooms, and an office and guest lounge on the second floor. The Jones apparently didn’t find a buyer for Windthorst’s hotel, for on November 30, 2018, they celebrated the 25th anniversary of Norm’s Place.




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