The Windermere Hotel
The Windermere Hotel was, “The neatest and best appointed house in East Kootenay, fitted up with every modern convenience, baths, electric bells, etc.”24
The last post was on the Stoddart family, who owned and operated the Windermere Hotel for decades, so this seemed like a good opportunity to go a bit deeper into the history of the hotel.
Construction and Early Ownership
The early years of the Windermere Hotel are incredibly vague. Reports suggest that the log building was originally constructed in 1887 by George Starke.1 A group passing through on August 23 notes that, “At Windermere an hotel had just been started, which at once became the centre of all commercial transaction.”2 This hotel was small, little more than a house, with just two rooms, a kitchen, and a loft.3
Starke did not operate the hotel for long. He is listed in Public Accounts records as providing accommodation in Windermere for the fiscal year of 1887-1888,4 before selling the hotel in the spring of 1888 to J.H. Cummings and Henry Allan Preslar (sometimes Preston),5 “at a good figure.”6
A further description of the hotel under Cummings and Preslar, in the autumn of 1888, appears in the writings of the Duchess of Somerset, Susan Saint Maur, who notes that, “Just as it was getting dark, [we] reached the wooden house near the Columbia Lake, which is designated the “Windermere Hotel.” … Everything was beautifully clean, and we enjoyed a most excellent tea, the only drawback to our repose and comfort being the “Saloon” or “Bar”. After we had gone to bed, there was too much noise to allow us to sleep, and the drunken orgie ended in what they call a “Bull’s Ball” in this country. A fiddler arrived, about thirty men danced together, and the shuffling of feet and the talking and the laughing, and the reek of bad tobacco, disturbed us until an early hour the next morning.”7
Cummings may have gone on to sell out to Preslar sometime in the ensuing year as both “Cummings and Preston” as well as an “H.A. Preslar” are listed in Public Accounts records as providing accommodation in Windermere during that year,8 while only Preslar is listed the following (1889-1890) year.9 Preslar is further listed, on a list of voters in the East Kootenay in May 1890, as a hotel keeper.10
Stoddart and Geary Take Over
Preslar likely sold the hotel at around the same time this voting list came out as, in June 1890, James Albert Stoddart is noted as being in the “hotel business” in Windermere on his son’s birth certificate.11 George Geary also took a financial interest in the business, with a newspaper article from the spring of 1891 mentioning, “a nice little hotel” in Windermere, with Geary and Stoddart as proprietors.12 On the 1891 Census (taken 4 June 1891), James Stoddart is listed as the hotel keeper, with George Geary living in the hotel as a lodger with an occupation of “free miner.”13
Geary’s name continues to appear in Public Accounts records alongside Stoddarts’ as providing hotel accommodation in Windermere in the fiscal year of 1892,14 while it is only Stoddart listed the following year.15 It’s unclear when exactly Geary sold his share in the business to Stoddart, but by 1893 J.A. Stoddart was the sole proprietor.
By the time of the 1891 census it is possible that the hotel was larger than two rooms as, in addition to the Stoddart family, there were also living there a general servant, a cook, and three lodgers. Photos of the original log building suggest a join in the middle of the building where an addition was added to the back, although it is unclear when exactly this occurred (this could also be the “improvements” mentioned at the beginning of the next section).
The Windermere Hotel did well under Stoddart, who is mentioned in November 1896 as making “improvements to his hotel, which is now very comfortable.”16 The business also benefited from the local mining boom in the summer of 1897 particularly as, in the early stages, Windermere was the nearest commercial centre to the prospecting areas up Toby and Horsethief Creeks, and the Windermere Hotel was the only hostelry. That autumn, “in order to accommodate the callers, the dining table was repeatedly filled, and at night the floors had to be littered with shakedowns, every bed in the house being occupied.”17
In response to demand, rumours of plans by Stoddart to enlarge the hotel emerged in February 1898,18 but “arrangements” were not solidified until that autumn,19 with “timber and fittings,” being brought upstream from Golden in September.20
Construction began the following spring.21 The “enlargement” was an entirely new building constructed adjacent to the original hotel building, and could reportedly accommodate, “over 200 people” (this is a misprint – accommodation was for 20 people). The original log building was repurposed as a saloon/dining hall, and was connected to the addition by a covered passageway. Construction was superintended by Dave Bale, with masonry done by John H Taynton.22
An extended description of the new hotel reports:
After being fitted out with all the accoutrements, the hotel opened at the beginning of August 1899, and is described as, “the neatest and best appointed house in East Kootenay, fitted up with every modern convenience, baths, electric bells, etc.”24
Life at the Windermere Hotel
The Windermere Hotel had some cutting edge technology as well. As early as 1894 Stoddart had installed a water supply to the building, which he also extended to supply the the Windermere Government Office as well.25 The hotel also boasted, “first class stables,”26 and in 1898 Stoddart started a blacksmith shop (in charge of J Taylor).27 The improvements at the Windermere Hotel are reflected on the 1901 Census when, in addition to the Stoddart family, there were at the hotel a servant and a cook, as well as twelve lodgers.28
Not that Stoddart’s operation of the Windermere Hotel was entirely smooth sailing. A complaint was made against him in 1897 for failing to follow the Liquor Licensing Act, prompting a charge to be laid. That charge was dismissed when the complainant failed to provide evidence,29 but in 1899 the licensing commissioners took some extra time to review Stoddart’s license application (a process that seems often to be a formality).30 Stoddart received a large and unexplained refund of a “Liquor License Fee” in the 1900-1901 financial year.31
In 1900 Stoddart’s actions also reflected the strong anti-Chinese attitude in the area, with Stoddart making the decision to, “do away with all Chinese help and now employ white help only.” The editor of the local newspaper goes on to comment that, “This is one more way of getting rid of the China man and is a commendable move, especially when viewed beside the recent disgraceful dynamite plot.”32
The “dynamite plot” referred to is misleading, as it refers to an incident just a couple of weeks previous in which a group of white men in Athalmer threw dynamite underneath the Chinese laundry building with at least four men inside, causing injuries to three (one seriously).33 The conclusion by the editor, that “getting rid” of Chinese persons from the valley was “commendable”, therefore seems to suggest a view among settlers that the best way to prevent further violence was to get rid of the people settlers were violent against.
Regardless of the reasons, on the 1901 census the cook at the Windermere Hotel is an Irishman, a departure from both the census before and following when the position was held by a man from China.
The Hotel under J.E. Stoddart
James A Stoddart passed away in March 1908,34 and in September 1909 the executors of his estate asked for tenders for the purchase of certain lots in Windermere, including the hotel, other buildings, hotel fixtures, furnishings and furniture.35 It seems that no acceptable tender was received, and on the 1911 census James’ brother, John Edgar Stoddart, is listed as a hotel keeper in Windermere.36 Edgar remained the operator of the hotel for the next twenty-three years.
Edgar’s operation of the Windermere Hotel brought further firsts to Windermere including, in the autumn of 1912, the construction of a small stone building inside of which Stoddart installed the first electric light plant in Windermere to supply electricity to the Hotel. Following in the footsteps of his brother in supplying water to other buildings in town, Edgar also supplied electricity to the general store and post office.37
In the early 1920s, in preparation for the expected increase in traffic with the opening of the Banff-Windermere Highway in 1923, Edgar Stoddart also built a new wing to the Windermere Hotel. Construction was done under the supervision of Nat Bavin with the assistance of Harry B. Richardson.38 The addition is described as “extensive,”39 with “a large number of bed rooms with all modern improvements.”40
Two garages were added the following season in anticipation of the new motor traffic,41 and Stoddart also built a nine hole golf course, opened at the beginning of June 1923. This was the first golf course in Windermere, and the description found in newspapers reporting the opening notes especially that, “The rustic fence attracted much attention.”42
Edgar Stoddart passed away suddenly on 8 July 1934,43 and operation of the Windermere Hotel was taken over by his sister, Ethel May (Maude) Chisholm.
Maude held onto the hotel until it was sold in 1945 to Mr and Mrs Reg Wannop of Calgary.44 The Wannops owned and operated the hotel until 1958,45 with Mrs Ethel Wannop selling the “Hotel Windermere Tog Shop” in July the following year.46 I haven’t been able to find any further information about the history of the hotel, particularly in post-Wannop years, so if there’s anyone out there with more knowledge about the hotel post 1950s, please do share!
There’s been a certain blurring of lines in more recent years that the “Windermere Hotel” is synonymous with the “White House”. Indeed, there are sometimes mention of the White House as being the “Windermere Hotel”, and although both have been hotels located in Windermere, they were different buildings. Here are some photos for context.
As can be seen in the above photo, looking north down what is now Sinclair Ave in Windermere, the Windermere Hotel is in the foreground with the White House further down the street (beyond the J.C. Pitts store). The final building off in the distance is the old Windermere school, located where the Windermere Community Hall is today. The gap between the original Windermere Hotel building and the J.C. Pitts store is where Government Street comes through today.
In the photo below the original log hotel building is on the left, while the still-standing Pitts General Store is the light-coloured building to the right.
There are still buildings at the corner of Government Street and Sinclair Ave in Windermere that roughly match the footprints of the original Windermere Hotel buildings, but that is really where the similarity ends. Again, I still have questions about what happened to the hotel after 1950, so if you have further information please drop a comment or send me an email.
The Stoddart Family
John H Taynton
This post is a bit different from the usual fare: if you’re curious to read more posts about the history of buildings in the Valley (whether they still be standing or not), let me know.
As always, thank you so much for your detailed information on our valley. You mentioned J.C.Pitts in your post. I am interested in hearing more about his history and part in developing businesses in Windermere and Invermere. He was also instrumental in “moving” the Stolen Church to Windermere with his brother-in-law, Rufus Kimpton.
Thanks Sandi! I’ve been digging into the history of J.C. Pitts in connection with his involvement with St Peter’s church. I can’t guarantee anything soon, but it’s coming!