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Then & Now: The Kootenay Hotel and the Gulch billboard

The Kootenay Hotel in Trail burned down in 1978, one of the city’s more devastating losses given the building’s prominent location in the Gulch and interesting history. It began as a brewery in 1895 before being converted into a hotel. Emilio (Curly) Pisapio was the longtime proprietor.

Ever since the fire, the site has been a parking lot, although there exist a few remnants of the hotel, or rather what used to be next to it: a concrete wall, a set of concrete stairs that once led up to a bocce pit, and a rock wall.

The bocce pit is depicted below in a 1966 CBC report. The film shows a few players leaving the hotel’s beer parlour and walking up the stairs. 

Much to my surprise, a BC Archives photo reveals that a billboard has been in that spot since at least the 1940s (its edge can be seen in the above video when the aforementioned fellows walk up the stairs).

William S. Lythgoe photo (Image E-05334 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives)

At that time the sign advertised … well, I’m not sure what. If I squint hard, it looks Peerless brand something, with a slogan that says “It’s all good” or “It’s all you” or “It’s always.” Maybe you can identify it for me. There was Peerless whiskey and Peerless tobacco, but I couldn’t say if the sign is plugging either one. Reader Jim Sadler tells me that appears to be a 1938 Ford sedan in the foreground. (A different photo shows the billboard already in place probably in the early 1930s, judging from the cars, promoting Picobac tobacco.)

Today the billboard advertises the next Trail Smoke Eaters home game along with one business, in this case Threads clothing. The stonework on its base appears to be of a more recent vintage.

A few other interesting things about the old photo. 

• Where there are now covered stairs, there was once a ramp heading up to Glover Road. Trail historian Jamie Forbes says after the current layout of Glover Road from Victoria Street was built, the new road resulted in the original one dead-ending at a retaining wall where the stairs are now. 

• There’s a lamp standard in the same place in both photos which is not identical but looks awfully similar. 

• An American flag flies from one of the upper storey hotel windows. Two others are insufficiently unfurled to make out.

• A sign above one of the hotel’s several entrances reads “Office and dining room upstairs.” The Colander restaurant can trace its spaghetti and meatballs recipe back to this dining room. In the early 1950s the hotel also became the first place in Trail — and probably a much larger radius — to offer pizza.

• Another sign says “Ladies,” in the rather silly days when beer parlours had separate entrances for men and women, or rather “ladies and escorts.” (In fact, we have a liquor inspector to thank for the photo.) 

• At the far left is a landscaped area that later became home to what Gray Creek’s Tom Lymbery refers to as an Expo berm. For Expo 86, the Ministry of Transportation installed similar concrete welcome signs around BC.

One of the few things I could find online about these signs was in the Smithers Interior News of Aug. 27, 1986 that explained the “Expo 86 flowerbed” at that town’s airport entrance would be torn down after council declined to commit $20,000 to maintain the flowers and flags. 

Nelson was another place that elected not to maintain its sign, but other places kept them after replacing the Expo 86 logo. Some (Castlegar) have since disappeared but a few (including Grand Forks, pictured below in 2014) still have them.

The Smithers article indicated that “Some communities will use the concrete slabs that form the lettering as boat launching pads — slabs four to six inches thick that when joined together form a cohesive unit.” 

Terrace council, meanwhile, was keen to keep their sign, but the RCMP declared it a serious traffic hazard due to a huge mound of dirt that formed its foundation. Perhaps the most interesting example is Hope’s sign, which was discovered overgrown in 2013 and has since been restored.

How many others still exist? A few years ago, prompted by Nelson’s new welcome signs, CBC’s Justin McIlroy ranked 185 welcome signs in BC, sometimes showcasing current ones alongside old ones. However, the Expo berms were rarely primary welcome signs to begin with and none showed up in his rankings that I could tell.

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if the Hope Station House has been transported away (again), then what is left of Hope's Expo 86 archaeological artifact?? (realize that is outside your Kutne purview)

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It's still there ... whizzed by it this month, but now wish I had stopped to take a photo.

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