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Wandering hotel bars of West Kootenay

Updated: Jul 14

On June 18, 2023 the BC Historical Federation received an intriguing email from Lupito Flores of Spokane that was forwarded to me.


“I’m just wondering where the old Sandon Hotel bar ended up in Spokane,” he wrote. “I heard that it was moved to Spokane. Mainly just curious and would like to see if it’s still there.”


Lupito later told me he’s loved the area since he was a kid and he and his wife took their daughters to Sandon many times when they were little.


I replied that at least a couple of Sandon bars were salvaged and moved, and I knew where one was, but not the other. This was the first I’d heard one might be in Spokane. It set me on an odyssey.

Strangely, this is the only photo I can find of a Sandon bar in action, although the men are covering up the front bar itself. It was reportedly taken in the Exchange Hotel in 1912. A colourized version of this photo appeared on the cover of the 2017 book Infidels and the Damn Churches. (Image C-06184 Courtesy Royal BC Museum and Archives)


Sandon had a great many bars in its hotels and saloons, most or all of which were destroyed in the big fire of 1900. So any that survive today were presumably built and/or installed after that date.


Each bar room consisted of a front section with a bar top, a back section, various rails, and a long mirror. These pieces were not always kept together when subsequently sold, making my quest more complicated, since more than one person can have pieces from the same bar room set, and news stories didn’t necessarily distinguish between them.


Not all of these bars were fancy, but just the same, where did they all go? At least one probably burned in a subsequent fire, but as for the rest? Saved or scrapped? We only have paper trails on a few.


Reco Hotel


The longest-running bar in Sandon belonged to Johnny Harris’ Reco Hotel, which burned in the 1900 fire but was rebuilt. It’s also the only bar we have a photo of in situ.


In 1954, following Johnny’s death, his wife Alma began selling off all of the hotel’s furniture, including the bar. In the Nelson Daily News of Aug. 30, 1954, Leslie Holmes described it:

The old bar room, its bar and glass back in remarkably good condition and hanging above, framed photographs of Sandon from the Elkhorn Mine, of the Slocan Star and the Rabbit Paw from the Ruth mine. It’s all as it was before, only without the bottles lined up at the back, the guy in the white apron and the bar flies.

It was still there when the Daily News checked in again on July 24, 1956:

The bar, its mirrored panels unbroken and the heavy woodwork in almost perfect preservation, is up for sale. About 14 feet long, and 30 inches wide, it was imported and set up when the hotel was built, and is believed to be unique in this district.

They didn’t, however, explain what made it unique. Perhaps just that it was the last remaining bar in Sandon. Six days later, this photo appeared in the paper.

While it’s unclear exactly when it was sold, the back section ended up with Allen Woodrow, proprietor of the Robson zoo. Unfortunately, he took a chainsaw to it to accommodate his barbecue, added an arborite top, and placed it on an outdoor porch.


Subsequently, popular historian and Sandon enthusiast Bill Barlee bought it and moved it to his place in Summerland with help from Hal Wright and Bruce Cowan.


Wright explains: “[Barlee] called me in the late ‘70s and said if you want it, you can have it for $700,” the same amount Barlee paid for it. “I took a dump truck to Summerland and we took the tailgate off and put the bar in the back end.”


The bar was moved a third time and returned home to Sandon where it was placed in the old city hall, now the Prospector’s Pick, at the back of the first floor. There it remains. But Wright says far from being imported, it shows signs of on-site assembly using scrap wood following the Sandon fire.


As for the front bar, Alma apparently had no takers, and it was still there when Hans Schlaffke began tearing the hotel down to salvage lumber for his new gas station in New Denver (which itself has since been demolished).


Hans told Hal that while he was stripping the Reco, a man arrived and made an offer on the massive fir plank that made up the bar’s countertop. Hans allowed him to remove the top, which the buyer hauled away in his truck. The rest of the bar was discarded outside the Reco along with other broken or damaged lumber.


However, two mirrors from the Reco are still around, and you can gaze into them while having your hair cut at the Barber Shop (formerly Albert’s Barber Shop) at 467 Ward Street in Nelson. Ralph Beatty says they each measure about ten feet long by three feet tall and are “incredible quality mirrors. I was amazed at how true the reflections still were.”


Sandon Hotel


The Sandon Hotel was rebuilt by Robert Cunning following the fire of 1900 and after a lengthy closure sold to Virginio Celente in 1926, who reopened it the following year.


We know it still had its bar when the BC Security Commission leased the building in 1942 to house interned Japanese Canadians. The owner at that time was Antonia Calgaro of Nelson, who inherited it from Celant, who died in 1939. Antonia’s maiden name was Celant, but their connection is unknown. Virginio’s obituary claimed he had no relatives in Canada.


A 1944 security commission memo revealed the front bar had been shipped to Nelson at Antonia’s request but the rear section and mirror was still in place.

Antonia’s husband Frank Del Puppo, a Sandon miner, died of silicosis in 1929 and a couple of years later she married another miner, Attilio (Charlie) Calgaro. They lived in Nelson with her six children.


Her grandson, Ken Del Puppo of Slocan, told me they had a three-storey house at 1212 Hall Mines Road on a property that consisted of a dozen lots. Antonia grew fruits and vegetables to feed her family.


Ken recalls the hotel bar was stored in a barn on the property, along with a huge pair of skis his uncle Ernie made to jump off roofs in Sandon, so astonishingly high did snow pile up there.


Antonia died in 1962, age 72, and Attilio followed seven months later at age 69. In the early 1970s, the property was one of the many casualties of the new highway interchange project. It’s now hard to imagine what it used to look like and Ken doesn’t know of any photos of the house.


The bar in the barn, however, went to Antonia’s son Vic Del Puppo, who took it to Vancouver and turned it into a dining room suite. Ken thinks his cousin may still have it, but he’s not sure.


Back to the Sandon Hotel: Antonia put it up for sale in 1947 and 1950 but found no immediate buyers. But in 1951, the Kootenay Belle Mining Company of Retallack bought all the vacant buildings in Sandon, including the Sandon Hotel, which it converted into a boarding house.


According to the Nelson Daily News of April 16, 1951: “This hotel, once the property of Robert Cunning, still has a beautiful mirror, once the back of the old bar-room in the early days of Sandon.”


In 1955, the Sandon Hotel was among the buildings badly undermined by a washout. The building leaned at a crazy angle until it was demolished. I don’t know if the mirror was salvaged.

The Sandon Hotel after the 1955 washout. In the photo above, the Reco Hotel is across the street and the still-standing city hall is further down Carpenter Creek.


There is good reason to believe, however, that the back bar survived. Fast forward to August 1986, when the following classified ad appeared in the Victoria Times-Colonist:

A similar ad appeared in December in The Vancouver Sun and The Province:

I asked Ron Greene of Victoria, a noted historian with expertise on BC hotels, about it. He used the Victoria civic directories to look up who that phone number belonged to. However, it turns out it changed four times in five years!


The sequence was Kevin Barteaux (1984), T. Verhagen (1986), Wm. Morefield (1987), and B. Lynch (1988). It was not listed in 1985. None of those names meant anything to me or to Ron, and he’s not aware of any old bars from outside of Victoria that were ever there.


At first I thought the seller might have been Bill Barlee again, but I don’t think he lived in Victoria prior to being elected MLA in 1988.


Hal Wright, however, was able to add some details.

About 20 years ago we had a visit from an elderly couple who claimed they had the Sandon Hotel bar in storage in Vancouver. They asked if we were interested in buying it for Sandon and we said yes. I think we corresponded with them a couple of times and then we never heard from them again. I assumed that one or both of them may have passed away. Perhaps the bar still exists.

Hal is going to try to find the name of the couple. It’s not clear if they were the ones who were trying to sell it in the ‘80s or acquired it from that seller.


Hal also confirmed that in his late teens, he too heard the Sandon Hotel bar was in Spokane, specifically at a nightclub called Gazebo’s. During Expo ’74, he and eight other kids drove to see the fair and search for the bar.


However, they got there to find Gazebo’s was closed and they couldn’t find any reliable information. “Our search for the Sandon Hotel bar was unsuccessful but we certainly had fun,” he said.


I learned this establishment was built in 1969 at W1018 Francis and operated by K. Wendell Reugh. It was originally the Gazebo Pizza Place or Gazebo Pizza Pub. Around 1981 it became the Swinging Doors and it’s still operating.


I posted something on a Spokane history Facebook group inquiring if anyone remembered an old bar there and while it generated lots of responses, no one said they remembered an old bar there. Even if there was, I’m not sure how we would ever be able to establish it was from Sandon, given that we have no pictures of it.


Anyway, to see for myself, I visited the Swinging Doors in December 2023.

They do have a bar, which is split into a couple of sections. But it does not look that old. At least it has a new countertop and does not betray any signs of Sandon.

After I posted this story on the People of Nelson Facebook site, Missy Dundas said a friend of hers has part of a bar from Sandon. It’s the lower cabinets with a new bar top. She said she would try to find out more.


The five-cent piece


Another Sandon bar survived until the start of the internment, although we don’t know which hotel it belonged to. The Nelson Daily News of July 11, 1942 told the story:

In the course of wrecking a bar in an old hotel at Sandon a workman picked up a five-cent piece — an American nickel coined at the time there were but 13 states in the United States. It is said to be worth $56 now as a collector’s item.

The five-cent piece was considered valuable and worth remarking on, but the bar was wrecked!


There were 13 states from 1776 to 1791, but the first US five-cent piece wasn’t issued until 1794. I don’t know why the story didn’t just give the date on the coin, nor do I know its value today.


1794 five-cent pieces appear to be exceptionally rare, although a number of 1794 one-cent pieces have recently fetched anywhere from $61 to $1,980 on eBay.


Mystery mirrors and curious clock


At least a couple of other mirrors survived that could have come Sandon bars. Hal Wright says Goldie Walker of Silverton had it in her apartment above the Silverton Esso station.


“She showed it to me more than once and claimed it was from a bar in Sandon,” Wright says. “She couldn’t remember which one. I have no idea what happened to the mirror after Goldie died. I think she had family outside of Silverton.”


Goldie died in 1979. Her brother Vic Worley, who lived in the Trail area, signed her death registration.


On the Historic Hotels and Pubs of British Columbia site, Jeff Schupfer wrote that his brother in Castlegar has a saloon mirror hanging at his place that their grandfather bought at auction. It measures 11 feet long by five feet wide in an oak frame. Their grandfather said it was from a saloon in Sandon, but he is not sure which.


Meanwhile, according to the Vancouver Herald of Feb. 1, 1957, a collector of BC ghost town artifacts named Bill Baddely had a remarkable bar room clock “with slits in the face [that] one stood in a Sandon bar, guarding the way into the bar owner’s private room. he could look through the slits and watch for trouble.”


The bar wasn’t named and I don’t know what happened to the clock. Some of Baddely’s paper items went to the Glenbow Museum in Calgary but what about his artifacts?


The ice cream parlour bar


In 1938, H.H. Pendry and H.R. Harrod opened an ice cream parlour in New Denver after closing off the front porch of the Pendry home.


According to the Arrow Lakes News, in addition to an ice cream and soda fountain, it boasted a back “a back bar of ancient vintage. It comes from the hotel at Three Forks and is 35 or 36 years old. It is a double gooseneck McLaughlin bar of solid mahogany and probably cost in the neighbourhood of $150.” I don’t know how long the ice cream parlour was in business nor what happened to the bar afterward.


Hume Hotel


In the course of searching for lost Sandon bars, I also stumbled across something about an old bar from the Hume Hotel in Nelson.


In 1955, Vancouver lawyer John G. Gould was in Nelson acting for the Doukhobor Land Commission. Somehow he heard about a “discarded bar” in the basement of the Hume and bought it for his home.


The story in the Daily News of Oct. 18, 1955 was vague. It described the bar as one that “drew the pioneers through the the swinging doors at a local hotel when Nelson was famed for its saloons” but didn’t say whether that hotel was the Hume or another one.


It attributed a comment to Hewitt Ferguson, a clerk at the Hume, that “many a miner stood at the ornate mahogany bar and ordered his scotch and soda in the city’s pioneer days.”


The story stated the bar was used from 1903 “and the whisky stains from the drinks of hardy pioneers still show on its polished surface” but didn’t indicate when it might have been retired.


Intriguingly, it added that a portion of the bar “is already owned by a friend of Mr. Gould’s at the coast,” but didn’t identify that person or explain how they acquired it.


Gould was appointed a BC Supreme Court judge in 1964. When he died in 2002, his obituary noted his hobbies included “making dreadful lamps and recycling his vast inventory of collected junk.” Where is that bar today?

As for the Hume’s existing bar in the Library lounge, seen above, I asked proprietor Ryan Martin about it. Was it original, a replica, or procured from somewhere else? A replica, he replied. In fact, a plaque on it reads:


Replica of

ORIGINAL BAR

By T.L.C. CARPENTRY & CONST. Ltd.

and SNUGS JOINERY

Aug. 1980

Neither the front nor the back bar, however, resemble a couple of photos in the BC Archives by G.W. Miller from around 1899.

(Images B-03165 and B-30166 courtesy Royal BC Museum and Archives)


But it does resemble the bar depicted in a ca. 1919-20 postcard with the caption “A very small section of tea room, Hume Hotel.” (The conversion to a tea room was the result of prohibition being enacted in 1917 and included adding a soda fountain.)

The Hume received a complete makeover in 1929, but nowhere in the Daily News’ extensive description of the renos could I find any mention of the state of the bar fixtures. It just said the former tearoom was now known as the parlor and “lavishly furnished with every convenience.”


Who knows which bar John Gould and his pal ended up with?


In 1960, the Hume held a sidewalk auction of furniture following a renovation, but the Daily News story about it didn’t indicate what era the stuff was from, nor what specific things were sold.


Still more wandering bars


On the People of Nelson Facebook group, Josh Smienk revealed that he once had the bar from the Madden Hotel, which stood at the corner of Baker and Ward streets in Nelson until it was demolished in the 1950s to make way for Woolworth’s. Smienk planned to use it, but it never worked out, so he gave it to a friend in Radium Hot Springs, who restored it and it now sits in his house.


Meanwhile, Marvin Paisner said Torchlight Brewery in Nelson is now home to a section of the original bar from the St. Leon Hot Springs Hotel (seen below), which burned down in 1968. I don’t know when it was removed or where it has been.

Finally, in the book Circle of Silver, Harold Command recalled the Miners Hotel at Gold Hill in the Lardeau being torn down, presumably some time in the 1950s. “Some Americans had bought the bar,” he said. “It was sort of black and had bullet holes in it. They took it to the States.”


Many more bars probably met the fate like the one of the Commercial Hotel in Poplar, which author Bruce Ramsey visited in 1961 (on the same trip, probably, that resulted in the salvage of the Mattie Gunterman glass photo negatives). In his book Ghost Towns of British Columbia, he wrote of the hotel:

The plaster was falling from the ceilings, the walls and part of the roof were gone and the doors hung at crazy angles when we ventured in … [T]he long wooden bar was in its proper place and as we stood in need of bracing we braced up to the bar for a bracer that would brace, and pounded for service. A meek little mouse scurried across the room [and] a bit more plaster fell from the roof ... 

With thanks to Hal Wright, Ken Del Puppo, Ron Greene, Ryan Martin, Lupito Flores


Updated on Jan. 7, 2024 with photos from the Swinging Doors, on May 25, 2024 with the New Denver ice cream parlour, on July 5, 2024 with the Gold Hill bar, and on July 14, 2024 with the Commercial Hotel bar.

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Ron Verzuh
Ron Verzuh
Sep 07, 2023

More excellent historical digging, Greg. Terrific account of the old bar scene. Thank you. I'm thirsty already! Ron

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