Tuesday September 02, 2014

The Balmoral Hotel and the Bronfman liquor building

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The Balmoral Hotel and next door, the Bronfman liquor manufacturing building. The Balmoral Hotel, although destroyed by fire in 1985, will always have a prominent place in Yorkton's history. It is a hotel with a "past" that refuses to be forgotten. In the early years, the bar was renowned for the occasional rowdy and disorderly behavior. Two men starting a fist fight could bring on allies on each side and a brawl would ensue, usually stopped only by a couple North West Mounted Policemen hurriedly dispatched. Often charges were not laid. In 1904, a group of men sitting in the bar drinking and gossiping would have been interrupted by a regular customer by the name of Jack Hole as he crashed into the place on horseback and rode up to the bar for a shot of whisky! Another time, it was area rancher Scotty McDonald who had been riding his steed in the Orangemen's parade, who decided to ride into the bar to order a drink. These riders got what they wanted we are told, for in those days the customer was always right! It would have taken at least 8 men to help get the horses outside. Today, charges would be laid, but in those days, this was all about daring and some men's concept of fun. On the other hand, when the Bronfman brothers, Abe and Harry violated the Sunday Ordinance in 1907 — (no liquor to be served on Sundays,) they were charged, fined and warned of the imminent danger of losing their liquor license. If a gentleman guest wanted to bring a lady other than his wife to his room, he would have likely been discouraged by the posted sign Harry had to notify that such guests had to be entertained in the parlour! Also, while it was illegal, we are told that poker games — high stake ones, were played on the premises. All of it is a fascinating study of the mores of the day!

Harry Bronfman had enlarged the hotel in 1912, keeping the same attractive architectural frontage as the original building. The registers of 1911 to 1913 shows the hotel's popularity, with guests from near and far, such as Eastern Canada, the United States and even Australia! Only two-hundred feet from the railway, a guest sitting at a dining room or lobby window could have watched the arrival and departure of the trains. For many years, there was a carriage or car ready to go meet the train and bring guests to the hotel. But, an unexpected event would happen; Prohibition — the closing down of the bars which took place on July 1, 1915. This event changed hotel life dramatically. Harry had to concentrate on other means of making money — real estate for one, and he opened the City Garage. He and his brother Sam began to look for any possible loop-holes in the liquor laws, and they found them. However, what would alter their business life and make them unbelievably wealthy was after they obtained a license to manufacture liquor in Yorkton. It was illegal to sell liquor within the provincial boundaries, but then the United States enacted the Volstead Act in 1919, making the country completely "dry." This opened up markets for Saskatchewan legal liquor to be sold in the USA.

The Prohibition story continues Feb. 19th.

Contact Terri Lefebvre Prince,
Heritage Researcher, City of Yorkton Archives,
Box 400, 37 Third Avenue North,
Yorkton, Sask.
S3N 2W3



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