History Corner: What's behind the green door?

The image of this green door was taken in 1997 in the basement of the Yorkton Hotel. I was, at the time, “exploring” rumours of underground tunnels that may have existed in Yorkton during the Prohibition years in Saskatchewan between 1915 to 1924. At that time, all bars and liquor outlets were shut down and the only place men could get liquor was at local drug stores, with a doctor’s prescription for “medicinal” purposes. Of course, there was suddenly a remarkable increase of colds and flu in men. Also, using the loop holes in liquor laws, while you could not buy Saskatchewan liquor, one could go to the neighbouring province to buy some. So, if on the return trip you successfully avoided police patrols you then had to have a good hiding place at your destination. Consequently, all sorts of folklore survived from the “banish the bars” era in Yorkton! One main story: stashes of good liquor were stored underground in networks of tunnels. Yorkton had special stories because it was said that the Bronfman brothers, Harry and Sam, had tunnels here and there in the downtown. One story was that they had a tunnel running from the Yorkton Hotel on Second Avenue North to the Balmoral Hotel on North Front Street aka Livingstone Street. Today, we will start examining the stories, one at a time to eliminate the tall tales. The idea that the Yorkton Hotel had tunnels running up to the Balmoral Hotel is not a reasonable assumption. Here is why: we checked with Director of Engineering René Richard and the distance between the two locations is 385 meters or 1,263 feet! That is too much dirt to haul away after digging to be able to work without being noticed. There were also posts for the coal-oil street lamps, dugout coal shoots near buildings and sewage pipes as underground barriers.

And so, is there a special story to the green door in the hotel basement? Some historical accounts tell us that there were “speakeasies” (these could be a coffee shop or a bathhouse) that had an outside door painted green to indicate secretly to special customers who frequented the places that hard liquor could be enjoyed within. In this case, we think not! First, Bronfmans did not own the Yorkton Hotel during the Prohibition years. Furthermore, for any hiding or shipping of liquor purposes, Harry owned several buildings on Third Avenue South — all in closer proximity to the Balmoral Hotel and the railway. The green door was also on the north wall, and at one time opened to a space where there were clotheslines. A much more likely reason for the door’s colour — there was a good sale on paint one day at the Dunlop store down the street.

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Next week, we will continue to study the places thought to have been entrances to tunnels. We welcome any folklore stories.

P.S. My title What’s Behind The Green Door? I remember jiving to that famous 1956 Rock and Roll song of the same title.

Contact Terri Lefebvre Prince,
Heritage Researcher,
City of Yorkton Archives,
Box 400, 37 Third Avenue North
Yorkton, Sask. S3N 2W3
306-786-1722
heritage@yorkton.ca

© Copyright Yorkton This Week

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