Smart 55: 150 Mile Hotel an old piece of history

There's rich history surrounding the 150 Mile Hotel.
— image credit: Photo submitted

When you drive south through 150 Mile House have a look at the 150 Mile Hotel.

You can clearly see that it is made up of two separate buildings which have been joined together.

The front section, which housed the beer parlour and café on the bottom, and 16 rooms on the top, was constructed between 1952 and 1954.

But the rear section — now that is a real piece of Cariboo history!

Originally, it began its life as a family home, built in 1880 by Gavin Hamilton Sr. Hamilton was a retired Hudson’s Bay Company factor from Fort St. James, who purchased the 150 Mile Ranch and store.

He, his wife, and their 13 children took up residence in the big 150 Mile Roadhouse, but the atmosphere there was not too conducive to the raising of children, and the rooms the children used meant a loss of income in terms of room rentals, so he decided to build a new family home a little further south.

At that time 150 Mile House was still a bustling settlement on the Cariboo Wagon Road. Passengers, freight, and mail made connections there for all points north, east, south and west.

The Roadhouse did a booming business with gambling, liquor and prostitution providing a lucrative income.

Gavin Hamilton, however, suffered a series of financial and personal losses, so much so that he sold the ranch, store, roadhouse and family home to Robert Borland and George Veith in 1883 at a rock bottom price and then moved with his family further south to the Lac La Hache area.

In those days, even though the town was thriving, there was virtually no medical help in 150 Mile House.

If you got sick, you were either nursed by your friends or family, or you made a long, difficult and usually painful stagecoach trip to the doctors clinic in Ashcroft or in Barkerville.

So it was that the first physician to set up practice in 150 Mile House was welcomed to the community with open arms in 1884.

He was Dr. Hugh Watt, and he had been a well-respected and successful medical practitioner in Barkerville.

He established a very prosperous practice and continued as the community’s only doctor until 1895, when he moved to Fort Steele.

In the late 1800s doctors were fully qualified and registered in B.C.

Some had advanced degrees in surgery and medicine from highly-respected universities in the British Isles.

These men commanded respect and affection for their willingness to make house calls to the most isolated ranches, often two days or more travelling time from their home community.

It was to 150 Mile House that Dr. R.T. Wilson Herald (he used the surname Wilson) arrived in 1896. He was a handsome, 35-year-old graduate of Queens University in Kingston, Ont.

His Victorian style full mustache and his trim athletic features soon made him one of the most eligible bachelors in the Cariboo.

It did not take him long to set up his practice and his home in the former Hamilton house, which he purchased with the aid of a grant incentive from the provincial government.

The bottom floor of the place was Dr. Wilson’s private residence, with a large parlour, kitchen, sitting room and bedroom (people who remember going to the 150 Pub in the 1970s and 1980s will recall the old stone fireplace in the back room. That was the doctor’s parlour.)

Upstairs were five small treatment rooms and a larger clinic area — in effect a small hospital.

Local people were seen here, or at home if the condition was serious enough, and often people were driven to the clinic where they could remain in care until they were better.

It wasn’t long until the Hamilton house became known locally as the Doctor’s house.

The small lake behind the 150 Mile Hotel is still known today as “Doctor’s Lake.”

I read an amusing story about Dr. Wilson. It seems one of the maids working for the Murphy family at 141 Mile House was grossly overweight.

Finally, after diets and exercise programs had failed, Dr. Wilson confined her to a treatment room on the second floor of the Doctor’s house and locked her in, providing her with only a small portion of food to last each day.

Weeks went by without a single pound of weight loss.

Dr. Wilson became very suspicious that his treatment program was being thwarted.

One evening, he walked quietly around the building. He found his patient greedily hauling a pail of food up to her second storey window with a rope tied to the bucket by her husband, who admitted freely that he enjoyed larger, more buxom women.

The treatment ended forthwith, and Dr. Wilson’s weight-loss program did not become the success it might have.

Dr. Wilson left in 1901 and he was followed by Dr. Mostyn Hoops and Dr. Cecil Boyd.

In 1915 the Doctor’s house became the home of pioneer trucker Tommy Hodgson and his new bride but, in 1920, they moved into the new Williams Lake village, and the house was converted into a hotel.

Over the years since the place has been owned or managed by several well-known Cariboo pioneers — the Cornwalls, the Cowans, the Zirnhelts, the McKenzies and the Hodgsons again.

It’s an old piece of history with a fascinating story.

Barry Sale is a freelance writer with the Tribune/Weekend Advisor.

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