Please note that for this article, I have borrowed extensively from Irene Stangoe’s writings.
One of the earliest, and one of the most famous hotels in Williams Lake was the Log Cabin Hotel, later renamed the Ranch.
It was located on the corner of Oliver Street and Mackenzie Avenue, where Oliver’s Bar and Grill is found today.
Tow partners, Bill Smith and Archie Campbell, began its construction in the late summer of 1919 with logs that were cut and skidded down from what is now the Poplar Glade area of town.
When the building was completed, it had 13 rooms for guests as well as a large lobby and dining room.
Rates were quite pricey for that time — 50 cents each for a meal and a bed.
There was no liquor sold there at first, since Smith did not believe spirits should be sold in first class hotels.
The place did quite well financially and, along with the PGE Station House, it was a major centre of activity for the young settlement.
Smith and Campbell kept making improvements to attract customers, and one of those improvements was the installation of the town’s first bathtub. It was a large porcelain tub, located in a special room on the second floor.
It had only one tap, which provided plenty of cold water — in the winter months it was ice cold.
If you wanted to have a hot bath, water had to be dipped into buckets from the cistern behind the large stove in the hotel lobby and carried upstairs by hand.
Not only was this a lot of extra work, but you were charged an additional 50 cents for the hot water.
In July of 1921 a fire, which began in the rooms above the big Fraser and Mackenzie general store down the street, devastated the whole block.
The Lakeview Hotel, a meat market, the general store and the dance hall next door were all destroyed.
It appeared the Log Cabin Hotel would also go up in flames, but most of the townspeople turned out to fight the blaze.
They helped to save what they could, spreading wet blankets on the hotel roof, setting up a bucket brigade from the PGE water tower across the street and attempting to rescue anything of value from inside the hotel.
That included the bath tub.
In their haste, the volunteers ripped it out from its upstairs room, but severely damaged the walls and the balustrades as they tried to navigate it down the narrow stairway. It got stuck on the stairs for a while, but more people showed up to ‘help’ and it was finally dragged outside where it was placed in the street along with beds, furniture, bedding and other items.
The owner, Bill Smith, who watched all this happen, became visibly upset, complaining about the rough treatment given to his prized bathtub and his other belongings, and bemoaning the fact that the plumbing connections had all been ruined and would have to be replaced at great cost.
Apparently, after the fire had been put out, the tub sat on the street out front of the hotel for several weeks.
Some jokester put a sign on it which read: “Baths — 50 cents.”
The townspeople also tried to save the dishes from the hotel’s dining room.
These were piled on the large homemade trestle tables, but they proved to be too big to fit through the doors.
In the confusion of the fire, the tables were tipped sideways to get them out and much of the china was smashed.
It is said that Smith, seeing this destruction, picked up his suitcase in disgust and walked up the street.
After going about half a block, he put the suitcase down, sat on it, and watched, “hoping that the whole building would burn down.”
It didn’t, largely because of the efforts and dedication of the townsfolk, and the hotel was scorched but saved.
It was noted, though, that Smith did not express his thanks to any of the citizens who had helped.
After the fire the damage to the building was repaired, and it continued to do a booming business.
Even though Smith did not approved of the sale of liquor, the partners were in business to make money, and not having a licensed establishment put them at a disadvantage.
Thus it was that the hotel lobby was finally renovated to include a beer parlour.
Smith never did adjust very well to the idea of liquor sales, and sometimes he would get so angry at the behaviour of the patrons that he would throw everyone out and lock up the beer parlour, then disappear until he cooled down.
In 1925 Smith bought out his partner and he continued to run the place until 1931.
It was a frontier pub, and the combination of liquor and the wild west made for some interesting situations.
One time a customer came in to find the big barrel heater in the lobby crumpled up on the floor.
When he asked what had happened, Smith disgustedly explained that “some cowboys were riding it.”
It remained in its collapsed state for quite a while until Smith got around to putting some money into repairing it.
After 1931 the hotel went through a number of owners.
In 1937 it saw another major fire, necessitating another extensive renovation.
By the 1950s it had changed its named to the Ranch Hotel, and it was the scene of some of the wilder side of the town’s night life.
In 1965 the original logs of the Log Cabin Hotel, which were deteriorated badly after 45 years, were all removed and replaced with a wood frame construction.
The hotel continued to operate until it was levelled by a spectacular fire on Boxing Day in 1996.
The weather was frigid, and the volunteer fire department had a real challenge to get the fire under control and prevent it from spreading.
By the time it was out, the whole area was encased in ice.
So ended the colourful life of one of our city’s most well-known structures.
Barry Sale is a freelance columnist with the Tribune/Weekend Advisor.