The Maple Leaf Hotel has a storied past in Williams Lake.

The Maple Leaf Hotel has a storied past in Williams Lake.

Haphazard History: Maple Leaf Hotel sees many eras

Another early hotel with a colourful history was the Maple Leaf Hotel.

Another early hotel with a colourful history was the Maple Leaf Hotel.

It began life in 1920 as the Grand Central, built by William Smith (who was also half owner of the Log Cabin Hotel) and his brother, George.

They first built a small boarding house on the corner of First Avenue and Borland Street where the parking lot above the Potato House is today, and lived in it while the new hotel was under construction.

They also rented out rooms, which helped to pay the expenses.

The Grand Central was built where the Caribou Ski Source for Sports store is currently located, but facing on to Oliver Street. Shortly after the hotel was completed, the brothers parted company and the hotel and boarding house were sold to Edward Weyneberg and his wife, who had been operating a cafe at 150 Mile House.

The Weynebergs applied for, and received, the first beer licence in town and converted the boarding house into the first beer parlour.

The place was an instant success.

In 1928, Charles and Laura Moxon bought the hotel. They felt the access would be better if it were facing onto First Avenue, so they hired workers to jack the 12-room structure up, and using a team of horses, it was turned 90 degrees.

They also changed the name to the Maple Leaf, since Grand Central Hotel sounded a little too pretentious, it being neither grand nor central.

The Moxons ran a family-type hotel. They had three children going to school, and wanted as normal a life as possible for them. Thus, the Maple Leaf did not sell liquor, and ladies of the evening frequented the town’s other lodging establishments.

Families coming in from Horsefly, Likely and the Chilcotin would stay at the Maple Leaf.

Mothers waiting to be admitted to the hospital to have their babies could be seen knitting and crocheting in the lobby, or reading books which Mrs. Moxon had obtained for the place.

The large book case served to separate the ladies on one side of the lobby from the gentlemen and their smoking/cards room on the other.

There was a piano there, as well, and Mrs. Moxon would frequently play music and lead the patrons in song.

It was a very respectable and well-managed place, not at all like some of the other lodging places/saloons in town.

In 1945, Benny Abbott purchased the hotel. He was a colourful character, a wise-cracking community booster.

In short order, he applied for a liquor licence and converted the lobby to a drinking establishment, although in those days, women and escorts were kept separate from the men’s side.

Gradually, the pub earned a reputation as a pretty wild place, especially at Stampede time.

The story is told that during the 1949 Stampede, Riske Creek rancher Mickey Martin, thirsty after a hot day at the rodeo, rode his prized Apaloosa stallion right into the Maple Leaf beer parlour, dismounted and ordered two beers.

The bartender was noticeably shaken by the appearance of the horse, and pleaded with Mickey to take him outside.

Mickey, however, was adamant. It was hot outside, his horse needed the shade and both he and his mount wanted a beer. It came down to impasse.

Benny Abbott called up the provincial police constable, Bill Broughton, on the phone and explained the problem to him. Const. Broughton arrived on the scene fairly quickly, took stock of the situation, and sat down with Mickey.

He quietly asked him “How old is your horse, Mickey?”

Martin proudly replied the horse was five years old.

Const. Broughton then pointed to a sign that stated: no drinks would be served to anyone under the age of 21 and said, “Well, Mickey. You really wouldn’t like your friends to think that you were riding a 21-year-old crock, would you?”

Mickey scratched his head and drawled, “Gosh, Bill, I never thought of that,” then remounted his horse and rode out of the pub.

After Benny Abbott’s death the hotel was sold to the Kohnke brothers, who were also local characters of note, and professional wrestlers, as well.

Bill, the older brother, wrestled in 170 matches as Billy Kohnke or “The Mask” in Canada and the U.S. between 1934 and 1957.

Felix, who went by the names of “The Cariboo kid” or “Krusher Larson” competed in 384 matches between 1948 and 1965 in Canada, the U.S. and England.

In the late 50s and early 60s both men were very active in town affairs, being involved with the Chamber of Commerce, the Cariboo Shrine Club and the town council.

Felix was even the Liberal candidate for the federal election in 1957. In June of 1958 they organized a huge wrestling match to raise funds for a new library in town.

Felix, as the Cariboo Kid, was the star attraction.

More than $1,200, a significant sum in those days, was raised — enough to put the fundraising efforts over the top and establish the town’s first library.

After the Kohnkes sold out, the Maple Leaf went through a series of owners.

It was a well-known drinking establishment during the boom years of the 1960s.

Right up until it burned to the ground in 1977, it still had the separate entrances for “men” and for “ladies and escorts,” an impressive collection of stuffed and mounted animal heads adorning the walls, and was a well-known fixture in the town’s night life scene.

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