Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Other Side of the Tracks, A History of the Tzouhalem & Quamichan Hotels in Duncan.

The Other Side of the Tracks
A History of the Tzouhalem and Quamichan Hotels

Part I: The Tzouhalem Hotel, 1901 – 1990

By Glen A. Mofford

Tzouhalem Hotel and buildings along Front Street in the Duncan's, circa. 1910

The Tzouhalem Hotel was built in 1901 and graced the corner of Front Street and Trunk Road, later the name changed to Canada Avenue and Trunk Road, in a town then known as Duncan's Station, a stop on the Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railroad on Vancouver Island. The Tzouhalem Hotel was named after the Coast Salish Chief Tzouhalem and was owned and operated by brothers Frank & E.A. Price from 1901 until 1923.
This article is part one of a two-part series on the history of the Tzouhalem Hotel and just located east of the hotel and across the railway tracks, the Quamichan Hotel, which makes up part two. Both hotels had a long and interesting history in Duncan.

When you mention the history of the Tzouhalem Hotel to those that remember it, the first thing that comes to mind for many of “the Zoo” as it was called, was that it was a seedy place to have a drink, run down, rowdy and no place to take your mother. Like many a fine old hotel and bar, the Tzouhalem was showing her age in the 1980’s. By the late 1980’s the name of the hotel had changed to the Duncan Inn. A fire in 1980 almost proved fatal for the hotel but quick action by  firefighters saved most of the structure from destruction in spite the fact that the sprinklers inside the hotel were not operating. The hotel sustained around $100,000 damage mostly to the upper floor. The owners had just spent $70,000 renovating the old hotel and the fire forced the closure of the upper part of the hotel but they continued to run the 154-seat pub. It was just a matter of time before the place would close. That time came in December 1989.

There was talk of tearing the historic hotel down and replacing it with an eighty-five seat neighborhood pub but nothing happened for years until finally, between September 14 to 16, 1990 the once popular and famous Inn of the Cowichan Valley, was demolished.

In 1900 Duncan’s Station, as the town of Duncan was once called, was a mere tiny settlement along the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railroad on Vancouver Island.

A description of ‘the Duncan’s’ in the Henderson, BC Gazette and Directory for 1900-1901, “A station on the E & N Railway in the Cowichan District, forty miles north of Victoria...splendid fishing in the Cowichan river, very close to the station.” The Cowichan valley was an unspoiled and beautiful valley offering plenty of game for the hunter and fertile soil for the farmer and the little town of Duncan began to grow and prosper.

The Tzouhalem Hotel under construction, 1901

The E & N railroad began bring tourists to Duncan and points north. The mostly farming community was growing as retail shops, schools, churches and residential homes were being built. There were two hotels in Duncan at the time, the Alderlea and the Quamichan Hotels, both run by H. Greaves.
Frank Price and Percy Jaynes had built and operated the Quamichan Hotel until 1891 when they began construction on the Lakeside Hotel on Lake Cowichan. Keith Price, grandson of Frank & Edith Price supplied the following, "Percy later sold his interest to Frank’s brother Ernest. The Price Brothers, ran the Lakeside, then in 1901 started to build run the Tzouhalem. For a time they were running both Hotels. Guest would often arrive at the Tzouhalem for a few days then be taken up to the Lakeside for a week or so of hunting and fishing, then return to the Tzouhalem to end their vacation." The Victoria British Colonist dated Friday July 26, 1901 stated that, “The new Tzouhalem Hotel is open and accepting guests.”

Proprietors Frank H. Price with his wife Edith, owned the hotel from 1901 until 1918. Their hotel became an instant success as Mark Zuehlke writes in his book, Scoundrels, Dreamers & Second Sons, “The Tzouhalem Hotel offered a breakfast of toast upon which was ladled kippers and grilled kidneys. The Tudor-style hotel became a favourite haunt of British gentlemen and their less numerous gentlewomen. The hotel was opulently furnished, mounted heads of hunting trophies adorned the walls, fur skins were draped over stairwell banisters, and potted lush tropical plants stood in the corners while whist, bridge and billiards were played in the bar late into the night.”

The Price Brothers doubled the size of the hotel with a 22-room addition in 1911. The bar-room was removed to the basement with the original converted to a lounge and sitting room. That same year they hired Percy E. Odgers as manager. Odgers migrated from Australia to Duncan and managed the Tzouhalem for two years before his untimely death from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1913. He was 51.

At the end of World War I Frank Prices' brother, Ernest, with his wife Ada, took over the operations of the hotel which they ran until 1923.

The Tzouhalem Hotel was a very popular tourist destination and was earning a good reputation for its excellent cuisine and service. The hotel survived prohibition that became law in British Columbia from October 1917 to June 1921.

The Tzouhalem Hotel in 1917; on the eve of prohibition.

In 1923 the Price Brothers retired and leased the hotel to Thomas Berry. Three years later, the hotel was sold to Grant and Elizabeth Thorburn. The Thorburns had experience operating hotels in Vancouver, Prince Rupert and in Vernon before purchasing the Tzouhalem Hotel.
Grant managed the hotel until his death in 1930. Elizabeth, now a widow, took over the business and ran the hotel until 1953 at which time her son-in-law, Donald Butt, became the manager.

In 1925 the Tzouhalem Hotel applied for and was granted a beer parlour license. The bar was  reopened and modified to comply with the new government regulations.

By 1942 the large beer parlour was divided down the middle with a six foot wall in order to comply with the liquor regulations that required all beer parlours to separate the sexes. This was the beginning of the separate entrances, one for Men, and the other for Ladies & Escorts.

The ever-popular Tzouhalem Hotel in 1942

In 1957 the Tzouhalem Hotel was featured in the June edition of Island Events Magazine, pages 18-19, and 23, "Duncan's Tzouhalem Hotel. New owners, "Red" & Peggy Moffat purchased the hotel and modernized the rooms adding bed-sitting rooms and a
unique cocktail lounge that was built with furnishings from the T. Eaton Company."

By 1967 Betty & Dick White were owners of the Tzouhalem Hotel located at 25 Canada Way. The Beverage Room and Lounge did a very good business.
John and Ethel Kirstuik were the new owners from the late 1960's until the mid-1970's.

Through the 1960's and 1970's the old hotel began showing her age in spite attempts to modernize it. The popular beer parlour, nicknamed The Zoo, obtained a reputation as a rowdy and at times dangerous place to imbibe. In addition the Tzouhalem beer parlour plus the Commercial Hotel, the old Quamichan Hotel, just across the tracks, helped coin the unflattering phrase of "Drunkin' Duncan", not exactly the reputation that the City Fathers wished to emulate.

In 1980 there was a fire on the top floor of the hotel allegedly started by a carelessly discarded cigarette. The owners, who had just spent $70,000 on renovations, simply closed the top floor and operated the rest of the hotel. The long-held name, Tzouhalem was changed to the Duncan Inn. The old hotel was run down and its popularity was waning. Gone were the days of filling the bar every weekend  with thirsty patrons as the new neighborhood pubs opening in the area attracted patrons away from the large dingy Tzouhalem. With business slowing and its reputation tarnished, the owners closed the Duncan Inn in December 1989. The once grand hotel sat empty, a sad ending for such a historic building and at one time the pride of the Cowichan Valley.

The Duncan Inn; a pale imitation of its former grandeur.

Thomas William Paterson, on page 78 of his Cowichan Chronicles VI, writes, "The three-storied, multi-gabled Tzouhalem was just steps away for train travelers. 'The Zoo' of modern memory - a run-down beer parlour with strippers - was nothing like the hotel of old. If, even in its prime, the Tzouhalem wasn't the equal of the Empress [in Victoria, built in 1908], it was among the finest hotels on Vancouver Island..."

A parking lot now occupies the spot where the hotel once stood. Plans were afoot to build on the site in 2012. "Intercoast's Stephen Holland said Sunday that he wants to construct a historically-themed building, tentatively called "The Alderlea," featuring two commercial spaces and six live-work spaces on the ground floor plus 24 residential suites of a thousand square feet each upstairs." But no development has taken place to this date (2014).

Links for further reading and credits for sources used in this article will be added soon.
Meanwhile I have put together a collage of the Tzouhalem for your enjoyment.