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  • Writer's pictureCraig Baird

When Vermilion Lost Its Hotel

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The Great Depression was not an easy time for any community in Canada, but it was especially tough on the prairies.

While The Great Depression was nearly over by 1938, Vermilion had to deal with the loss of an iconic structure near the end of that year.

On Nov. 29, 1938, Vermilion lost its hotel.

Flames were first discovered in the basement at 1:30 a.m. by Stanley Portsmith, the night clerk. He turned on the alarm and with the help of hotel employees, woke up the sleeping guests.

The guests fled out the fire escapes into the night wearing their night clothes and carrying what street clothes they had. Many quickly dressed in the street to get some protection from the cold.

Many of the guests were permanent residents of the hotel, and they lost everything in the fire.

In all, 16 people escaped the fire and no one was killed or seriously injured.

The hotel itself was built in 1908 and was one of the oldest buildings in Vermilion. It was 120 feet long and 36 feet wide with 22 furnished rooms in the top two floors. The ground floor had a restaurant, kitchen, rotunda, office, beer hall and storage rooms.

There was no wind in the night which allowed firefighters to keep the fire contained. There was a worry that the Canadian Legion Memorial Hall and the residence of Gordon Williams would catch fire but they did not.

The fire was strong enough that the heat could be felt two blocks away.

The hotel was valued at $15,000 and contents at $12,000. Insurance would cover part of the cost.

The owner of the hotel, Ernest Wright, was attending an Alberta Hotelmen’s Association convention in Edmonton and he quickly left the city to get back to Vermilion.

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