Monday, 28 March 2011

The Unlucky Landis Hotel

The Landis Hotel, c. 1915. Sign beside the door reads "Chautauqua."  Image source
Reading about all the people who once owned the now-demolished Landis Hotel really makes me want to learn more about them. There are stories in every hotel, but something tells me the stories in this one are truly compelling – and sometimes sad.

Noble and Gertrude Woodworth, originally from Nova Scotia, came to Saskatchewan in 1917 to try their luck a farming in the Landis area. As suitable land was not immediately available, they decided to run the Landis Hotel for a year. Built in 1909 by contractors Lee, Hope and Meldrome, the hotel had been in a slump since the start of Prohibition in 1915. To make matters worse, the Spanish Flu hit the village of Landis in the fall of 1918. An emergency influenza hospital was set up in the Landis Hotel. 

Hotel at the end of Main Street, n.d. Image source

Landis Hotel, 1913. From The Landis Record (1980)
The flu epidemic started in the trenches at the end of the First World War in May 1918.  It spread across the Atlantic as troops returned to Canadian ports in the late spring and early summer, and reached Saskatchewan on October 1, 1918. Infected soldiers bound for home disembarked from troop trains in Regina and from there, the flu spread rapidly throughout the province.  

Almost 4,000 Saskatchewan people died during the first three months of the epidemic, and the largest number of deaths occurred in villages (12.6 people out of 1,000). Landis was not spared. It was thought that the flu was brought to the community by troupe of Chautauqua performers. (A Chautauqua was a travelling summer fair featuring music, drama and educational lectures, popular across North America during the Teens and Twenties.) So severe was the epidemic that literally every household in the village and surrounding district was stricken. The Landis Record reports that schools and businesses were closed, “and it was difficult to find enough able-bodied people to tend the sick.” Several people from Landis and area died. The wife of the United Church minister, Mrs. Trevor Williams, died at age 30, leaving behind a daughter who was only a few months old. Four members of the Geary family succumbed to the flu, including Ted Geary, his wife and son.

The next year, the Woodworths moved to a quarter section of land on the outskirts of Landis. Their two room shack, with no conveniences and with straw and manure banked up around the foundation to keep the place warm in winter, was likely a welcome change to the sadness the couple witnessed in the Landis Hotel in the fall of 1918.

Anna Haas (right) with her sister Clara.
From The Landis Record (1980)
Anna Haas ran the Landis Hotel from 1919 to 1921. Anna, the eldest daughter of Adam and Mariana Haas, had immigrated to Canada from Galicia in 1900 when she was only a few months old. The family originally homesteaded in the area of Gimli, Manitoba, on Lake Winnipeg.  In 1918, when Anna was 18 years old and working in the garment industry in Winnipeg, her parents and siblings moved to Landis. Perhaps the family thought the operation of the village hotel would be a good opportunity for Anna, for she arrived by passenger train shortly afterwards.  Anna’s younger siblings lived at the hotel while they attended school in town. They helped her with some of the lighter chores like carrying wood and washing dishes. In 1921, Anna decided to return to Winnipeg, and then to Edmonton, where she worked for the G.W.G. Garment Company. Anna was “stricken with a mental disorder” in 1928. She was committed to the Weyburn Mental Hospital where she lived for 50 years, dying at the hospital in 1978 at 78 years old. She is buried in the Landis cemetery.

John and Mary Ann "Grannie" MacLeod in front of the hotel, c. 1940.
From The Landis Record (1980)
John MacLeod his wife, Mary Ann, and their six children farmed near Lockwood, Saskatchewan for five years before taking over ownership of the Landis Hotel in 1923. The MacLeod family ran the hotel until 1961. John passed away in 1942, at which time his son Hector, who had been working in the hotel since 1930, bought the business. Mary Ann passed away in 1951. 

The following year, Hector converted the dining room of the hotel into a café, and hired Woo Sing Kee from Rosetown to run it. Mr. Sing, as he was known, had a wife in China, but Canada’s restrictive immigration laws prevented him from bringing her to join him in Saskatchewan. Instead, he brought young Raymond Kwan from China to help him out. Raymond attended school in Landis when he wasn’t working at the hotel cafe. After Raymond left, Mr. Sing had Wing Woo and Wah Woo working with him in the café. The Chinese Immigration Act was finally repealed in 1947, but it wasn’t until 1958 that Mr. Sing’s wife joined him in Landis. Mr. Sing died two years later, in 1960. His wife continued to live in the Landis Hotel, with Wing Woo and Wah Woo looking after her until her death in 1968.

The empty Landis Hotel, March 2006.  Joan Champ photo
By 2006, the hotel was abandoned and empty – open to vandals and the elements – a real safety hazard. Its wooden exterior had been covered over with stucco at some point, painted in bright colours. At the back there were several small additions to the original structure – sheds, lean-tos and even a dog house, with doors everywhere. Looking around the place, one could not help but say, “If only these walls could talk....” The Landis Hotel was torn down a couple of years later.

Rear of the Landis Hotel, 2007. Image source

Rear of the Landis Hotel, 2007. Image source

© Joan Champ, 2011


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3 comments:

  1. I performed my stage hypnosis show at this hotel a number of times. The crowds that attended and the good times that ensued were epic. I am truly sorry to learn that the little Landis Hotel was demolished. Best regards to all who knew her, Steve Santini www.santinicentral.com

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  2. My father is was Sing's son. He has lots of stories to share...i'll get them to you!

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    1. Thank you! I would be very interested in his stories. My email is joanchamp@shaw.ca

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