with Murphy Shewchuk
The historic Quilchena Hotel, on Highway 5A 20 kilometres northeast of Merritt, first opened it doors when the world moved at a slower pace. It was a world of gas lights, brass-railed bars and a grand piano in the parlor. It was a world where horses ruled the road and where good food and warm fellowship were the mark of a gracious host.
The reason for building such a grand hotel at Quilchena is still somewhat of a mystery. Some historians suggest that it was in anticipation of a railway from Vancouver to the Kootenays being routed past its doorstep. Although there is considerable support for this theory, the grandson of the rancher who built the hotel does not entirely agree.
Guy Rose, owner of the hotel and the 25,000 acre Quilchena Ranch, has a different theory. Mr. Rose says that when his grandfather, Joseph Guichon, bought the property there was already a hotel and store at the site. The original hotel served the carriage trade on the road from Kamloops to the community of Nicola Lake -- then the main settlement in the Nicola Valley.
"It is a good hotel," Nicola Lake school teacher Annie McQueen noted in a letter to her sister in Nova Scotia in 1887. "Everyone says it is the best kept and managed house in the interior."
Apparently the old place did not meet Joseph Guichon's standards. In 1907, he started construction of a new building. Set on maintaining the tradition of the "finest hotel in the interior," Guichon skimped on nothing. He brought in top grade lumber and the finest furniture by rail to Kamloops and then by wagon the 80 kilometres to Quilchena.
The new Quilchena Hotel officially opened on the evening of July 3, 1908.
"Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Guichon were the host and hostess at the opening ceremony of the new Quilchena Hotel at Quilchena," reported the Nicola Herald newspaper.
"Guests came from far and near to do honor to them and to the very fine structure of the new hotel building.
"The ball opened about ten o'clock and the dancing kept merrily up until one o'clock when a sumptuous repast claimed the attention of the numerous guests.
"Dancing was continued until about 5 a.m., when...the guests left for their homes, all satisfied that one of the most pleasant evenings spent in the Nicola Valley was at the opening of the Quilchena Hotel."
The hotel became the favorite stopping place on the road along Nicola Lake. It also served as the focal point for recreational and social activities in the ranching district. In addition to fishing and hunting, horse races and athletic competitions were popular. The sage-covered hills even echoed the whack of mallets on polo balls as local players competed against those from Victoria and Kamloops.
Unfortunately by 1919, business was beginning to slump. The automobile had reduced travel time -- and the need for an over-night hostelry. Then came prohibition and the hotel's most important revenue source disappeared. With the brass-railed bar silent, the hotel closed.
Although the Quilchena entertained few paying guests during the next thirty-five years, it was not allowed to go to ruin. Joseph Guichon's son and his wife lived on the premises. He worked as the ranch accountant and storekeeper -- and they kept the hotel's furnace stoked with coal from their own mine. Though some of the original furnishings found their way into various homes on the ranch, the Guichons kept most of the rooms ready for the day when the hotel would reopen.
That day came in 1957 when the Guichon cattle empire was divided. Guy Rose purchased part of the ranch and the hotel, and decided to awaken the fifty-year-old stopping place. Most of the original furniture was recovered, the monogrammed china and silver polished and the building opened for business -- not as a museum but as a working hotel.
The rooms are vintage 1908, equipped with much of the original furnishings. Although Guy and Hilde Rose have carried out extensive refurbishing, they maintained the period theme. China basins, stone hot water bottles and rocking chairs are a common part of the bedroom furnishings.
In the Victorian parlor lounge is a square grand piano donated to the Roses by Joe Lauder. This beautiful instrument, built in Toronto in 1884 by Heintzman & Co., originally sold for $250. It was brought from Kamloops to the Nicola Valley on a wagon loaded with hay.
In keeping with the tradition of fine dining established by Joseph Guichon, European chefs supervise the recently renovated kitchen.
The old barroom still has the bullet scars and a polished brass rail, although they removed the brass spittoons for sanitary reasons. Historic photos line the walls -- reminders of life nearly a century ago.
In a concession to modern recreation, the Roses added a tennis court and converted a major portion of the polo field into a nine-hole golf. For guests who do not golf, there is a marina for sailing, wind-surfing or fishing on Nicola Lake. And to really step back in time, there is horseback riding on the rolling rangeland. A 25-unit RV park borders the golf course, augmenting the hotel's 16 rooms.
The Quilchena, once a rancher's grand hotel, is now open from mid-April to the end of October. Despite the busy highway that passes its door, life inside still has the ambiance of a world when the horse ruled the road.
Copyright © 1998-2009 Murphy O. Shewchuk www.murphyshewchuk.com
Be sure to read other articles by Murphy Shewchuk in the BC Adventure Network