Work crews took the first step towards demolishing one of Prince Albert’s most recognizable landmarks on Thursday when they removed the giant sign from the top of the National Hotel.
Workers used a giant crane to load the sign onto a flatbed truck late Thursday afternoon. A few bystanders gathered to watch the proceedings, with at least one expressing shock that the building would eventually come down.
“I can’t believe it,” said a Prince Albert resident named Wayne, who declined to give his last name.
Wayne said he has a personal connection to the hotel. He stayed there more than a decade ago when he came down from Edmonton to meet his wife’s family while the two were dating.
“I wanted a river view, and I got my river view,” he said with a chuckle while pointing to the top floor room he stayed in.
Now married, Wayne said he hopes the site will become home to a new conference centre, and hopefully transform Prince Albert’s downtown.
City of Prince Albert Planning and Development Director Craig Guidinger said the building’s owners have applied for a demolition permit. He couldn’t say exactly how long the permit approval process would take, but said the City doesn’t expect the actual demolition to begin until this summer, probably around July.
The permits do not require city council approval. Guidinger said the City cannot disclose who the owners are.
“It’s much more complex than tearing down a house or something like that,” he said of the demolition process. “It’s a historic building and a historic downtown, but I think the owners will reiterate it’s their last and only option.”
Despite its significance as a historic landmark, the National Hotel is not considered a historic site, meaning only municipal approval is needed to demolish it.
There are concerns for Georgie’s Beer and Wine Store, which sits right next to the National Hotel, but will not be demolished.
“It’s kind of two buildings in one, because there’s Georgie’s right next door, so we have to be very careful to make sure that in demolishing the National Hotel it doesn’t compromise the integrity of Georgie’s,” Guidinger explained.
As for the site’s future, Guidinger said they have been in contact with the owners, but no applications or designs have been submitted.
“I know one of the first questions the public will have is just what the plan is for the property, and we don’t have that either,” he explained. “All I know is that we’ll certainly be working with the owners as closely as we can to make sure it’s done properly and there’s a shared vision … but we’re not there right now.”
The National Hotel was built in 1904 on the site of the old wooden Prince Albert Hotel, which burned to the ground on Feb. 15, 1904. The new brick structure was originally called the Prince Albert Hotel until the late 1920s when it was called the Empire Hotel. By 1931, it was named the National Hotel.
The new construction was put to the test in1909 when a second fire broke out in the kitchen. Firefighters were able to contain the flames to the structure’s basement.
Prince Albert Historical Society president Fred Payton said the hotel was frequently used by newly wedded couples. Luminaries such as John Diefenbaker’s brother, Elmer, and Grey Owl and his wife, Anahareo, were also guests in the hotel.
“When you start thinking about the history of the building, it really is a very varied history,” Payton said. “We think of it probably today as something that is not the most salacious building in the city. At one point in time it really was a very important structure.”
The hotel was thoroughly renovated in the 1950s, when owners advertised it as “Modern Throughout”
Numerous businessmen and women owned the hotel over the years including, at one point, Samuel McLeod.