The Hotel Association of Canada (HAC) has wrestled with many contentious hospitality issues during its 100-year history, but, although “much has changed, much remains the same,” says Tony Pollard, HAC president, referencing high taxes, liquor law legislation and declining tourism revenues as ongoing challenges.
An Industry United
The Hotelkeepers’ Association of The Dominion of Canada was created in Ottawa in 1913. Its goal: to amalgamate regional associations and present Parliament with hoteliers’ interests. The newly formed association, with George Wright from The Walker House as its inaugural president, presented its mandate for the first time at a conference in Winnipeg. The decree read: “To act with the provincial associations when necessary and also to take steps to protect the hotel trade when the latter is faced with prejudicial legislation in the Dominion Parliament.”
A year later, Canada was at war. “When the First World War was happening, our association wasn’t completely national in scope,” Pollard explains. “We had representation in Quebec, Ontario to Alberta — with a little bit in British Columbia. We were still growing.”
The immediate post-war boom saw hoteliers enjoy brisk business while the HAC blossomed. “Whenever there’s a situation like a world war, the demand for hotel rooms grows exponentially,” Pollard explains. “People are moving through various centres, they’re going for training, they’re going to be deployed to go overseas and so forth. The consequence to that is you have enhanced demand for hotels.”
There were many challenges. “In a dining room, things like butter and sugar were scarce, because you needed those foods on the front line in France,” says Pollard. The impact was serious. While occupancy was up, there were fewer people to work in hotels as many men were in the armed forces overseas, and foodstuffs and other items normally taken for granted were not readily available.
Prohibition was a tough time, too. “Before the time of prohibition, to serve alcohol you had to have rooms. You couldn’t just open up a bar,” explains Pollard. “The bar had to have bedrooms in it. As a result, in the three Prairie provinces, even today, you have a very large number of properties with maybe four or five bedrooms — the independents, not the large corporate chains — that, to obtain their liquor licence, had to sell rooms.” But, when the temperance movement came along, hoteliers in Western Canada known for serving alcohol, found their livelihood was under threat.
What’s more, in some Canadian cities a guest wasn’t permitted to stand at a table and sip a drink since liquor laws stated people had to sit down to imbibe. The HAC annals also inform us that, up until the 1980s, guests had to eat as much as they were drinking. “If you wanted a $50 bottle of wine, you had to have a $50 meal,” says Pollard, shaking his head.
The HAC Fulfills its Mandate
It was the affluence and prosperity of the Roaring ’20s that drove much of the industry’s success.
“There were more hotels being developed across the country, fuelled by the economy,” explains Pollard. In 1924, building contracts for 144 hotels were issued; three years later, 173 building permits were granted. “We were getting a lot more tourists, particularly from the United States, and we started building larger properties to accommodate these people across Canada.” Some of the major hotels built during the period include the Norton-Palmer (Windsor, Ont.); the Marquis (Lethbridge, Alta.); the New Pines Hotel (Digby, N.S.); the Hotel Saska-tchewan (Regina) and the jewel in Canada’s hotel crown: the Royal York Hotel in Toronto.
With all that activity, Henry F. Coles wrote in the Canadian Hospitality and Restaurant magazine (purchased by Kostuch Publications in 1994) that, despite the stock market crash, 1929 had “undoubtedly” been the best year the hotel industry had “ever seen in Canada.” In fact, in 1930, Americans were spending more than $200 million a year in Canada, so the HAC successfully lobbied to increase U.S. tourist permits to 90 days.
By the end of the decade, the Canadian hotel industry had experienced many firsts. Quebec’s Château Frontenac welcomed Charles Lindbergh, the first pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic; and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation started broadcasting from Ottawa’s Chateau Laurier.