Hotelier chronicles the rise and fall of hospitality economy in the 30’s and 40’s as part of an ongoing tribute to The Hotel Association of Canada’s 100th Anniversary
Today’s hoteliers understand the effects of a recession, so many industry insiders can imagine the havoc wreaked on the hotel business during The Great Depression. In fact, the 1929 crash of the New York Stock Exchange stymied the industry’s growth while it was still crawling through infancy.
The damage wasn’t felt immediately. In fact, hotel development continued in 1930 with the construction of the Nova Scotian in Halifax and the William Pitt Hotel in Chatham, Ont. But, within a year, construction grinded to a halt and room rates fell. As a sign of the times, the management of Toronto’s grand King Edward Hotel revised rates — offering rooms with a bath for $3 and suites for $8.
Then, at the top of the ’30s, occupancy levels dropped from 71 per cent in 1928 to 50 per cent in 1932. It was clear the hotel industry was struggling when Eddie Cantor, an American actor and comedian, famously commented on the situation. He said: “Nowadays, when a man walks into a hotel and requests a room on the 19th floor, the clerk asks him, ‘for sleeping or jumping?’”
Fortunately, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Toronto’s 100th birthday was celebrated in The King Eddy’s Crystal Ballroom in 1934 at just about the time the Hotel Association of Canada (HAC) was celebrating a victory. Thanks to the association, the Canadian Performing Rights Society, which would eventually morph to become SOCAN, lost its fight to charge a licence and user fee for music played in hotels and restaurants.
The economic situation only started to look up around the time of the Second World War. The wartime economy, combined with the migration of soldiers, drove occupancy levels to between 70 per cent and 80 per cent in 1941 to as high as 90 per cent in 1945.
It was a new beginning in hospitality as the ’40s dawned. Women became hotel “bell girls” and schools became the training ground for studies in hospitality service excellence. The Training and Re-Establishment Institute in Toronto was the first on the scene in the mid-’40s, followed by the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph, Ont., and the Saint-Paul-L’Ermite in Quebec, which initially trained 200 ex-service men and women.
The future looked promising.
Check out the July/August issue of Hotelier for the next instalment of this series, which will chronicle the next 20 years in the Hotel Association of Canada’s history.