The presently dilapidated Irricana Hotel has been sold to a Calgary resident who is keen to restore it to its former glory – as a historical rest stop and tavern along Highway 9 that points travellers towards the badlands of east-central Alberta.
Built approximately 112 years ago, the building along Irricana’s main downtown strip was previously the “hub of Irricana life,” according to the Town of Irricana’s website. It now remains uninhabited due to the structure’s unsafe conditions, and local fire officials recently erected a fence barrier around it to keep people out.
Kerry Tucker, who is nearing his retirement with Canadian Pacific (CP) Railway, hopes to rectify the state of the building and eventually return it to its former status as a bustling venue for drinks, dancing, and discourse.
Tucker said he was captivated by the history of the building – which served as one of the only historic stopping houses located between Calgary and Drumheller – and purchased the crumbling property from the previous local owner.
“I purchased the hotel because of the historical aspect of it,” Tucker said. “I thought it was a neat story that made me sad to see an old hotel like that with some stories to tell, kind of dilapidated.
“That was one of the reasons that I picked it up – it's a good challenge.”
Tucker said renovating the building will be a rewarding retirement project, adding he would like to restore a serviceable bar in the front and a courtyard on the side in a multi-phase approach.
The Calgarian owns his own construction company and is no stranger to getting his hands dirty or traversing building sites. He said the first step in the restoration of the old hotel will be to stabilize the building, which he added he is working on now, including replacing beams and walls, bolstering floors, and implementing a temporary roof before beginning the process of gutting the premises.
“Once I’ve got the main floor and second floor ready to go, my hope is in the spring to add the third floor back on to the building, depending on engineering drawings,” he said. “I’d like to bring it back to the three-storey building it was prior to 1930 and then put the balconies back on and operate it as a functional bar.”
He added he is waiting for an engineering report to determine the fate of the structure (whether it can be saved or needs to be demolished), which is expected to be completed this month.
Tucker said he would like to work with the engineer to make the necessary corrections to keep the dream alive.
“Anybody can have a new building. I can build a new building, but it won’t have the mystique of an old building,” he said. “I’m really hoping they come up with some fixes that I can [continue to] restore the building.”
He added levelling the old hotel would be a loss to the community, as it is a hidden gem in the province together with allegedly housing a few ghostly apparitions from days gone by.
“To me, it’s an old building that would be part of the Badlands’ story and if I can keep that going, I’d like to keep the old building because there’s not a lot of them left,” he said.
According to the Town of Irricana website, the once three-storey building was renovated following a major fire that swept through the town’s business district in 1928.
“As prohibition was taking its toll on hotels in general, the top floor was dismantled and materials were recycled to assist in rebuilding the town after the big fire,” the site read.
The Irricana Hotel initially offered its patrons rooms, a tavern, restaurant and Irricana’s first telephone exchange. The Town stated a collection of old murals painted on the tavern walls around 1925 by Guy Welsh are its most recent “claim to fame.”
Tucker said he is passionate about the past and enjoys researching history, so he hopes to keep the restored building as true-to-history as possible. That said, he acknowledged that due to modern building codes, he will have to make changes to the interior of the building to keep it up to snuff.
The history buff said he would like to tie the theme of the restored hotel to the decommissioned CP rail line through Irricana, whose lands are now home to the Meadowlark Trail, a 9.75-kilometre pathway connecting Beiseker and Irricana.
“I would like to tie in when I rebuild it some of the railway aspects, and some of the cowboy and rancher aspects of [Irricana’s history] to bring that community back into the heart of [Irricana],” he added. “When you read the old stories, [the hotel] used to be the gathering place, the weekend dance club.
“I thought [the project] was an opportunity to return something to the community.”
According to Tucker, he would like for the hotel to be a tourist destination along the “Badlands trail” towards Drumheller.
Irricana mayor Jim Bryson said ever since he’s lived in Irricana, the hotel has been shuttered to the public. He said though it serves as a piece of Irricana’s history, it remains a bit of an embarrassment in its current condition.
“[The Town] would love to see it restored back to its original state – it's what we’re hoping for,” he said. “If that’s not possible, we’d like to see it taken down, because in the current state, it does not do anything for our downtown area.
“The older residents who can remember it open, it means their history. But to the newer residents, it’s just an eyesore.”
Tucker said since taking ownership of the site, Irricana residents have voiced their concerns about the state of the building, but he said he is hoping to change that.
“I’m hoping to change some of the attitudes of some of the people that I’ve run into who want it torn down,” he said. “I want them to hopefully see beyond what it is now.
“If I can [restore] it back to what it was, then I’ll feel happy. I’ve done something. Whether I stay or go, it doesn’t matter – there’ll be a piece of history there that can live on.”