Leland Hotel celebrating 110 years of hospitality – Reflections of Ponoka

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A 1956 photo of the original Leland Hotel

A 1956 photo of the original Leland Hotel

The palatial Leland Hotel at 5009 Chipman Avenue was the stately 1901 creation of two of Ponoka’s early and colourful entrepreneurs, Jack McCue and George Sellers.

Over the past 110 years the Leland has served thousands of local residents and visitors while going through numerous renovations under the direction of a changing guard of enthusiastic community-minded owners and staff.

One of the finest Ponoka buildings of that exciting early era, the original Leland Hotel featured ornamental wood brackets along the eaves and a row of decorative dormers set into a steeply pitched hip roof that followed the colonial building styles of Eastern Canada’s finest hotels. As our tiny village transformed into a thriving town in 1904, other local owners would include Joe Farrell, Bob Stewart, Lux, Morrisroe, Miles, and Gramborski, to mention only a few.

Long before refrigeration, the energetic staff of the Leland would cut blocks of ice from the Battle River then pack them in sawdust in an icehouse behind the hotel, using them later to cool beverages and soothe many head or toothaches, as well as the occasional black eye.

In a hectic building period 1900-01, three fine hotels were established along Ponoka’s bustling main street, including the Royal, the Leland, and the Alberta, which was later called the Temperance Hotel, and catered to those ladies and gentleman who chose not to partake in liquor. These magnificent hotels were important social venues and welcoming shelters for our early settlement’s transient population, seeking to establish a new home, business, or employment in Ponoka, or to purchase a piece of the fertile rural farmland. Even as early as 1900 the building permits for the Village of Ponoka had reached an amazing $23,000, with extensive future plans to include a modern Provincial Mental Hospital, tall elevators to store the anticipated rich crops of the farmers and resounding growth and construction going in all directions.

These splendid buildings along ‘hotel row’ featured friendly and luxurious services and extreme hospitality that included: comfortable rooms, the finest of cutlery, linens, liquor and dining, plush billiard tables, entertainment and recreation, and large front balconies — all for daily and weekly prices ranging from 25 cents to $3.50. In a spirited mood of friendly but always lively competition, both the Leland and the Royal Hotel offered bright and lively downstairs taverns with on-street hitching rails for horses and buggies, and later parking for vehicles.

Clientele at these early local hotels and boarding houses in those busy growing years included would-be Alberta politicians anxious to gather support for future elections, Canadian Pacific Railway workers, cattlemen, and free spending entrepreneurs and professionals looking to make an investment for the future. Dressed in their finest these inquisitive visitors would mingle with the locals, hire a buggy ride to explore the area, or join in on a poker game in the upper rooms of the hotels.

The Leland Hotel grew with the community

Many renovations have been completed to the historic Leland Hotel over the years, including a café, and an addition to the northwest corner in 1952, and delightful exterior enhancements that were made possible with the co-operation of the Ponoka Main Street program in 1999. Owners in the later years have included Jerry Lessard, who later sold out to Jack Cook. Present owners Marc and Abby Yaworski have enjoyed operating and promoting this popular Chipman Avenue hotel for the past four years, and along with their 14 full- and part-time staff are really looking forward to serving their customers and community in the future.

Recent renovations at the Leland have included a new heating system, electrical updates, upgrades to the rooms upstairs, and the transformation and renaming of the front street fully stocked Leland Liquor Loft. The Leland Hotel sign has been repaired and returned to its classic and longstanding originality, while other exciting plans in the future will be to transform the existing Chipman Avenue Saloon into a retro bar that will complement the original 1901 facade.

In celebration of their 110th anniversary and Ponoka Stampede week, the congenial gang at the Leland Hotel will host a karaoke contest from June 30 to July 2, and a Chipman Avenue Chili Cook Off at high noon on Saturday, July 2.

Everyone is invited to pop in to the western saloon in Ponoka from 10 a.m. to 3 a.m. daily and enjoy a taste of the keen camaraderie, hospitality, and hoopla that has been going on there for more than 10 glorious decades.

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