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Deer Lodge Hotel — James and Margaret McKay built the house that was later converted into a roadside inn
Mar 31, 2017

by Bruce Cherney (part 1)

Was Homer “Chad” A. Chadwick the proprietor who turned Deer Lodge into a roadside inn along Portage Avenue? In the years immediately preceding and following Chadwick’s death in 1917, writers continually asserted that this was the case. But in newspaper articles going back to 1882, when the hotel was said to have been established, it is referred to as Ross’ Deer Lodge, with James M. Ross cited as the owner.

Deer Lodge started out as a log house  built by Hudson’s Bay Company trader John Rowland in 1856 on property he owned from the Assiniboine River and northward to present-day Saskatchewan Avenue to encompass a substantial acreage. What became Deer Lodge along the Portage Road (today’s Portage Avenue) was originally named Reindeer Lodge by Rowland. When Rowland died, the property was left to his daughter, Margaret, who subsequently married the renowned Métis trader, guide and politician, James McKay.

Apparently, McKay was dissatisfied with the name bestowed upon the lodge by Rowland. At the suggestion of his new wife, the name of the property was changed to Deer Lodge, because she saw so many deer cavorting along the banks of the Assiniboine River. Others have claimed the lodge and surroundings were named after the many deer antlers displayed on the building’s outside corners.

It was McKay and his wife who built the first house designated Deer Lodge, which included a grand verandah and copious space to entertain guests. Indeed, the McKays took great delight in providing hospitality for anyone who decided to make a stop at their Deer Lodge. They were the Red River Settlement’s original “Mr. and Mrs. Hospitality,” who were renowned for hosting open door New Year’s Eve banquets and dances, which attracted guests from as far away as Portage la Prairie and Kildonan. A number of the New Year’s Eve guests stayed at the lodge for two or three days.

Family friends, especially young bachelors, stayed for prolonged periods of time. One famous — some would say infamous — guest was the imposter  British nobleman, who called himself Gordon Gordon. In reality, he was a con artist who defrauded wealthy American Jay Gould. He was kidnapped by two American policemen from Deer Lodge, bearing a U.S. arrest warrant. Gordon was rescued by Canadian authorities at the border who were sent a telegram from Manitoba Attorney-General Henry J. Clarke that disputed the validity of the U.S. warrant in Canada. The two Americans were arrested and Gordon was released. He returned to Winnipeg and eventually made his home at Headingley.

Besides being an entertainment venue, Deer Lodge also served as a trading post. McKay opened the post to all, including the Sioux (Dakota), who were regarded with suspicion in Red River. Métis and First Nations people in the settlement had clashed with the Sioux on numerous occasions in the past. For the white settlers of Red River, the presence of the Sioux, who were originally from the U.S., instilled great fear due to the Minnesota uprising — known as the Dakota War of 1862 — that resulted in the deaths of many white settlers south of the border. In turn, some Sioux fled north to Manitoba after being ruthlessly pursued by Minnesota troops in 1862-63 and the U.S. Cavalry in 1876.

But McKay was a fearless and  long-time friend of all First Nations people regardless of their affiliation. It should also be noted that McKay took part in numerous treaty signings, acting as an interpretor and negotiator.

It wouldn’t be too farfetched to say that it was the McKays who actually established Deer Lodge as a roadside inn, although it was never officially designated as such.

The McKays regaled guests until they both died in 1879. James McKay, who was born at Fort Edmonton (today’s Edmonton) in 1828, died on December 2, while Margaret McKay predeceased her husband on February 20.

The McKays “had one daughter, Janes Dallas, whose twin brother died at birth. Two other sons, James and John, died in middle age, both childless. So the McKay name was not carried on in the family” (Winnipeg Free Press, October 24, 1970, article by Edith Patterson).

With the death of the McKays, the confusion over the ownership of Deer Lodge begins. Some writers claim that Chadwick bought the then vacant property in 1882 and converted it into a hotel.

What is known about Chadwick is that he was born in Enos Falls, Vermont, in 1852, but lived most of his life in Canada. He came to Winnipeg in 1875 and took a job at McCauley’s lumberyard. Chadwick didn’t take to the lumber business, so he opened a butcher shop.

“Old-timers say it was a sublime sight to see Chad with his sleeves rolled up and wearing a bloody apron,” according to a Pioneers of Winnipeg article published in the July 11, 1911, Winnipeg Tribune, “hauling a bull calf up to the sacrificial bench, knocking it on the head with an axe, and then carving it into cutlets and roasts for his customers, who had a taste for veal.”

It was an occupation that also soon lost its appeal. As a result, Chadwick started a feed and livery stable on Notre Dame Avenue East (at the time, the Notre Dame ran right to the foot of the Red River — the east section is today’s Pioneer Avenue), near the historic Brouse House (Hotel) on Water Avenue (now William Stephenson Way).

“His proximity to Brouse House also enabled this shrewd observer of men and things to observe that there was an easier way of earning a dollar than working in a lumber yard, killing bull calves or even running a feed and livery stable, so he lost no time getting into the business.”

Having noted the number of guests that the hotel attracted, Chadwick, in partnership with R. McIntyre, decided to buy Brouse House and run it in connection with his feed and livery stable.

The same newspaper article said that Chadwick was “seen hundreds of times hurrying from the aromatic stables. where he was currying a broncho (sic), to the kitchen to fry the imported eggs which usually constituted the dessert of the unfortunate and unhappy travellers who infested the old tavern.”

In turn, Chadwick grew tired of Brouse House (his partnership with McIntyre dissolved in 1879), which was said to be the result of Canadian Governor General Lord Dufferin avoiding the establishment while on a visit to the settlement, so he leased Franklin House on Main Street in partnership with Billy O’Connor. The two men then bought the Woodbine Hotel in 1882.

According to Heritage Winnipeg, the Woodbine Hotel’s origin dates back to the early frontier days when it was known as Dufferin Hall. Built by Peter Sutherland in 1878 at a cost of $1,000, Dufferin Hall, 466 Main St., was a two-storey wood-frame building 22 feet wide and about twice as long. By 1881, it was sold and its name was changed to the Woodbine by new owner W. Snider to appeal to expatriates from Eastern Canada familiar with the Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto. It was a hotel in name only, as it wasn’t much more than a saloon with billiard tables.

Snider sold the business to Chadwick and O’Connor after owning it for a year and a half. The pair paid $22,000, or about $1,000 per foot of frontage (Free Press).

The purchase came when Winnipeg was in the midst of a great land boom, when speculators continually drove up the price of properties in the city and beyond its borders, which was the result of the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and its construction push to join the West with Eastern Canada via railroad tracks. When the bubble burst, many who had invested heavily in city properties — primarily by borrowing money or making small down payments in anticipation of continually rising prices — were made destitute. Only a few individuals survived the price collapse and actually made money.

Newspapers record that O’Connor and Chadwick took possession of the Woodbine on April 21, 1882, and the two men dissolved their partnership in January 1884. Actually, Chadwick got out of the partnership just in time as the Woodbine was auctioned off during a May 7, 1884, mortgage foreclosure sale. The hotel was sold for $16,958 to a syndicate of buyers.

“The famous pair held the Woodbine for two years, when Chad cast his eagle eye upon Deer Lodge, the former famous home of the late Hon. Johnnie McKay,” according to the 1911 Tribune article.

But casting a covetous eye upon the property is one thing, actually owing it is another, but the date 1884 — not 1882 — did coincide with Chadwick’s first reported appearance at Deer Lodge in contemporary accounts.

Prior to Deer Lodge becoming a hotel, the horse stock (some of them thoroughbred racers with a value said to be about $100,000 — McKay was a member of the Manitoba Turf Club) of the late McKay was put on the auction block. “The bidding was lively,” reported the January 20, 1880, Free Press, “and the stock as a rule brought good prices. Among other sales, ‘Lisgar’ was disposed of for $685, to A. Colquhoun; ‘Shekel’ brought $1,500, C.V. Alloway being her buyer; B.C. Kenway bought ‘Keewahtis’ for $185, and W.R. Sinclair obtained ‘Dexter’ for about $200.”

In addition, McKays’ household furniture, oxen, cows, pigs, sleighs and a “large quantity of hay” were auctioned off.

It was also at this auction that Samuel Bedson, the warden of Stony Mountain Penitentiary, bought McKay’s herd of buffalo. The buffalo were moved to the prison’s farm.

The first real mention of the marketing of the McKay property was an advertisement by the real estate firm Conklin and Fortune. An April 1, 1882, ad in the Manitoba Free Press singled out Deer Lodge as being a “first-class suburban hotel property” of five acres, “including the finest laid-out garden and lawn grounds in this Province.”

 Shortly after the appearance of the Conklin & Fortune ad, the May 25, 1882, Free Press specifically mentions Ross as being the owner of the late McKay’s Deer Lodge.

“It (Deer Lodge) is the property of Mr. J.M. Ross,” the newspaper reported, “of the Queen’s (Hotel in downtown Winnipeg), and besides being magnificently located, has been magnificently fitted up by the proprietor.”

An April 25, 1907, Tribune article may be partially true when it alluded to Deer Lodge, following the death of McKay, passing from “hand to hand” until it was “leased and opened as a road house and hotel by H.A. Chadwick.”

But it is evident from earlier Free Press articles — the Tribune was first published in 1890 — that it was Ross who converted Deer Lodge into a hotel, not Chadwick. It was perhaps Chadwick’s later popularity as a host that allowed him to usurp the title of being the Deer Lodge Hotel’s first owner. But it does a disservice to Ross, who took great pains to convert the lodge and its grounds into a resort.

(Next week: part 2)