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Deer Lodge Hotel — Ross created a roadside inn as a family-friendly retreat just outside the city
Apr 07, 2017

by Bruce Cherney (part 2)

“The grounds embrace a number of acres of excellent land, with woods and glades unsurpassed in the most picturesque manner,” according to a May 25, 1882, Manitoba Free Press article about the Deer Lodge Hotel. “Mr. Ross has had a number of men engaged in decorating the place and putting the grounds into shape generally, and the result is one of the most delightful suburban retreats imaginable.

“That portion of the ground fronting the road is laid out in flower beds, and hothouses, which will shortly blossom as the rose ...

“The old homestead is a rambling sort of structure with a piazza (verandah) running around three sides, on to which the various parlors open, and which will form a magnificent place wherein to smoke a cigar or have a quiet chat or reverie on a moonlight evening. Inside the house is furnished with every comfort, and in a style that does infinite credit to the good taste of Mr. Ross.”

The newspaper noted that the rooms were carpeted and that easy chairs and lounges “abounded.”

Ross’ goal was to establish a suburban retreat “where gentlemen and their families may visit without fear of encountering people whose society is undesireable ...”

The newspaper predicted that Deer Lodge couldn’t fail in becoming a popular summer resort. As it turned out, Ross’ ownership and the changes he made to the property ensured its future success.

Among the attractions at Deer Lodge were two bears owned by Ross. The female bear had black fur, while the male bear had fur with a cinnamon hue that became major attractions.

The June 26, 1882, Free Press reported that, “Frank Myer had been appointed head trainer to Ross’ bears at Deer Lodge. He has already educated them to turn somersaults and chew tobacco, and is now engaged in teaching them to go about and borrow half dollars from the visitors.”

In an earlier June 1 article in the same newspaper, Myer was said to go galloping about the grounds of Deer Lodge in the company of the playful bears. The brief article asserted, “No family should fail to witness this panorama.”

It was reported that Myer had christened the cinnamon bear Pile of Bones (the former name of today’s Regina) and the black cub, Regina. The latter bear was nicknamed Nellie.

The press association, when touring the city and its environs with Mayor Logan, made a special excursion by carriage to Deer Lodge (Free Press, August 29, 1882). Due to a steady rainfall, a planned outdoor banquet was moved to “shelter within the historic walls of the lodge ... But even with the elements against him, Mr. Ross presented a magnificent and toothsome spread ...

“After looking at the bears, and taking a turn around the grounds, the party returned to the city, and left for the west about half-past three.”

In another article in the same newspaper on March 17, 1883, the bears were reported to have emerged from their annual hibernation, and Myer, assisted by Robert Tait, fed them solid food, “after which they became so frisky that the trainer and his assistant took to their heels in the most undignified manner.”

Apparently, the bears were so hungry that they consumed the leather collars about their necks when they briefly awoke during their hibernation.

“On getting loose, and finding that the trainer had escaped them, the animals got after the moose, chasing him into the bar room, and making things lively for (bartender) George Rutley. During the panic the moose jumped over the stove and upset it, after which he bolted out of the door and started for Headingly (sic).”

A party was sent out in pursuit and the moose was recaptured eight kilometres from Deer Lodge.

“The bears, the wolf and three dogs are now housed in one big room at the lodge.”

According to an August 6, 1883, Free Press article, Nellie, the black bear, climbed a tree and while teetering on a branch fell to the ground. She had reached the limit of her chain and her hind legs were left hanging a few inches from the ground. “She, of course, began to squirm, and presently her collar slipped over her head, and she dropped to the ground, a free bear.”

The newspaper said that was when the fun began. The bear “loafed dreamily to the kitchen.”

The cook saw her coming and vacated the kitchen, leaving the bear to devour the food that was left behind.

“Mr. Ross’ breakfast, which consisted of about six pounds of porter-house steak, had just been cooked, and was lying on a dish on the front of the range to keep warm, along with a lot of nice new potatoes, while a lemon pie, a portion of ham and a raw steak, intended for Mr. Gillespie’s breakfast, lay on the table.”

Nellie started on the cooked steak, with the potatoes next. She then mounted the table and ate the lemon pie, after which she tackled Gillespie’s breakfast.

“By this time George Rutley had been summoned and he entered to remonstrate with Nellie, who grabbed the ham, and rising on her hind feet, started at George with such a business like air that he suddenly remembered an appointment elsewhere.” Nellie took off in pursuit, and both man and bear reached a fence. Rutley leaped over it just as the bear was nearly within paw reach of him.

“Mr. Gillespie poked his head out of the window at this juncture, and in the most aggravated manner offered to bet George five dollars that the bear would catch him before he got a hundred yards away.”

Nellie scrambled over the fence and Rutley took off for the open doors of the bar. “He reached the bar first and shut it with a bang. He forgot about the other door, but the bear didn’t, and George had hardly time to draw a long breath before Nellie shot into the bar, and he at once bolted out, closed the door, and running to the other door closed it also.”

Nellie was trapped in the bar and Rutley called upon Gillespie, who had experience as an animal trainer, to secure the bear. But he was laughing so heartedly that at first he couldn’t respond to Rutley’s pleas. Eventually, he got the bear’s chain and collar and made Nellie his prisoner. It was reported that Nellie had consumed the entire ham, except the bone.

In a May 4, 1883, Free Press article, Ross was reported to have made a journey to purchase a sea lion from Gold Seal Jones of Minneapolis to go along with his menagerie already at Deer Lodge.

But besides a wide range of animals being an attraction, Ross also hosted such events as shooting. A “great glass ball contest, for the championship of Manitoba will take place at Deer Lodge this afternoon,” reported the Free Press on July 15, 1882.

“Between the shooting and quoiting and bears and shady walks, the most annoyed individual ought to be able to put in an enjoyable afternoon at Deer Lodge.”

Chadwick probably became the new proprietor of Deer Lodge shortly after he dissolved his partnership with O’Connor in 1884. It was in that year that Chadwick is first mentioned in newspapers as being at Deer Lodge.

But there is another announcement in the November 13, 1884, Free Press stating that, “Mr. J.M. Ross has taken possession of Deer Lodge.”

Chadwick had apparently only leased the lodge.

Still another announcement, a couple of months later on January 22, 1885, stated that the contents of Deer Lodge, including furniture, pool tables, bar fittings, pictures and more had been seized by bailiff T.J.E. Scoones, when “directed by the Mortgagee and Assignee of certain Indentures and Assignments.” The items for auction were said to be “well known at all frequenters of Deer Lodge.” Auctioneers Scoones & Wolfe sold the items in blocks to the highest bidders on January 30.

Chadwick from this point becomes the individual closely associated with the Deer Lodge Hotel in newspapers, being designated the proprietor. Far and wide, the lodge became known as Chad’s Place.

As to the famous Chad’s Bear associated with the Chadwick and the hotel, it is likely that it was the cinnamon bear formerly housed at the roadside inn by Ross and named Pile of Bones by Myer, the animal trainer at Deer Lodge.

A March 17, 1906, Tribune article reported that Chad’s Bear had a mate, which was undoubtably Ross’ female black bear Regina, nicknamed Nellie.

When his mate died, “Chad (Chadwick) braced it on its haunches and froze it in a sitting posture. It was sold for the value of its skin to a butcher who was then in the (city) market (on Main Street), and was quite an attraction of the usual Christmas show.”

The market’s butchers extravagantly decorating their stalls for the festive season.

“After Christmas the bear was skinned and its meat sold for pork over that butcher’s counter.” Pawning off bear meat for pork was a rather disreputable practice by the butcher.

With Chadwick in control, the Deer Lodge Hotel gained a reputation for being the “place” to be wined, dined and entertained. There were gatherings, summer and winter, including riding, shooting and snowshoeing.

“The Portage Road, between the city and Headingly is becoming popular with those citizens who take their exercises in carriages or on horseback ...,” according to the August 22, 1895, Free Press. “The fame of the Deer Lodge garden is such that land agents and others interested in immigration when showing intending settlers or investors the country do not consider an inspection of the district complete without a visit to it, and Mr. Chadwick receives many congratulations on his success as a horticulturist.”

In the 1890s, a cinder bicycles-only path joined Winnipeg to Chad’s Place, and streetcar service arrived in 1903, making it even more accessible to Winnipeggers.

(Next week: part 3)