Farewell to The Alaska Hotel

Photo by Anneli Purchase

Dawson Creek’s famous landmark, The Alaska Hotel, burned down last Friday.   The news has spread quickly from here to Hong Kong.

However, it seems that word of the Alaska’s demise is far easier to come by than a history of the building.  What follows is a patchwork of what might have happened there over the last 80 years, based on events in Dawson Creek.  If anyone has information or stories about the Alaska Hotel, they are welcome here.  (email townspirit@hotmail.com)  See also Remembering the Alaska Hotel in the Dawson Creek Daily News.

The Alaska was the oldest operating business in the community, witness to more than 8 decades of boom and bust.  Originally known as the Dew Drop Inn Hotel, the building hosted many a character as colourful as the hotel itself.  No recent visitor to Dawson Creek could mistake the rollicking wild west boom town decor of the facade front: none could fail to wonder what mysteries lay behind the green doors and the red doors, in the rooms and corridors seeped in history.

Long before tourism was the major source of visitors to the Alaska, the Hotel and Cafe was the popular destination for locals.  In the days when the west was still young, and vast and empty and wild, such a building was a haven for newcomers and those who had been around for a few years to share greetings and advice, break bread together, and indulge in some cathartic grumbling about the ice and snow, mosquitoes and mud.  The residents of Dawson Creek would have been abuzz with the comings and goings at the hotel, not to mention with the news from afar.

Things were likely a little different between the walls of the Dew Drop Inn Hotel by 1942, when American troops began to arrive to build the Alaska Highway.  Many of the 11,000 American engineers and 16,000 Canadian and American civilians made Dawson Creek their home base during the incredible nine months of construction.  The Inn’s cafe, still a gathering place, would still have been full of news, but now the excitement was coming from the north: how many miles were completed now?  was the bridge going to hold?  was the rain ever going to stop?

Perhaps the hotel sheltered some shocked survivors of the 1943 Dawson Creek Disaster, people more in need of a drink than a hospital after witnessing the
incineration of Dawson Creek’s commercial block.

As the years went by the Canadian Army replaced the regiments of American engineers, and then they too were gone and civilians took over the care and improvement of the Alaska Highway.  All the people who came and went took home stories of the great road through impossible country, the symbol of sovereignty, unity, perseverance and know-how.  There were pictures: black and white shots of men feeding bears, camps buried in snow, Dawson Creek streets with hotels and stores in an eager line, and always that road stretching into unknown wilderness in the great white north.  Alaska! Perhaps that is when the Dew Drop Inn became The Alaska Hotel and Cafe.

There was a sort of freedom, a romance about the place that was akin to the spirit of the gold fields.  Challenge, but adventure!  Hardships, but good times!  And always the pride of victory!  This is what the vibrant, bold colours of the Alaska Hotel declared to all who came to Dawson Creek.  All that… and then nostalgia, too.

Photo by Anneli Purchase

In its later years, although more and more people went to the fast food places for their coffee and stayed home evenings to work or socialize online,  people still came to the Alaska: talented muralists spent happy hours nearby, photographers and souvenir seekers flitted in and out all summer, locals came to dine or get their hair cut.  No doubt some who knew the Inn long ago came back to refresh their memories.  A few called the hotel home, living up there behind the twelve windows with a view of the street.  The Alaska became an institution and remained a haven.

There must be many stories about The Alaska Hotel; true things that happened behind the green doors and the red doors.  The news of the loss of this landmark will fuel fresh interest in seeking and telling these stories.  Town Spirit would be honoured to help commemorate The Alaska Hotel by publishing your memories to share with readers.  Please leave a comment or email townspirit@hotmail.com.

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2 Responses to Farewell to The Alaska Hotel

  1. I was really sorry to hear that the Alaska Hotel had burnt down. Such a landmark! A little part of history has been erased.

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