The late historian Bill Barlee wrote in his book “The Guide to the Similkameen” the following history about the beginnings of the Keremeos Hotel:
“In 1900, Upper Keremeos and Keremeos Centre, two other townsites on the arid flats to the north-east were the only two, and rival towns in the district. But soon Mr. George Kirby, the astute postmaster in Upper Keremeos realized that when the Victoria, Vancouver and Eastern Railway was pushed through from Oroville to Hedley the line would be built on the level ground close to the Similkameen River.
He moved quickly and purchased a tract of land from the Keremeos Land Company. By 1906 he had moved his hotel down to the flats and Keremeos came into being.”
The V.V. and E. arrived the following year, assuring the success of the Keremeos Hotel, which ended up being a stone’s throw away from the Keremeos train station – in actuality, just across the street.
George Kirby died in 1913, but his wife continued to run the hotel for many years afterwards. Long time resident and former Kermeos Mayor Francis Peck remembers having tea at the hotel many times.
“I remember Mrs. Kirby, walking down the street in high boots and old fashioned clothing, with her dogs,” Peck said, “my mother and I had many teas with Mrs. Kirby.” Pecks recollections are from the era when the hotel’s main entrance was at the corner of Seventh Street and Veterans Avenue.
“I have a lot of memories of that place,” she said.
It appears that throughout most of its life, the Keremeos Hotel provided food and beverages. In a photo of the building, taken in the late ‘20s or early ‘30s, signage advertised a restaurant, liquor store and lunches as being available.
The Keremeos Hotel had a chameleon-like existence through the years, its facade changing many times. By the 1950s, it had changed from a railway hotel to a motor hotel, catering to those in automobiles. The building had shed its original clapboard siding by this time for a stucco finish. The entrances were now located mid-building, with separate entrances for “gentlemen” and “ladies and escorts.”
Walter McGee was the proprietor in 1966, when Cawston resident Ken Helm arrived in the valley.
“It was the sense of community the hotel had, that I most remember,” Helm recalled earlier this week. Ken arrived in Keremeos in October of 1966, only to find the motels in town still booked with summer farm labourers.
“I got a room at the Keremeos Hotel for $10 a week, and when the McGees realized I was staying for some time, they dropped that to $30 a month,” he said.
Ken stayed on the third floor, which was taken off the hotel several years ago.
“I think it was removed over fire regulations,” Helm said, “they would have had to make expensive renovations, and I guess it was just easier to remove it.”
Ken recalls two bathrooms at one end of the hallway, for male and female use, and two bathtubs located at the other end of the hall, again gender-specific.
“There was a general feeling amongst the residents, a sense of community,” Ken recalled, “ if you wanted privacy, you closed your door, but otherwise it was open, and people were free to drop in for a visit.”
Several of those inhabiting the hotel were of a more permanent nature.
“We’d often go downstairs to the pub in our sock or slippered feet,” Helm said.
The hotel had a rooming house type setup that allowed Ken to get his lunches made and breakfast served daily by an elderly female cook who had a “heart of gold.” He paid 80 cents for breakfast, and one dollar for lunch.
“There used to be an old garage in the back, where myself and the owner’s son used to work on cars,” he said. “I was in Vancouver the day the packinghouse across the street burned. They managed to save the hotel, and the owner’s son got my car out of the garage.” Ken returned home to find his room had been subjected to some of the fire’s intense heat – his record collection had melted.
Ken also remembers the bar having separate entrances for men and ladies and escorts.
“There was talk of building a telescope on Mount Kobau at the time,” Helm further recalled, “the hotel had a cocktail room they called the Kobau Room.”
Ken stayed in the hotel for two years.
By 1984, the building sported a painted stucco exterior, modern signage and a patio across the front of the building.
In 2005, the liquor store began operating. The third floor was gone by now, and the exterior of the hotel was pretty much what the hotel looked like on July 14, 2014, when the building burned to the ground.