Historic Hostelry – Transit Hotel
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  Posted December 8th, 2011 by Zdenko  in Edmonton | No comments yet.

Edmonton heritage

By: Zdenko Kahlina

Historic Hostelry
I heard people say: ‘If you see this hotel in your sights, run the other directions!’ I agree this place is a total dump. It stinks with spilled brews, totally unclean and serves too many risky patrons. I was terrified of this place, but it was declared a Historical Site and nothing could be done through the years to convince the Transit Management to make improvements.

The Transit hotel these days

The Transit Hotel (known affectionately in Edmonton as The Transit) is a hotel and tavern in Edmonton. It is located at the intersection of 66th street and Fort Road, in the northeast part of the city. Opened on September 11, 1908, the Transit was strategically placed as the first or last stop for travelers between Edmonton and Fort Saskatchewan, and for its proximity to the recently. 

Intersection of 66th street and Fort Road

The Transit Hotel of Packingtown turned 103 in 2011. The Transit hotel has a long history. It’s been 103 years since the hotel opened in what had been nicknamed Packingtown, the northeastern suburb clustered around the city’s meat-packing industry. Described by the Edmonton Bulletin newspaper as ‘commodious’, it featured modern conveniences like electricity and, in the finest of its 40 suites (26 now, after renos), running water. But time and a gritty location have been unkind. ‘When I go to buy something and make the bill out for the Transit Hotel,’ says 70-year-old Bob Ruzycki, owner since 1986, people say, ‘Oh, the Transit. That’s where they kill people.’ Not so, he says. In fact, owner or not, he’ll always feel at home here. ‘I’ll probably come back and enjoy a beer with the patrons. I’ll miss them. They’re working people. Good people.’  

Karaoke on Tuesday nights

 
The old-timers love Transit Hotel
It’s 10 a.m. and the old-timers wander in for their customary pints as the doors of the Transit Hotel tavern swing open for another day. A sign on the wall boasts the hotel has ‘the coldest and best beer in town.’ Elmer Olsen, 83, and Mike Worsley, 79, count out their loonies and quarters for a pint each. Between the two, they have been frequenting the Transit Hotel more than 80 years.

Ever since it opened, the Transit Hotel was the first or last beer parlor along Fort Trail where thirsty travelers could stop for a cold one, depending on whether they were travelling to or from Fort Saskatchewan.

‘I remember when I first started coming here, the roads were gravel and there was a blacksmith shop up the street,’ says Olsen as he takes a sip of beer. ‘I think there were stockyards across the street.’

‘I remember when they had rodent races here. Those were a lot of fun, hey?’ Worsley says to Olsen.

‘They were gerbils,’ Olsen says, clarifying.

‘OK, gerbils. I remember the bar used to be on the east side (of the room) and they still had a cafe,’ Worsley says.

‘They still had a lobby. I miss that lobby. I would usually come early and sit there until the bar opened. It was a pretty good meeting place,’ he says. 

Intersection of 66th street and Fort Road

The hotel’s location, on the corner of Norton Street (66th Street) and Fort Trail (Fort Road) was no accident. Its original owner, Patrick Dwyer, had the foresight to build the three-storey watering hole at the same time as the nearby J. Y. Griffin slaughterhouse was built. Griffin later became Swift’s Packing Plant, which was joined by other meat-packing plants in the area over the coming decades. It was also situated near the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway lines which came into Edmonton in 1909.

“The Transit Hotel, the commodious new hostelry that will supply the hotel accommodations for Edmonton’s thriving suburb commonly known as Packingtown opened to the public on Friday last,” The Edmonton Bulletin trumpeted under the headline, New hotel in Packingtown on Sept. 14, 1908. The Bulletin’s review listed the 40-room hotel’s many modern conveniences of the day, including bathrooms on the top two floors.

The hotel will be lighted by electricity!

“The hotel will be lighted by electricity and will be supplied with hot and cold water. A telephone call system has been installed and in a few days the proprietors expect to have a barber shop open in the basement,” The Bulletin said.

The hotel and the land that surrounds it have undergone many changes over the years. The hitching posts that surrounded the hotel are long gone, as are the packing plants and stockyards. Asphalt has replaced the dirt roads farmers once brought their pigs, sheep and cattle in on for slaughter. The Belvedere LRT station now sits on land where once there was a hatchery. 

The original Transit hotel in 1908

Even the community known as Packingtown no longer exists. The area was incorporated as the Village of North Edmonton in 1910 and annexed by the city in 1912.

Little remains of the hotel’s original interior and exterior, although the current owners, Bob and Pauline Ruzycki, have spent a lot of time and money restoring the front facade to its original boom-town architecture, complete with a second-floor veranda, elaborate parapet and finagled roof line. The hotel was run down when they purchased it in December 1986, says Bob.

The rooms were remodeled to make them bigger. There are now only 26 rooms. The tavern had one-by-four wood panels along the lower half of the walls, which were painted royal blue while the upper half was white. The room was lit with harsh fluorescent lighting. There were raised “corrals” for tables and chairs along the walls which he had to rip out because they were hazardous to tipsy customers.

Ruzycki has added on to the tavern. He was granted permission to do away with the front lobby which is now an extension of tavern. Anyone who wants to rent a room now must see tavern staff, who have his permission to turn them down if they look like they could be trouble, says Ruzycki, who prides himself on running a clean establishment with a small-town feel. 

At night run into the other direction!

The Transit Hotel has seen only one murder in its history. That was nearly 50 years ago. Ruzycki says he thinks Patrick Dwyer would be amazed and proud to know that the hotel he built a century ago for $50,000 is still standing after all these years and almost looks the same.

On the street, the clip-clop of hooves has been replaced by the drone of traffic. The packing plants – Griffin, Burns, Swifts, Gainers and Maple Leaf – are long gone.

Recognizing its historic value to our city, the property resides on the Register of Historic Resources in Edmonton. But it is not designated, meaning it could fall to the wrecking ball anytime. What will happen to the hotel with a new development in the Fort Road area around the hotel remains to be seen.

Mr. Patrick Dwyer would certainly be proud to know, the hotel is still serving ice-cold beer to thirsty travelers.

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