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Trying to save history

Local man wants to preserve the 105-year-old Boyle Hotel

BOYLE — It's a bit rough looking, had some changes over the years but the Boyle Hotel is still standing and village resident Colin Piquette would like to see it restored.  

The Boyle Hotel was built in 1916 on what is now Railway Ave., which runs parallel to same railroad that brought visitors and future residents to the tiny hamlet of Boyle, but the hotel is now well past its glory days and Piquette is concerned that what was likely the first major commercial building in Boyle will be lost if something isn’t done.  

“It was the first railway hotel built on the whole line and so it had this extraordinary significance and it's a very interesting building,” he said in a July 15 interview. “I guess seeing it shut down and just knowing what it's likely fate would be, it kind of made me think of things that happened in my youth.”  

He reminisced about seeing the Tegler Building in Edmonton. It was built in 1911 and reduced to rubble in 1982 to make way for a sleek, modern Bank of Montreal.  

“It was a beautiful building that had a sort of concept and a feeling about it that we just don't get in modern buildings,” said Piquette. “I also remember when I was younger with Lac La Biche when their train station had shut down and the grain elevators had been torn down and there weren’t any real efforts to save it, and it was lost and people regretted it.”  

Piquette pointed to the Town of Athabasca as a leader in preserving history with the train station, Old Brick School, United Church and other significant buildings that have been maintained.  

“What do we have that links into the past? I'm sure that that must be the oldest building in the village,” he said. "This is a community that definitely needs to have some diversification and some different things going on.”  

He started the "Friends of the Boyle Hotel" group on Facebook July 10 and over 100 people have joined so far, with some reminiscing about time spent in the tavern, which still operates, or the different events that have been held at the building over the years.  

He has also toured the building inside and out and says the bones are still good, even if it needs a lot of love to regain its former glory.  

“You literally cannot build like that anymore,” said Piquette. "There isn’t any plywood in that building; it's all solid wood, the whole thing. That's part of the reason why people are writing it off and thinking it's not salvageable because they're thinking of buildings the way we build them now.”  

The idea comes with appreciation from a descendent of the original owners, James and Anne McNamara, who also joined the group. 

“I am the daughter of the original owner,” Lois Bright wrote, “I have never been so ecstatic and honoured that my parents will finally get recognition for being an enormous, big part of the history of the first railroad hotel on the opening of the line to Fort McMurray,” 

To test any interest Piquette hosted a Facebook room and live broadcast Sunday with four people joining in the room and six or seven more watching. 

It was noted the current building used to be the McNamara Hotel and separate was the McNamara Mercantile, it was over time the space between was closed in and name changed.  

“So, it was the station masters (room), it was a post office, the telegraph office, it was a dance hall, it was a pool hall, it was a hotel, it’s a tavern,” said Piquette. “What other things? A café.” 

The idea of only applying to have the façade designated as historical was floated as well as getting the Alberta Railway Museum involved to assist with the application or even move both main buildings to the museum location which already has several saved buildings north of Edmonton on Highway 37 between Namao and Fort Saskatchewan. 

For now, Piquette is happy to lead the charge, but hopes others step up especially after learning an application to the Heritage division of Alberta Culture and Tourism eight or nine years ago, but it never got any traction. 

“I will give this the initial kind of push and hope it gets enough motion. If it doesn't, I get bored and distracted easily, and I'll just sort of wander off,” he said. “But I'm not going to do this all myself.” 

Village of Boyle mayor Colin Derko said anything to enhance the community is always welcome, but any decision is also tied to the cost and community impact of such a project  

“Our village, along with most municipalities, have a lot of critical infrastructure that is aging and needs attention so sometimes what seems to make sense to the general public might not fit the criteria for investment urgency.”  

Piquette however hopes the project won’t even need municipal money, saying the goal of the group is to find enough people willing to start a non-profit and take it from there.  

“The first step (is to) secure it, save it from further deterioration and then let's see,” he said. 

Heather Stocking

About the Author: Heather Stocking

Heather Stocking a reporter at the Athabasca Advocate, a weekly paper in Northern Alberta. Heather covers all aspects of the news in and around Athabasca and Boyle as well as other small communities.
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