Skip to main content

New Irricana Hotel owner wants to create 'a living piece of history'

The Irricana Hotel has stood for 112 years, but after a decade of falling into disrepair, some thought the building was finally nearing its end.

But Kerry Tucker heard it was up for court-ordered sale and did a little research.

Built by CP Rail to service the line connecting to Drumheller, Alta., it originally had three storeys with accommodation upstairs, a bar on the main floor (with separate men's and women's entrances) and stables in the cellar where you could park your horse while having a few beers.

"I can build a new building here right now, but the walls won't tell me stories. The floors won't creak. There's that soul-ness about it — it's got a soul to the building," said Tucker.

The stucco on the outside is crumbling and drywall and paint are falling down on the second floor, but Tucker says he's had a structural engineer in who's given him the green light to go ahead with the massive renovation.

"He's come in and done a preliminary check and he gave me the thumbs up and said, 'It's not going to fall down,'" said Tucker.

The foundation will need some shoring up at the back of the building and one structural beam needs to be replaced, but the overall bones of the building are surprisingly intact, he says.

Inside the old barroom are a few gems, like an original walk-in cooler that would have chilled beers using blocks of ice on shelves before it was retrofitted with a refrigeration unit.

There are also original cattle brands burned into the bar, which Tucker says came from original ranch families in the surrounding area.

Perhaps the most significant are three murals painted around 1925 by Guy Welch, a western artist and friend of renowned painter Charlie Russell.

Welch died in 1958.

"He was drinking here and apparently he painted these pieces — unfortunately, damage has happened to the third piece," said Tucker.

He's reached out to the Glenbow Museum, which he says has looked the works over — offering to remove the murals in order to preserve them.

For now, Tucker plans to keep them in their original home.

There are a few quirks, including a staircase on the second floor that ends at the underside of the roof.

The stairs are still covered in what appears to be well-preserved carpet from 1910.

The third floor, Tucker says, was removed around 1928 after a major fire destroyed many buildings in town.

Lumber salvaged from the upper floor was used to help rebuild the town.

It could easily take two years before Tucker is able to open even a portion of the building to the public.

When he does, Tucker says he wants the building to return to its place as a community centre.

Restaurant, hostel, brewery — there are a lot of possibilities and at this point, Tucker isn't committing to any of them.

"The outside is going to look original, the inside is going to be modernized with plumbing and electrical and that sort of thing," said Tucker.

"So it's going to be a living piece of history." Top Stories

Stay Connected