Out Of The Ashes
Friday, November 30, 2012
The old Waldorf Hotel on Mainstreet Leduc before the fire that razed it in 1940.
During the late 1890’s Robert Telford had expanded his stopping place into a hotel and moved it to what would be considered Leduc’s Main Street. He also had his hand in a lumberyard, general store, real estate, and was involved in a number of projects to develop Leduc.
He would sell Telford Place to an American by the name of Jerry Boyce and his partner Sam Gregory. Boyce was an ambitious man with a bit of flare. Immediately he began to expand the hotel and changed its name to the Waldorf Hotel. Jerry Boyce was quite the character and tended to support, at the time, a number of questionable endeavors and people with character. He got involved with the development of horse racing and supported a Scotsman by the name of Bob Edwards of Calgary’s Eye-Opener fame.
Edwards was not a wealthy man and had wandered to Western Canada in 1894. For several months in 1896 Edwards was a guest at the Waldorf Hotel. While he lived in Leduc, Edwards would publish a weekly newssheet filled with articles of satire about the local folks. A year later he started the Wetaskiwin Free Lance newspaper and by 1902 he had founded the famous Eye-Opener.
In 1901 Boyce lost interest in the hotel and it was sold to Adam “Doc” Aicher and his family. Jerry Boyce moved back to the States and lived in Montana until his death in the early 1950’s.
Aicher would make a major enlargement of the hotel and added character to the establishment. His entire family got involved in the hotel. His wife, “Mother Aicher” ran the dinning room where excellent meals could be had for a grand total of 25-cents. His sons, Fred and Leo ran the saloon and hotel. The family would run the hotel for the next thirty years.
“Doc” Aicher had migrated from Germany, by way of the US, and was sixty years old when he bought the Waldorf Hotel. He would often sit quietly behind the front desk, but occasionally he would say something profound that would end with his guests in gales of laughter. His wit along with his wife’s cooking became a major attraction for travelling salesmen and visitors. He could be gruff and hard on individuals who had trouble handling their liquor, but would not hesitate to help a farmer and his family in times of need. By the beginning of the 1920’s the Waldorf Hotel had an excellent reputation for its accomodations, food, and environment. Doc Aicher died in 1924 at the age of 83 and four years later Mother Aicher followed him. The boys continued to run the hotel for another three years then sold it in 1931. Fred moved to Edmonton and his brother to the USA.
By 1940 the Waldorf was owned by Bruce Reid and his partner Ralph Johnson. On Wednesday March 13th, 1940 Izzy Mablin was returning from a hockey game held in Fort Saskatchewan. It was about 1AM when he noticed smoke coming out of the hotel. By this time the hotel included a dry goods store and a barbershop, as well the pub and café.
Izzy called in the fire and the local fire department was on the scene in a matter of minutes. The first order was to evacuate the building and all of the hotel residents including Reid and his family. They were able to jump out the windows on the second floor into blankets held by the firemen and volunteers.
The fire had grown and put a number of nearby stores in danger, however the Leduc firefighters, with the help of fire units from southern Edmonton were able to contain the flames to the Waldorf.
When dawn broke, Leduc found itself with only one hotel and since the Royal Bank had closed its doors, only one bank. Leduc’s future growth was looking pretty dim.
Bruce Reid was a determined man and was not going to allow this disaster to prevent him from contributing to the development of Leduc and making a living. He purchased the abandoned Royal Bank building and the Leduc Hotel. He used the material from the Royal Bank to expand the Leduc Hotel. It would be nine years before Reid was able to gather the capital needed to rebuild the Waldorf Hotel.
On Jan 13, 1949, in the dead of winter, heavy equipment was brought in and began digging the basement of what would become the New Waldorf Hotel. Within an unbelievable six months the New Waldorf Hotel was completed and opened on July 1st, 1949. The new hotel included a barbershop, a beauty parlor, and even a 4-lane bowling alley as well as a café and pub. The hotel has served Leduc ever since.
One of the quirks in life occurred when the Leduc Hotel blew up sixteen months later. Within four months after that event John Megley, who had bought the Leduc Hotel in 1949 from Bruce Reid, bought Reid’s interest in the New Waldorf and became its manager.
The Leduc Hotel was never rebuild but today Leduc and area can boost nearly a dozen hotels. However, the New Waldorf Hotel remains as the single link to when Robert Telford began Leduc’s reputation as a community built upon hospitality to newcomers and visitors.
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