Central Hotel dining room Wilson Hotel, 1892


In the 1891 census, hotels were classified as census "households." All persons deemed to be permanent residents of the hotel were enumerated as part of a "census family" associated with the establishment. That is to say, hotel owners, employees, and lodgers were counted together and were identified as being members of a single census family or household, as long as they all resided under the same roof.

In the 1890s Nanaimo supported nearly twenty hotels which provided accommodation and employment for hundreds of people. The majority of hotel keepers were of European descent and ranged in age from 30 to 50 years. The two exceptions were Elizabeth Gough, who ran the Nanaimo Hotel in partnership with Robert Evans, and Mary Jane Gilbert, proprietor of the Temperance House. In 1891, Gough was 64 years old and Gilbert was 58 years old. Both women were born in England and both were widows.

Starting in the South Ward, the Italian Hotel was built in 1889 on the corner of Haliburton and Needham Streets. In 1891 fifteen lodgers were living in the hotel. The hotel rates were $1 a day, $6 a week, and $24 a month. The Dew Drop Inn stood across the street on Haliburton. Samuel Hague was the proprietor and Gus Steffin was hotel manager. The census from 1891 shows that Steffin, his wife and their children lived in the hotel, along with a waiter and bartender, a liquor merchant, tinsmith, contractor, bookseller, grocer and three tailors. Further north on Haliburton was the Balmoral Hotel. John Hough, the proprietor, lived here with his wife and three children and a thirteen year old servant. The hotel lodgers were a 42 year old brewer, a 55 year-old engineer, a 28 year old plumber and 25 year old miner.

The Crescent Hotel was located on Victoria Crescent closer to the commercial centre of Nanaimo. This 3-storey brick building was built in 1889. James Bennett, the proprietor, advertised in the Nanaimo Free Press that he employed "only white labour" in his hotel. In 1891 all of the occupants were members of the Bennett family. Since this was a large building, the Crescent Hotel probably catered to tourists and out-of-town guests who would not be counted as residents when the census was taken.

On the other side of Victoria Crescent were two hotels built of wood. The Oriental (1874) was owned by John Fraser and managed by John Morrell. Eight hotel lodgers were recorded on the census. The Provincial Hotel (1881) was owned by Thomas Millar. Millar and his wife, a hotel cook and sixteen lodgers resided in the hotel. All of the lodgers were miners.

Just north of the Provincial hotel was the Grand Hotel. It was a two-storey brick building "furnished in 1st class style with meals at all hours "(Nanaimo Free Press, 18 January 1892). The proprietor, Walter Myles, lived there with his family and a few permanent lodgers, including a butcher, ship trimmer, and soda water maker. Like the Crescent Hotel, the Grand Hotel may have catered to out-of-town travellers because relatively few lodgers were enumerated when the census was taken.

Across the Commercial Street bridge on Skinner Street was the wooden Britannia Hotel. It accommodated two dozen residents, who were employed in diverse occupations. The residents of this hotel included an insurance agent, real estate clerk, accountant, dry goods dealer, wholesale merchant, bank clerk and surveyor. It was also home for two tailors, two coat makers and a couple of cigar makers. But the hotel keeper, Thomas J. Jackman, did not live on the premises. He roomed at the Opera House located on Church Street.

North of the Britannia on Commercial Street was the Nanaimo Hotel. It was built in the 1870s and sported an 80 foot flag pole out front. The hotel keepers were two business partners, Robert Evans and Elizabeth Gough. The five lodgers consisted of Evans, Gough, a cook, bartender and waitress. Presumably this hotel catered to transients.

The Royal Hotel on Commercial Street was one of Nanaimo's leading establishments. It had a shaving salon and well-appointed rooms. Sir John A. Macdonald stayed here in 1886 on his way to drive in the last spike for the Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railway in 1886. The Royal Hotel burnt down in 1894 and was never rebuilt.

The Central Hotel was also located on Commercial Street. The hotel keepers were William Beveridge and James Williams. In April 1891, thirty-seven people were living in the hotel. They included the Beveridge and Williams families, bartenders, waiters and cooks, as well as a large group of working men between the ages of 20 and 57. The men were painters, carpenters, clerks, liquor mechants, brick layers, shoemakers, blacksmiths, drill managers, and stone masons. There was even a professional athlete.

Further along Commercial Street on the corner of Bastion Street was the Commercial Hotel, built in 1880. The proprietors were Peter Sabiston and James Wilcox. Sabiston and his wife and a servant lived in the hotel; Wilcox and his family lived here, too. Only two lodgers - a barber and a stable keeper - were enumerated when the census was taken. It may be, therefore, that the Commerical Hotel (like the Crescent Hotel and the Grand Hotel) catered primarily to travellers and tourists. It was not a residential establishment, like the Temperance House.

Located on the corner of Bastion and Skinner streets, the Temperance House accommodated nearly twenty residents. They included a policeman, blacksmith, foundryman, machinist, caulker, and cigar maker. Three butchers, two carpenters and a couple of coal miners also lived here. As the name of the hotel indicates, alcohol was not served in the Temperance House and so it's likely that the residents were teetotallers.

Residents of the Palace Hotel, located close by on Skinner Street, were probably not temperance folk. The hotel employed a bartender and a waiter and the residents included a liquor merchant. A bookseller, grocer, tinsmith, contractor and three tailors also lived here. The Palace Hotel was built in 1889 and was owned by Tom Peters and Gus Steffin. Peters and his wife were living in the hotel in 1891.

The Old Flag Inn stood opposite the Temperance House on Skinner Street. John Jenkins was proprietor of the Inn. It was a two-story structure, built in 1874. A contractor, a labourer, and a couple of gold miners were lodgers.

The three-storey Occidental Hotel was located on Fitzwilliam and Selby. It was built in 1887 by the Fiddick family to be made ready for the railway trade. Due to its proximity to the station, the 'Oxy' became known as 'the first and the last' because it was the first stop in Nanaimo for thirsty travellers, as well as their last stop before departure. The hotel consisted of twenty-four lodgers: John Decker and his wife, a bartender, brewer, grocery clerk, surveyor's assistant, shoemaker, and tobacco stripper; two dry goods clerks, two house builders, and eight coal miners. It is interesting to note that the Oxy was owned by Gus Steffin, Nanaimo's hotel tycoon.

The Opera House was located on Church Street. It was a brick building which opened with a grand ball in 1889. It boasted a large auditorium, two galleries, four spectator boxes, a dress circle and a long bar. This hotel was a bustle of activity. It was the site of many plays, dances and political rallies over the years. The hotel Keeper was John Mahr. When the census was taken, there were twenty-four lodgers at the hotel. These included bartenders, real estate agents, and several cigar makers. T. J. Jackman, proprietor of the Britannia Hotel, was also lodger in the Opera House.

The Newcastle Hotel was located on Comox Road. The hotel keeper was Samuel Fox. In April 1891, Fox and his wife and children, and one miner, were living at the Newcastle Hotel.

The Globe Hotel was located on Front Street. It was built by Alex Henderson and opened in 1887. The proprietor was Charles Martin and there were eleven lodgers here. They consisted of the Martin family and a servant, a grocer, two miners and three cigar makers. All of the cigar makers staying at this hotel were single men from Germany. In Germany, at this point in history, cigar making was a common occupation.

Upon further analysis of the records, we noticed that miners and carpenters were concentrated in certain hotels, and that some lodgers "boarded" and some "roomed" in the hotels. We assume that lodgers who "boarded" were provided with meals as part of their rent, while persons who "roomed" did not receive meals.

The following hotels were most popular with miners and carpenters: The Occidental Hotel was home to eight miners, six of whom boarded, and two roomed. Nine carpenters lived in the Occidental Hotel; seven of them roomed while two boarded. The Nanaimo Hotel was home to six carpenters and three miners, all of whom roomed in the hotel. The Provincial Hotel was home to sixteen miners; ten of them roomed while six boarded. The heavy concentration of miners found at the Provincial Hotel may be related to the closeness of the hotel's proximity to the mines.

Other working men - such as butchers and barbers, tinsmiths and blacksmiths, tailors and painters - lived in these hotels. All of the women found living in the hotels were staff members who worked as chambermaids, waitresses or servants, or they were relatives of the hotel proprietors.

To conclude, people in a wide range of occupations could be found living in Nanaimo hotels in 1891. Clearly, hotels in Nanaimo in the 1890s were more than places where one could seek temporary shelter for the night. The hotels were homes for many Nanaimo residents.

Additional Sources
T.D. Sale, "Early Hotels and Saloons of Nanaimo," in E. Blanche Norcross, ed., Nanaimo Retrospective (Nanaimo, B.C.: Nanaimo Historical Society, 1979); Nanaimo Free Press ( 18 January 1892); Florence McGirr, "Hotels and Pubs of Nanaimo," (Nanaimo Historical Society, 1970, sound recording).

Researched and written by

Natasha Craik, Jordan Johns and Crystal Ruel, Hist 358, October 2003.

Hotel Photos
Wilson Hotel 1892
Miner's Exchange
aka Central Hotel
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