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1903-1919::Francis Rattenbury's Premier Hotel in Prince Rupert, British Columbia

Updated: Oct 25, 2023

The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway and their grand hotel that never was.

1913::Francis Rattenbury's Premier Hotel in Prince Rupert, BC

"The Premier Hotel: Francis Rattenbury's Grand Trunk Pacific Hotel in Prince Rupert, British Columbia"

Clip: Saturday Sunset (1913)

"The hotel site is bounded by First and Second Avenues, and Third and Sixth Streets, and the building will be 310 feet long, facing on Second Avenue, by an average of 150 feet deep. The First Avenue entrance will be two floors below Second Avenue. On the main or first floor, which is a few steps above Second Avenue, will be found the lobby, with offices, telegraphy and telephones, souvenir room and writing room, adjoining also a grand staircase and three elevators. A lounge 64x64 feet will follow next and will lead to a large dining room with a seating capacity for 265 people, and a ballroom 50x105 feet. Adjoining the ballroom will be a palm room. Below the first floor will be the ground floor with an outside entrance, leading down from Second Avenue. Here will be located the kitchen, grill room, bar and billiard room and barber shop. On the lowest floor, which has an entrance from First Avenue, Turkish baths for both men and women will be installed. There will also be a number of traveler's sample rooms and a large storage space for kitchen supplies on this floor. The building will be fifteen storeys high, with 450 bedrooms, each containing a private bath. The construction is to be of steel with reinforced concrete floor slabs, the exterior to be of brick and terra cotta with a slate roof. All to be first-class and up-to-date in every respect. For the use of the above drawing, we are indebted to Mr. F. M. Rattenbury, of Victoria, the architect who prepared the plans for this palatial edifice." - Editor (Saturday Sunset, 1913)

In 1903, a new company was readying itself to build a first-class transcontinental rail service that could compete with the Canadian Pacific Railway (CP or CPR). The new Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (GTP) had big plans for its western terminus, but first, they had to find it.

1913::Prince Rupert the Metropolis of the North

"Metropolis of the North"

Photo Clip: Saturday Sunset (1913)

In 1906, after scouting deep-water harbours along British Columbia's coastline, GTP officials decided that Prince Rupert's harbour was undoubtedly a hidden gem. Within months, the GTP purchased lots in the new northern town and built a 4-storey hotel to get things started. By fall of the same year, steel tracks were being laid out of Portage la Prairie heading west, and by 1908, tracks were being laid out of Prince Rupert heading east. It would be several more years before both ends of the line meet.

1908::First GTP train arrives in Portage la Prairie from Winnipeg.

"First GTP Train Arrives in Portage La Prarie From Winnipeg"

Clip: Canadian Courier (1908)

On August 3, 1908, the first GTP train arrived in Portage la Prairie from Winnipeg on the new GTP rails. It was as far west as the rails extended at the time.

1913::Landseekers purchasing property in British Columbia.

"The Mad Rush to Purchase BC Property"

Photo Clip: Saturday Sunset (1913)

By 1910, the new GTP rail company had become a competitor's concern. Not only had the GTP secured one of the best deep-water ports in the province with an unobstructed sail to the orient, but they had also purchased valuable land along their own line and throughout the province. This included property on Vancouver Island. They had purchased a lot in Victoria at Humboldt and Penwell Streets with the bold intent of building a towering hotel looking down at their biggest competitor, the Canadian Pacific's new Empress Hotel. Eventually, it was decided that it was more important to build a 300-room hotel in Vancouver first (at Burrard and Melville Streets), but in the end, neither hotel was built. Still, the GTP wasn't done poking the CPR bear. While in Victoria, the company's officials met with and hired architect Francis Rattenbury to design their prize hotel at their west coast terminus in Prince Rupert. Rattenbury, who had made a name for himself with Victoria's Parliament Buildings, had recently resigned from the Canadian Pacific Empress Hotel project due to irreconcilable differences with the hotel's manager. His absence from the project delayed the official opening of The Empress hotel by several months, but it also meant that he was free to work with the GTP who was in line to become the CPR's biggest competitor.

1911::The Prince Rupert Agreement with the GTP

"The Prince Rupert Agreement" Clip: The Province (1911)

In 1912, with a Prince Rupert agreement in place, the GTP began work on their promised drydock to ready the deep-water harbour for international business. It was a project that employed thousands of men and positioned the GTP rail line a league above its competitors. By 1913, it was anticipated that Prince Rupert's population would soar to become a city the size of Vancouver and just as important with her unequalled harbour.

1913::Prince Rupert, BC's Dry Dock

By the summer of 1912, GTP's rails had reached Tete Jaune Cache from the east, 365 miles west of Edmonton. The tracks wound around mountains and valleys and helped small towns grow along the way. At the same time, the first modern brick and steel structure ever erected north of Vancouver (in Canadian or American territory) was being constructed in Prince Rupert. It was Rattenbury's hotel, now called 'The Premier.' It was designed to be the grandest of all GTP Hotels, including the Fort Garry in Winnipeg and the MacDonald in Edmonton. Plans for hotels in Jasper and Mount Robson were in the works, and the Qu'Appelle in Regina was also under construction. But as 1914 approached, the world began to change and the frenzy to purchase land in BC's northern towns began to simmer.

1914::The last spike of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Line.

"1914::The Last Spike of the Grand Trunk Pacific"

Photo: Library and Archives Canada / Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Album Fonds (e011084125)

On April 6, 1914, railway workers left a half-a-kilometre stretch of unfinished line so that each side could race the following day to see whether east or west workers could complete the line the fastest. The winning team was never disclosed in the papers. On April 7, 1914, the last spike of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway line was driven at Nechaka Crossing, 275 miles east of Prince Rupert and 1375 miles west of Winnipeg.

1912::Francis Rattenbury's hotel that was never built in Prince Rupert.

"The Hotel That Never Was"

Clip: Daily News Advertiser (1912)

Although ground had been broken for the Premier Hotel in Prince Rupert (between 1st and 2nd Avenue and 3rd and 6th Streets), the building was never meant to be. Months after the last spike was driven, war was declared in Europe. It is said that the war changed everything, including the future of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. But not only was the war to blame, the world now had automobiles and airplanes that changed how international business was done. And although the Panama Canal was sure to bring big ships to the northern waters of BC's coast, deep-water ports were now faced with fierce competition. In the end, the 2 million dollar Premier Hotel was never built (nor was the Qu'Appelle in Regina), but Prince Rupert's drydock was... at a whopping expense of 3 million dollars. The drydock was complete by the fall of 1915, but it never saw the glory days that were once dreamed of in the preceding decade. It was dismantled and sold for parts in the 1950s. In 1919, less than a year after the war ended, the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway was declared bankrupt.

1915::Advertisement for the Grand Trunk Pacific

"1915 Advertisement"

Clip: The Oregon Daily Journal (1915)

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