Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/6/2012 (3326 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
SHERRIDON -- As far as landmarks go, it was as far off the beaten path as could be imagined.
Rising out of the bush more than 80 kilometres down a gravel, dangerously winding and narrow road stood the Hotel Cambrian.
A product of the gold rush of the 1920s and '30s, the four-storey building was about the only reminder of the mining-fuelled boom days of Sherridon, a barely there town northeast of Flin Flon.
The roughly 85 residents still here say "was" because earlier this month the grand hotel succumbed to fire, with the reverberations felt throughout the province.
"The Hotel Cambrian was a community pillar for the town of Sherridon," area MLA Clarence Pettersen, who once toured the hotel, told the legislature last week. "The importance of historic buildings as links with our past cannot be overstated."
Precise details on the origin of the Hotel Cambrian remain fuzzy. Some say it opened in the 1920s, others say the early 1930s.
Legend has it that its construction was financed with mob money from Al Capone, but that's quite likely one of those fables folks perpetuated before Google told all.
Some records indicate the Hotel Cambrian was completed in 1934 by George Shaw of Moose Jaw. Perhaps this is where the Capone story comes from, as Big Al is said to have hid out in tunnels in that Saskatchewan community.
Whatever its genesis, the hotel, though long abandoned, was said to be the oldest building of consequence in northern Manitoba.
A key figure in the history of the Cambrian was the late Walter Shmon, an ambitious trapper from Gilbert Plains. He moved to the Sherridon area in the 1930s, starting a mink ranch and mail delivery.
In 1954, Shmon bought the hotel, even though Sherridon's raison d'etre, the Sherritt Gordon copper mine, had closed two years earlier. Most of the town's buildings had been transported to accommodate another mine farther north in Lynn Lake.
But Shmon was ever the optimist. He even possessed 30 mining claims in the Sherridon area, confident in a mining resurgence.
He also loved Sherridon. Not only did he maintain a business that could not have been particularly lucrative at times, he also served as mayor for 14 years.
After Sherritt Gordon, Sherridon retained something of a tourism base throughout the '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s. It was not until 1987 that mining finally returned when the Puffy Lake gold mine commenced production.
New life had been breathed into Sherridon, but it would prove all too fleeting. Poor gold prices forced the closure of Puffy Lake in 1989.
Shmon, even at his advanced age (he was 95 when he died in 2009), continued to run the Cambrian. By the time it closed for good in the early 2000s, it had become a summer-only operation.
By then the hotel had lost some of its lustre -- and clientele. Its beer parlour had shut down in 1976 when, as Shmon once told The Opasquia Times in The Pas, "women's lib came in." In his old-fashioned way, he saw a co-ed bar as too much of a headache.
The writing was on the wall for the landmark once Shmon put up the "closed" sign. In an effort to ensure its preservation, officials in Sherridon tried to have the Hotel Cambrian designated as a historical site, but to no avail.
In time the once-proud hotel fell into disrepair, not to mention tax arrears. It no longer had electricity at the time of the early morning June 2 blaze, which is why police immediately suspected arson.
Nick Benyk, Sherridon mayor and owner of the local general store, said residents worried the building had become a fire trap.
"It's unfortunate to see it happen," he said of the blaze. "There's a lot of history there."
Debi Hatch, chief of the tiny, rarely needed Sherridon fire department, called the blaze "very sad."
She and her firefighters battled the blaze with verve but could not salvage the building, which was reduced to a pile of rubble. All that remained standing was a defiant brick chimney.
It was an ironic end considering the building's twin hotel in The Pas -- built at the same time and also called the Hotel Cambrian -- met a similarly fiery fate in the 1970s.
What is most unfortunate is that Sherridon's Hotel Cambrian had the potential to help the town reclaim its mining glory, as there has been talk of open-pit mining and a restart for at Puffy Lake.
Alas, workers linked to those projects will have to find other accommodations.
The Hotel Cambrian, once the towering jewel of the north, stands no more.
Jonathon Naylor is editor of The Reminder newspaper in Flin Flon.