GLENELLA —There isn't much to see in Glenella, which isn't to say nothing happens here. It can be a busy little town, Bob Fuglsang says, and this is what it holds: the credit union, the post office, the general store. The town's only cafe closed long before the pandemic, but it still has its lumberyard and a cosy old church.
Then, under the gaze of the old grain elevator that rises on the edge of town, there is also the Corona Hotel.
Until this week, not many Manitobans had heard of the hotel, or of Glenella, a town of around 100 people 60 kilometres northeast of Neepawa. The most famous guest ever to drink in the hotel's lounge, owner Fuglsang thinks, was none other than Premier Brian Pallister, and that was maybe 20 years ago.
So what a strange set of circumstances that, this week, it was Pallister who dragged them into the provincial spotlight, calling the hotel out by name for a public health violation fine — one which, Fuglsang and his wife, Bev, said in an email to the premier's office, was "total bullshit," based on a false assumption by a liquor inspector.
"It was petty, unprofessional and unfair," Bob says, chatting from behind the hotel's beer vendor window.
Why the inspector came to Glenella last Thursday night, the Fuglsangs will never really know. He was just doing his job, they understand, but it was a quiet night. There weren't any cars on the street: "Could've fired a cannon through the town," Bob says, that's how empty it was, no sign of people out partying.
Only Bob and Bev in their home, which is attached to the lounge, as their six-year-old grandson played inside.
The lounge door was locked, they say. Nobody other than family members were inside. It's been like that since bars were made to close earlier this month, and the Fuglsangs have tried to do everything right. Several Glenella residents confirmed that the lounge has been closed since then; they haven't seen people going in or out, except to the vendor.
The Fuglsangs aren't the type to take chances with public health orders like that, one resident said.
But, as the story goes, the inspector came, and heard their grandson playing with billiard balls, and from that noise surmised they'd violated public health orders. He told them he'd have to talk to his supervisor; on Monday morning, he knocked at the hotel back door and gave them a $1,296 fine.
The Fuglsangs were surprised. They had no idea what was in store for them the next day.
It was their daughter who told them, when she messaged to say the premier had just called the hotel out by name, telling the whole province its lounge and pool tables had been open. Bev was "shocked," she says, and the couple raced to tell their side of the story; soon, the hotel's phone was ringing off the hook with supporters.
This was not how they ever expected to put Glenella on the map, so to speak. It's been a quiet place, and getting quieter. People move out, people die, and few new residents move in to replace them; over the years, the hotel's business has dwindled. In normal times, it's mostly a few farmers who come for a beer now, a few guys from town.
But the Fuglsangs keep it going. They bought the hotel 30 years ago, when they looked to move back to the area they were from. The hotel itself is much older, or at least the old half of it with the rooms on the second floor; Bev's father was born in 1917 — or maybe 1922, she says, something like that — and the hotel was already there.
Still, they won't stay here forever. They've been trying to sell the place for a couple of years, but they're in no hurry. They've been there long enough already, Bev says, so what's a few years more? It's been a long grind, and they're comfortable enough where they are, and besides, this isn't really the ideal moment to find a buyer.
"Pretty hard to sell when you're not even open," Bob says.
Bev lets out a peal of laughter, thinking of the sudden surge of attention. "Maybe this will help."
For now, the Fuglsangs plan to appeal the fine. They're not sure if they will take it much further. They'd like to see an apology from the premier, once their most famous guest, now the source of this strange 15 minutes of provincewide fame. That would be meaningful, they say, but so far an apology has not been forthcoming.
"He stuck his foot in his mouth, so he can get it out again," Bob says, and chuckles.
At the end of the day, what they want Manitoba to know is this: what the inspector says happened, didn't happen. What the premier called them out for, didn't happen. The fact that the place is called the Corona Hotel made for a heck of an eye-grabber, but when it comes to COVID-19 restrictions, they say, the hotel is not the problem.
"If we would have been open and drinking and partying, I would take my punishment and pay the fine," Bob says. "But when you’re not doing nothing, I ain’t payin’ it for nothing."
Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.