A beloved Tolstoi institution that was a second home to travellers and locals alike is being brought back to life.
Elsie’s Hotel, closed since 2008, will reopen its doors as soon as next month under new ownership.
Ben Holodryga took possession of the hotel and beverage room on Sept. 1.
Holodryga, who grew up near Tolstoi before settling in Winnipeg, said he’s looking forward to moving back home to run the business, which he wants to bring back "as it was 20 years ago."
"I think this is going to be a good gig," he said Friday, standing behind the bar he will soon tend.
Holodryga said he wouldn’t think of changing the name that has graced the hotel since 1940, when newlyweds Elsie and Walter Kolodzinski began running the establishment.
"The Holodrygas probably gave them a lot of the business," Holodryga, the youngest of 12 children, quipped.
Elsie’s daughter, Adele Kolodzinski-Mayberry and her husband, Ian Mayberry put the property up for sale.
"It’s been within the family and run for 80 years," she said.
The couple helped Elsie run the hotel in its final years. Mayberry used his handyman skills to repair and upgrade many aspects of the building while preserving its classic look.
In 2008, when Elsie retired, the property was designated residential. The family continued to use it for special occasions and weekend getaways. But with careers to juggle, Kolodzinski-Mayberry explained no family member could commit to maintaining the property long-term.
Wayne Arseny, tourism coordinator for the RM of Emerson-Franklin, brokered the $159,000 sale, which he views as one of several signs of revitalization in Tolstoi.
"As a tourism coordinator, I see this as a vital piece of the puzzle to restore the community."
The hotel sign was never taken down, and Arseny said passing motorists would still pull up and try the door. Arseny said he doesn’t want to see any small town decline to the point where "there’s nothing left but a plaque."
"I took this on with special interest. The challenge was to find somebody to rekindle that legacy."
Holodryga said he went looking for rural property after the company he worked for shut down.
On July 13, RM of Emerson-Franklin council approved a conditional use permit to allow him to establish a drinking establishment at the location. He’s now applying for a liquor licence and developing a small food menu with some locally-sourced ingredients.
Highway 59 had neither pavement nor telephone lines when the hotel opened in 1929. The Kolodzinskis married in 1940. Within months, they were running the hotel.
"It became a home away from home for people," Kolodzinski-Mayberry said.
When utilities arrived in town, her mother cooked meals for the Hydro and MTS workers who stayed in one of the eight rooms upstairs (two have since been converted to storage).
The lobby housed a switchboard and the Grey Goose bus stopped outside.
In the 1950s, seating capacity was doubled and the bar was extended. The beverage room remained men-only until 1983. Walter died the same year, but Elsie carried on, running the hotel and serving up food and drink, including her signature Caesar cocktail garnished with a homemade pickle instead of the customary celery rib.
If the hotel was the hub of the community, Elsie was its heart. Each summer, she’d transform the grounds into beer gardens and invite a band to play. Holodryga recalled bringing his 1955 GMC pickup to one of the hotel’s many car shows.
Elsie was also a dedicated Winnipeg Jets fan with season tickets behind the goal judge. She also volunteered with community organizations in Tolstoi.
Kolodzinski-Mayberry said her parents’ fortunes were intertwined with the weather and the crops.
"If the farmers prospered, they prospered."
In 1991, Molson Brewery created a special label to honour Elsie’s 50th year in business. In 1995, Labatt followed suit for her 75th birthday. Autographed bottles are still on display in the beverage room.
In 2000, a games room was added on, with billiard tables, dartboards, and a distinctive V-shaped shuffleboard table that was included in the sale.
As the years went on, Tolstoi’s population declined and bills escalated. Elsie retired in 2008 after 68 years on the job. She died in 2010.
With the keys handed over and the sale complete, Kolodzinski-Mayberry said she’s delighted that the hotel will fill with guests once again.