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Strathcona Hotel comes to life--again

Edmonton hotel has storied history and a place in hearts of Old Strathcona residents.

Last call has never been like this at The Strathcona.

For the first time in its history, a pandemic has forced the 130-year-old landmark to close its doors.

Just 12 days after the refurbished building - long known as the Strathcona Hotel - reopened, provincial COVID-19 restrictions forced the establishment to take business outside and expand takeout operations.

"This is super challenging but we are doing everything we can to get our patios open," said David Sauve, regional manager for Leopold's Tavern-- the first tenant in the building at the corner of Gateway Boulevard and Whyte Avenue.

After re-opening on March 29, Sauve said the response from customers and the community has been impressive.

"It was so special and there was great energy,” he said.

The latest restrictions, banning indoor dining across the province, went into effect  April 9.

A colourful history

The last pandemic to hit Alberta, the Spanish Flu of 1918-19, did not affect the Strathcona Hotel because it was not open at the time – having closed a few years earlier due to prohibition.

The hotel closed in 1916 and was occupied later that same year by the Presbyterian Church-operated Westminster Ladies College, said noted local historian Shirley Lowe.

"The college was there until 1929 when their lease ran out and then it reverted back to being a hotel," she said.

The building, which was recently closed for more than two and a half years due to a fire and renovations, will no longer have hotel rooms but remains a designated historic resource. It is the oldest wood-frame commercial building on Whyte Avenue and was a popular spot with travelers for decades, located kitty-corner from the CP train station.

Beljan Developments, which purchased the building in 2018, is working to lease the top two floors of the building along with the basement.

Asked how Leopold's--which has 15 outlets across Western Canada--ended up at the Strathcona, Sauve said, “We were just looking at expanding into the Edmonton market, and this was a match made in heaven. It was the first property we saw pulling into town, and we knew immediately that we had to have it."

"Leopold’s Tavern is a community pub, so getting to be in such a historic and iconic bar in Edmonton is truly a dream come true. The history and stories of 'The Strat' really captivated our team and we just hope we can do it justice for years to come.”

He added, “During our opening week, we launched the Leo’s Strathcona Key Contest featuring old school hotel keys inspired by the old check-in counter from the hotel. All of the keys will eventually make it onto the wall as part of our decor.”

Sauve said his team is working with the City to get approval for a patio along Gateway Boulevard along with a second one along Whyte Avenue.

"We are creating free-standing barriers so these patios should be good to go soon. We are crossing our fingers," he said, adding he hopes to keep as many as possible of Leopold's 30-person staff.

Once restrictions are lifted and customers are allowed back inside, Sauve said they’ll discover "hidden gems everywhere on our walls - photos from all different eras of the hotel."

He added, "As with everyone in our industry (and many others), day to day operations have a new layer of stress and we’re just doing our best to follow the guidelines that are presented.”