ARMSTRONG - From a ghost named Emily to a secret safe that has never been opened, the historic Armstrong Hotel is full of secrets and stories.
Built in 1892, the iconic three-storey building has been providing food and lodging to travellers for many years. Old photographs and advertisements hung on the walls of the saloon — which now features a motorcycle theme — depict the early days; a glass of wine was fifty cents and a black and white photo shows dirt roads and wooden sidewalks on the street outside.
If he’d listened to his daughters, owner Dave Prebushewski never would have bought the 125-year-old hotel.
But, he ignored them and followed his gut. After all, they were only in elementary school — what did they know?
“They said ‘daddy, you can’t buy this piece of junk,’” Prebushewski says.
That was in 2012, when much of the building was in disrepair. Rooms hadn’t been rented out in at least 30 years and the restaurant was shuttered. The downstairs bar was the only part of the building actually open.
“Everybody told me ‘Preb, you’re crazy, it’s not worth it,’” he says. “But I saw potential in it.”
With a background in construction, Prebushewski set to work restoring the old hotel, which sits at the corner of Okanagan Street and Pleasant Valley Boulevard behind the train tracks.
“A lot of people when we first bought it thought for sure it was being knocked down,” he says.
Instead, he brought it back to life, and in the process, unearthed some of its secrets.
One woman in her 90s told him her parents used to play music (the accordion and the banjo) down in the saloon. As a child, she overheard them talking about money being laundered in the basement and taken, through tunnels, to the Bank of Canada across the street.
“She asked me if I’d ever seen tunnels in the basement. I said ‘no, not yet’. But then a few months after, there it was,” he says.
He’s never found any written history of the tunnels, but can’t think of another purpose for the small, roughly one-and-a-half foot by two-feet sized rectangular opening cut into the thick granite slabs in the basement. Where it leads remains a mystery; the hole is caved in with dirt and no, Prebushewski hasn’t crawled inside.
“If these walls could talk, that’s for sure,” he says.
From the basement, one can also see evidence of the fire that burned the hotel — and much of the town — to the ground in the 1890s. The old, scorched floor trusses remain intact, with the new ones affixed directly alongside them.
There’s also the hotel ghost, Emily, who can be seen in an old photograph from the 1950s lurking in a window while a boy’s lacrosse team poses outside. No one was supposed to be in the building at the time.
Prebushewski recalls one morning, while cleaning the bar, hearing balls dropping into the pockets of the pool table.
“I always, the night before, put the pool balls down the pockets,” he says. “All I heard was this ‘plunk, plunk, plunk.’ Nobody was there but me. I snuck around around the bar to look because I couldn’t believe what I heard.”
When he checked, the balls were in the pockets, but Prebushewski has always wondered about the strange occurrence. Another employee recalls four days when the radio in her car would flip stations just as she approached the hotel. The pattern didn’t stop until she addressed Emily’s ghost directly.
Prebushewski also found an old safe in the hotel, and to this day does not know what is inside it. The combination is unknown, and no one has been able to get inside.
“I had a safe cracker come out here, and he couldn’t even do it,” he says.
The hotel is more than a building, it’s the people and the stories around it. Over the past few years, Prebushewski has chatted with numerous patrons about their memories of the hotel, passed down through generations.
As tight a connection as Prebushewski has with the blue hotel, his relationship is about to change. He recently put the business up for auction and hopes a group of friends, or pair of couples, will take on the building and its three distinct businesses.
“It’s just too much for me to keep doing myself,” he says.
Asked if he’ll miss it, he begins to tear up and simply says, "absolutely."
He has no regrets about buying the business and pouring five years of his life into it.
“I’d do it all over again,” he says.
The property has been listed with the Richie Bros. Auctioneers, and will be sold April 26, 2017 to the highest bidder. Advertised worldwide, the hotel has gotten lots of interest, Prebushewski says.
“I’ve had people looking from Mexico, the Yukon, Australia and South Africa,” he says.
After it sells, he plans on returning as a patron.
“I wouldn’t go anywhere else,” he says.
And he hopes people continue going there for many years to come.
“I had a contractor look at the foundation and he said, ‘this thing’s been standing for 120 years. It’ll stand for another 120,” he says.
Before he goes, Prebushewski plans on cracking one last mystery: the safe.
“I'm busting it open before I go,” he says.
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