A Brief History of the Cecil Hotel in Moose Jaw

Last week you may remember that I told the story of the murder of Ralph Warwick. (If you haven’t read it, you can find it here.) And in that story, there is a suicide at the Cecil Hotel in Moose Jaw, which of course, made me raise an eyebrow. For those of you who don’t know, there is another very famous Cecil Hotel in downtown Los Angeles built in 1924 that is believed to be incredibly haunted, thanks to the myriad of horrible and mysterious things that have happened there. It made me curious about the one in Moose Jaw. Did it have an interesting and sordid history like its famous counterpart? Yes, yes it did. So, without further ado, here is a brief history of Moose Jaw’s Cecil Hotel.

The Cecil Hotel, Moose Jaw – prairie-towns.com

The Cecil Hotel first opened on November 14, 1907 and quickly became a landmark on River Street in Moose Jaw; a street that grew to be considered one of the most colourful and gaudy tenderloin districts in Western Canada. In 1909, a banquet to celebrate the opening of the new Saskatchewan Flour Mills was held at the hotel by the president and staff of the Board of Trade and was attended by one hundred of Moose Jaw’s most prominent citizens.

And then things took a turn. On the morning of May 15, 1911, James McCarthy, the chief steward of the Cecil Hotel, died by suicide in the hotel cellar, blowing his head to pieces with a double barreled shot gun. He had a homestead in Manitoba and a wife in Winnipeg. At the time, domestic troubles were given as the believed cause, although obviously now we know things are much more complicated than that.

The next gruesome incident happened in 1912, when sometime during the night of Sunday, December 8th, Stanley Price also met his end in the Cecil Hotel. He’d fled to Moose Jaw after the suspicions of the RNWMP landed on him for the murder of Ralph Warwick. He cut his own throat in his hotel room, cutting so deep the newspapers alleged he nearly cut off his own head.

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Dec 11, 1912

On July 28, 1916, Mrs. “Buster” Harris was arrested in her room at the hotel, but she refused to get dressed and go to the station, instead staying under the bed covers… naked. Chief Johnson was called, but she just burrowed further under the blankets, so in desperation, he rolled her up in a sheet and carried her out. She was driven in a police car through the business sector to the station, wearing only the sheet. She was charged with breaking and entering with intent to rob.

The Regina Leader-Post – July 29, 1916

On January 17, 1922, the Cecil Hotel played a small role in a liquor bust. At the time, the Saskatchewan Temperance Act was in effect, which made it illegal to sell liquor in the province, although it wasn’t illegal to manufacture and sell liquor to other countries. An undercover operation was launched by the Liquor Commission to catch a company called Southern Exporters Ltd in the act of selling liquor locally. Their base of operations during the sting was the Cecil Hotel. It was also included in multiple liquor raids in the city. At the time, the side of the building facing River Street had iron galleries that women used to whistle from to get the attention of men on the street below. It was also believed to have been frequented by prohibition-era gangsters when they needed to “stay out of circulation for a while”.

On August 10, 1924, the Cecil Hotel almost fell victim to fire after the nearby burning Woolworth building experienced an explosion that shot flames across the alley and struck the wall of the hotel, shattering nearly every pane of glass at the rear of the building. Unfortunately, the alley was also where a crowd of curious onlookers had gathered to watch the fire, leaving eight people burned, two of them nine-year-old children who were so badly burned it was unlikely they survived.

In March of 1933, the hotel played host to wrestlers and boxers in town for the Maroon’s card. The participants went through a workout at the hotel, with a fair-sized gallery of fans there to watch.

On January 29, 1968, a man was found dead in his room and remained unidentified for eight days. He had registered at the hotel on January 28th as N. Kargohs and when his body was found the next day, he had no identification papers on his person or in the room. Eventually he was identified as Nick Hrytuik, a sixty-year-old caretaker at the Ukrainian Federation Hall in Regina. His cause of death was not listed, nor any theories as to why he might have checked in under a false name.

The reign of the Cecil Hotel came to an end in the early hours of Saturday, July 26, 1975, when it was destroyed by fire. The fire was first called in at 1:50AM and quickly became a roaring inferno of flame and dense smoke. By the time dawn broke, the hotel’s interior had collapsed into the basement and all that remained standing was the brick facade facing River Street. As firemen sifted through the wreckage, they came upon the burned remains of a man who was eventually identified as forty-one-year-old Russell Stefura, a resident of the hotel. On August 1, 1975, the body of a second victim of the fire was found, believed to be that of Albert/Franklin Webb, who was about seventy two. He was difficult to identify, having gone by the two different names and because he told people he came from different places in Eastern Canada. Both deaths were caused by asphyxiation. The fire was believed to have been caused by a short circuit in wiring within a false ceiling, which contained the smoke until the blaze had become well established. Peculiar burns were found on the outside of the main circuit box and the condition of the wires within indicated a short circuit had occurred. What was left of the building was too hazardous to leave standing and was torn down.

The Regina Leader-Post – Aug 1, 1975

And that is the story of the Cecil Hotel in Moose Jaw.

Information for this post came from the following editions the Regina Leader-Post and Saskatoon Star-Phoenix: Jan 27, 1909, May 16, 1911, Dec 11, 1912, July 29, 1916, Aug 11, 1924, March 29, 1933, May 13, 1967, Feb 7, 1968, July 26, 1975, July 28, 1975, July 29, 1975, July 30, 1975, July 31, 1975, Aug 1, 1975, Aug 2, 1975, Aug 12, 1975, Sep 11, 1975

If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe and share it with friends! If you’d like to read more about Saskatchewan’s history of true crime, give these a try:

Beneath the Horses’ Hooves: The Murder of Ralph Warwick

Murder at Elstow

The Shooting of Peter Champagne

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