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'Devastating' overnight fire destroys iconic hotel in Keno City, Yukon

The Keno City Hotel in Keno City, Yukon, an important local landmark, was destroyed in a fire Friday night.

'A loss that's going to be felt for many years and by many people,' says friend of hotel's owner

The Keno City Hotel in Keno City, Yukon, was destroyed by fire Friday night. (Kevin O'Hara/Facebook)

The Keno City Hotel, an iconic local landmark and gathering place in the small community of Keno City, Yukon, was destroyed overnight in a fire, local sources confirm.

Mike Mancini, the owner of the Keno City Snack Bar and a friend of Leo Martel, the hotel's owner, said he first noticed the fire around 8:30 p.m. Friday, while eating dinner with Martel at his restaurant.

"I saw an orange glow above the roofline of the Keno City Hotel," he said. "We ran out and realized that the hotel had caught fire."

"The fire was full-on already by the time we got there." 

Keno City, a former mining boomtown about 335 kilometres north of Whitehorse, has just a few dozen residents and no fire department of its own, and no pumped water source.

Bystanders watch the fire burning at the Keno City Hotel. (Kevin O'Hara/Facebook)

Mancini notified the volunteer fire department in Mayo, Yukon, an hour's drive away, which prepared a truck and hit the road north within 15 minutes, according to Trevor Ellis, the fire chief.

Alexco Resource Corp., which owns and operates mines in the nearby Keno Hill Silver District, provided water trucks so firefighters could work to prevent the fire's spread into the early hours of Saturday morning.

No injuries were reported and the hotel was unoccupied at the time. The cause is still unknown, but when reached by CBC Saturday morning, Martel said he suspected the fire was deliberate.

"We went in the back and there was fresh tracks going into the hotel and the fire had started upstairs," he said. "Pretty hard to find somebody that could have done something like that."

RCMP and the fire marshal are currently investigating, Martel said.

"It's devastating for the entire area," said Ellis, the fire chief. "It's really, really sad."

'Heart of the town'

The loss of the hotel is a major blow to the tiny hamlet and to the region, Mancini said.

"I'm basically in shock," said Mancini. "It's basically taking the heart of the town."

"I've been here since the '60s, and it was the place to go for a drink and dancing.... It was a great place."

Martel described it as "a place to have fun" where travellers and locals made good memories together.

"In the years that I was open, I think there was maybe four fights, and one of the guys started three of them," he said. "We all had fun in there."

Even Yukon MP Larry Bagnell said he had "fond memories" of the establishment.

"The hotel was an irreplaceable and iconic piece of Keno area history," Bagnell said in a statement sent Saturday. "This is a truly sad day for the Yukon."

Downstairs at the Keno City Hotel before the fire. The building was an important local landmark and a gathering place for the small community of just a few dozen residents. (KenoCityHotel.com)

According to its website, the hotel was built in the early 1920s as accommodation for prospectors and miners exploring deposits in the Keno Hill district. Abandoned by 2006, Martel and his brother purchased the hotel and restored it through "thousands of hours of labour," Bagnell wrote.

"It was his life," said Mancini.

"I worked extremely hard to renovate that hotel. I did that to leave a legacy — I loved this place," Martel said. "I wanted to leave it for somebody to enjoy."

"I would say it was in the grave and I pulled it out of the grave," he said. "Now it's permanently in the grave."

The hotel contained a pool hall, bar and 10 rooms. It's been closed since Dec. 3, when Martel posted to the website saying it would close for the winter season.

"It is hard to say what the 2021 season will bring," the post reads.

Martel said with the end of the Keno City Hotel, only two hotels of that age are left in Yukon — the '98 Hotel in Whitehorse and Dawson City's Westminster Hotel, known as the Pit.

"The loss of the Keno City Hotel is a loss for the community and the whole of the Yukon," said Mancini. "It's going to be felt for many years and by many people."

Video shot by Bonnie Lynch

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