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'It was magical': Yukoners remember Keno City Hotel after catastrophic fire

Yukoners are mourning the "heartbreaking" loss of the Keno City Hotel to a fire this weekend.

Historic 1920s-era hotel an important place for Yukon artists

Yukoners are mourning the loss of the Keno City Hotel in Keno, Yukon. (Alexandra Byers/CBC)

When Gordie Tentrees heard the Keno City Hotel had burned down, he was shocked.

Then came "lots of tears."

The Yukon musician met his wife at the hotel — and they had their wedding reception there a few years later. His family visited every summer since.

"That hotel has a lot of soul," Tentrees said. He fondly remembers writing songs on the porch with the owner Leo Martel and former manager Bonnie Lynch, and countless nights at the hotel bar.

"It was magical just to go in and ... have a coffee and hang out," Tentrees said.

"Leo put so much love into making that magical."

Yukoners are mourning the loss of the Keno City Hotel, an iconic 1920s-era landmark in the small, silver mining town. The building burned to the ground overnight Friday. The cause of fire still is under investigation.

The Keno City Hotel hosted a week-long series of workshops for artists each summer. (Submitted by Kim Beggs)

Owner Leo Martel and his brother purchased and revived the then-abandoned building in 2006. Martel carried on its historic spirit, injecting his "love and personality," Tentrees said.

The loss of the hotel is a major blow to Keno City, which has just a few dozen residents. The fire destroyed "the heart of the town," said Mike Mancini, owner of the Keno City Snack Bar.

'My only fear was fire'

Leo Martel said he wanted to leave a legacy, and renovated the hotel so it would last forever. But, he said, "my only fear was fire."

"People had a great time in there," Martel told CBC's Yukon Morning. "I tried to make sure that everybody felt the building ... the atmosphere in there."

Martel said he did not have insurance for the hotel, and has been overwhelmed by the community's support. 

As of Monday, a GoFundMe page had raised more than $14,000 . 

A space for the arts

The hotel was an important place for Yukon's arts community. Kim Beggs started the week-long Keno City Music, Art and Literary Workshop at the hotel in 2016.

Beggs said the 10-room hotel, which had a large downstairs space, was the "perfect" spot for artists.

"A lot of really cool things could happen there, a lot of artists connecting, forming friendships," Beggs said.

"I'm sure that things will continue to happen in Keno, but it will be different ... it definitely will feel like something is missing."

Guillaume Nielsen playing the piano at the Keno City Hotel in 2014. (Submitted by Guillaume Nielsen)

'You could feel the history'

Many Yukoners have stories from the hotel.

Guillaume Nielsen, a mining researcher, said he traveled to Keno almost weekly for two years while conducting his PhD experiment. He called the fire "heartbreaking." 

"Most of these trips ended at the Keno Hotel, playing piano for Leo and people around," Nielsen wrote in an email.

"When entering that magic place, situated in the middle of nowhere, you could feel the history."

Gordie Tentrees and his wife, Kelly Proudfoot, met and were married at the Keno City Hotel. (Submitted by Gordie Tentrees)

Angela Polowin says her first memories were of living in Keno as a young child in 1949 and 1950. Although her family moved to Ontario in 1950, she returned to visit in 2013 with their 92-year-old mother and brother.

She remembers Martel and Lynch giving them a tour of the hotel, which was under renovation at the time. 

"I was overwhelmed with sadness for the owner, and just for the great loss that will be for that community," Polowin said, speaking from Toronto.

Tentrees said the Keno City Hotel was one of the last of the old Yukon spaces that are quickly disappearing. 

"Keno City has been ...kind of the last example, even more so than Dawson City in a sense, of what it used to be like, and what it could be like, and how special a place we are in the Yukon," Tentrees said.

"That hotel encapsulated that whole thing."

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

Corrections

  • Bonnie Lynch was the former manager of the Keno City Hotel. A previous version of this story incorrectly said Bonnie and Leo Martel were married.
    Dec 15, 2020 11:48 AM CT

With files from Dave White, Elyn Jones and John Last

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