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Historical hotel in downtown Ladysmith gets refreshed

Renovating Temperance Hotel has been a ‘labour of love’
Denise Bergquist and Stefan Queitsch reflect on their efforts renovating the nearly 125-year-old Temperance Hotel in downtown Ladysmith. (Duck Paterson photo)


More than 110 years after a bombing attempt, Ladysmith’s Temperance Hotel is not only still standing, but its heritage is being carefully preserved.

The hotel was built in the community of Wellington in 1900 and was moved at that time to its current location at the northeast corner of 1st Avenue and High Street.

According to Canada’s Historic Places, the hotel was associated with an unforgettable era in Ladysmith’s history, the Vancouver Island coal miners’ strike of 1912-1914. The hotel lodged strike breakers, making it a centre for rioting and the site of a bombing attempt.

At present day, the hotel continues to make a mark in Ladysmith’s history.

New owners Denise Bergquist and Stefan Queitsch saw a dream and decided they wanted to fulfill it. The couple bought the old run-down building as something of a COVID pandemic project in September 2020, well aware they were taking a risk.

“We had our rose-coloured glasses on,” said Bergquist.

The two-storey building with a walk-out basement onto First Avenue had been home to a variety of businesses over the years, and the run-down apartments had attracted an array of questionable tenants.

“It was somewhat of a mess,” said Queitsch. “When we got in I wouldn’t even let Denise see the bathrooms, they were totally indescribable.”

When the couple bought the Temperance they both had full-time jobs and worked in Victoria, and worked on the Temperance on weekends. The couple really had no idea on where to start, but having a look at what was on the very bottom floor, and then behind that, they knew foundation work would be required.

“The geo tech made us go a lot deeper than we thought. We had to hit hardpan and then when that happened we saw that the balance of the High Street front of the building we would have to totally dig out by hand,” Queitsch said. “And by hand, we mean shovels and buckets to haul the dirt out and it was the two of us.”

The couple commented that at that time of the undertaking it was snowing and raining so working conditions were terrible.

“When we finally got to the front of the foundation the beams just crumbled, they were dust they were so rotten,” said Bergquist. “There was no room to get any type of a machine in there, it was 10 steps forward and over 100 back.”

But the work progressed, and the building already has its first tenant. The Ladysmith and District Arts Council opened up its gallery last summer on the main floor on the High Street side of the building, and has already had more than 5,000 visitors stop by.

“The arts council of Ladysmith found a perfect place to display art in all forms. We could not have asked for a better suited venue. The light is perfect for displaying such works of art,” said Andrea Rosato-Taylor, president of the arts council.

Queitsch and Bergquist have also totally remade the patio facing First Avenue and have developed another on the east side of the building. They hope the space can accommodate a business of some sort, and say the space would suit a small café.

The main floor, beside and behind the gallery, contains two apartments, both facing First Avenue, and the upstairs is home to three two-bedrooms apartments.

“We really wanted the units, in fact the whole building, to be unique,” said Bergquist “so we have used wood taken from the various rooms as we gutted them. Some of the walls had layers of paint, donnacona board, and then wallpaper, so it really was a labour of love. We stripped them right down to bare wood again.”

One of the apartments features a mural, created with the help of the Ladysmith and District Historical Society, of Ladysmith’s downtown from 1900, which Queitsch noted was four years before the town was incorporated.

“When we took over it was discovered that the building was partially on town property, so we had to go to the town and get a variance and had to pay for it too,” he said jokingly. “The town should have paid us, as it encroached on our property because the hotel was here first.”

Bergquist said the project had its shaky moments when the couple realized the impacts on their bank accounts, “but you know, we can stand outside and look and go inside and look and we can be really proud of what we’ve done.”

Some people have told them they were crazy to take on the work, but more often, they hear that the renovations are beautiful. There are only a few fixtures and finishing touches left, then they will be ready to apply for occupancy.

“We’re almost done, and then what?” Bergquist exclaimed.

READ ALSO: Ladysmith arts council opens its new downtown gallery

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