Over the years I’ve heard plenty of speculation by Hedley oldtimers as to how Bill and Maggie Graham found the means to purchase the Colonial Inn after the mine closed.
Maggie had worked as a housekeeper for the mine. Bill had operated an ore crusher in the Stamp Mill at the base of the mountain. It was generally known they had not come with money. Since none of the speculations could be verified, I decided they were a rural version of urban myth.
When I learned recently the Grahams’ daughter Maureen and her husband Campbell Dirksen live in Keremeos, I immediately called them and asked if they would talk with Linda and me.
In their comfortable home with a spectacular view of the valley and mountains, we enjoyed Maureen’s rich blend of coffee and delightful blueberry scones. We would learn she and Campbell have an impressive grasp of details from the past.
“My dad, Bill Graham came from Scotland,” Maureen told us at the outset. “Mom was born in Hedley in 1909, in the house that still stands at the corner of Daly and Irene. Her father, Anton Winkler, owned several hotels, including the Grand Union, one of six in town. Over the years all burned down. My parents were married in 1935.”
The Inn was purchased first by Dr. Moore, a dentist who used it for his practice. When the mine shut down operations in 1955, the miners mostly moved on. Having few clients in town, Dr. Moore sold the Inn to the Grahams about a year and a half later.
“Where did they get that amount of money?” I asked, hoping they could shed light on this local mystery.
“Dad asked the Kelowna Exploration Company for permission to clean up the dust left behind from the mining operation,” Maureen said. “He was the only one who thought there must be gold in that dust. They gave him a profit sharing contract.”
Campbell picked up the story. “With a broom and wheel barrow, he swept up the dust in the Stamp Mill. He removed the floor boards and swept under them. All told, he collected enough dust to fill 8 tram line cars. He had it sent by train from Princeton to Everett, Washington. It took 3 years.”
“It turned out there was a lot of gold in all that dust,” Maureen recalled. “Even after the mine got its share, my parents were able to buy the Inn and also send me and my brother to college in Vancouver.”
Bill and Maggie ran the Inn as a lodge and restaurant. Maureen has warm memories of working in the kitchen with her red headed, vivacious Mom. “She taught me everything I know. I baked 12 loaves of bread every day. People wanted to buy them but we needed them all. Our blueberry pies were very popular. We received letters from all over the world from satisfied guests.”
Famous people like Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Governor Generals, and former Saskatchewan premier Tommy Douglas came by for a meal and sometimes stayed overnight.
“One time Bing Crosby said we should have a juke box. Mom teased him, saying she wouldn’t have any Bing Crosby records in it anyway. She was good with people. Very friendly and she always remembered names of guests when they returned. She often picked up hitch hikers and brought them to the restaurant and gave them a meal. Sometimes she put them up overnight.”
Eight years after buying the Inn, the Grahams also acquired the Coach House, located at the rear of the property, near the Stamp Mill. “People were removing doors and windows and other items,” Campbell said. “It required a lot of repairs.” Unfortunately in 1971, Kelowna Exploration Co. had the iconic stamp mill burned due to liability concerns.
Bill died of cancer in 1968. About five years later Maggie married David Pitkethly, a wealthy businessman who stopped regularly for a meal at the Colonial Inn.
In July, 1975 Maggie and Maureen were collecting rocks on a mountainside. Without warning, a large boulder broke loose above them and came hurtling down toward the two women. Without thought for her own safety, Maggie pushed Maureen out of its path. She didn’t have time to get out of the way herself and was killed instantly.
At the end of our conversation with the Dirksens, Linda and I were convinced Bill and Maggie Graham played a significant role in Similkameen history. Their story is authentic, not an urban or rural myth.