Hume Hotel History - Nelson, BC
"In this hotel Nelson possesses at once a structure of architectural beauty and imposing appearance, and a public Inn …which is equaled by few of the cities of British Columbia and certainly not in the interior."
—The Tribune, March 12, 1898
On March 17, 1898, the Hume Hotel opened with a grand celebration the likes of which had seldom been seen in Nelson. The fan-fair that accompanied the occasion underscored the sense of pride felt not only by J. Fred and Lydia Hume, original owners and one of Nelson's pioneer families, but also the local community in general. No consideration was left unchecked and the opening was a celebration of the skill, determination, and hard work that went in to the hotel's construction. It also heralded a new era for Nelson, which had been incorporated the year before, and provided a sense of hope and optimism for residents of the new city as they forged ahead into the 20th century.
Work on the Hume Hotel began on Saturday, June 12, 1897. At that time, Nelson's landscape was considerably different from today. A deep ravine, created by Ward Creek, essentially divided the city in two, with the dirt roads of Vernon and Baker Streets passable only by way of wood frame bridges. The Hume Hotel, which sat on the corner of Ward and Vernon, was an impressive figure within this scene.
"Between Winnipeg on the east, and Vancouver on the west, no such building exists."
—The Tribune, March 12, 1898
The hotel was designed by Alexander Charles Ewart, who carefully considered all the architectural details, from piazza views to bay windows to inset balconies. With much thought also given to ornate detailing and state-of-the-art amenities like electric lights and steam radiators, all for a total cost of $60,000, the hotel was indeed a marvel to behold.
After nine years of successful operation, on March 11, 1907, J. Fred sold the Hume Hotel to Wilmer C. Wells, a political man who served as commissioner of lands and works for two terms under Premiers James Dunsmuir and E.G. Prior respectively. Wells brought in his two sons, George and James, to run the hotel, and fully intended to construct additions in response to the growing demand in Nelson for first-class accommodations. Wells, Hume Hotel circa 1925however, never did fulfill his commitment, and on October 14, 1912 he sold the hotel to George Benwell, an hotelier of considerable repute, for a sum of $85,000.
Benwell's tenure irrevocably changed the Hume Hotel. Following the revolutionary architectural standards of Frank Lloyd Wright, in May 1929 a massive interior and exterior renovation was completed. The Hume Hotel was so different in appearance that it was, as described in the Daily News, "hardly recognizable." The magnificent cupola, which towered over Vernon and Ward Streets, was removed; the balconies were extended outward flush with the exterior walls; the entrance was moved to its present location; and many other changes were made. Benwell, following in Hume's footsteps, also considered modern amenities and state-of-the-art technology a necessity. He installed a telephone exchange and phone in every room, a dumb waiter, a French steel range, steam tables and electric dishwasher in the kitchen, and an icemaker capable of producing 600 pounds of ice daily. The level of service, sophistication, and general hospitality excellence, which were hallmarks of the Hume era, were also the hallmarks of the Benwell era.
By 1979, the Hume Hotel was in a serious state of deterioration. Benwell had sold the hotel in the 1940s, and after a series of owners failed to keep up the standards established by Hume and Benwell, the Hume Hotel was nearly condemned. Bills were left unpaid, the power was disconnected, and it sat empty for several months. Ernie Rushworth, who at that time carried the first mortgage on the property, called on Dave Martin, who had helped Rushworth successfully revitalize a run-down hotel in the Yukon . He asked Dave if he would be interested in the purchasing the Hume.
After careful consideration, the purchase was completed and an exhaustive heritage restoration project began. Nelson was undergoing a similar initiative in the same period so the timing was excellent. In December of 1980, the Hume Hotel was reborn as the Heritage Inn, and once-again became a proud symbol for the people of Nelson.
The restoration project took one million dollars to complete, twice the original budget, and was carefully undertaken by designer David Thompson. The massive renovations were wrought with pitfalls—the interior was completely gutted and the hotel's electrical and plumbing systems redone. A number of hidden treasures were revealed during this time, many of which have been carefully restored and are now part of the Heritage Inn ambiance.
In the Library Lounge, for example, you can see the original old brick fireplace, which had been hidden from view by a plaster wall. Adding to the success of the project, many local residents provided antiques, photos and artifacts to decorate the interior, and local trades Original milk jug found during renovations people recreated many of the original embellishments, sometimes working from old photographs.
The opening ceremony, on December 8, 1980 was an auspicious occasion, with many local dignitaries in attendance. The highlight of the night was the presence of three generations of Hume descendants: Freeda Hume Bolton (the 80 year old daughter of J. Fred and Lydia), her daughter Dawn, and her grandson Jay Fred Bolton. Freeda presided over the ribbon cutting ceremony and 'knighted' Dave Martin Sir Lancelot.
"I am bursting with pride at being here...to see my father's name perpetuated and my parents' pictures hanging in the Heritage Inn - a perfect name for the ending of an old and the beginning of a new tradition."
—Freeda Hume Bolton, Hume Hotel, December 8, 1980
In 2005, major changes to the hotel’s exterior façade were completed which included an outdoor patio for the General Store Restaurant as well as the hotel’s signature rooftop ‘crown’. For twenty-five years as the Heritage Inn, the Martins continued the tradition of hospitality excellence started in 1898 by J. Fred and Lydia Hume. At the completion of the exterior renovation, the hotel went back to its roots to be renamed as the original proprietor once titled it, the Hume Hotel, paying homage to a local legend and a storied history on the corner of Vernon and Ward Street. Members of the Hume family were again on-hand for the festive grand re-opening as they were exactly twenty-five years ago.
With careful attention to detail and first-class service, guests are treated to an experience that is at once reminiscent of a grand Victorian era long since past and indicative of a new Nelson tradition that will live on for years to come. The Hume Hotel continues to be the Grand Old Dame of Nelson.