Writing about growing up in Prince George wouldn’t be complete without mentioning ‘The Connaught Hotel’, and its ‘colorful’ proprietor, Patty Moran. The Connaught Hotel sat on the corner of Second Avenue and Queensway Street. It was a long, two story building, that at one time could have been white, but when I was growing up, hadn’t seen a coat of paint in a good number of years. It had taken on that grayish, brownish color that only the brush of antiquity can apply. The bottom floor of the hotel housed a monstrous old wood burning furnace (that was by all accounts, later converted to coal), some storage space, and according to Hilliard Clair (who delivered newspapers to the hotel during the war), it was used as an overflow for tenants. If there wasn’t a room for them in the hotel, Patty would let them sleep down there on the floor.
The Connaught Hotel wasn’t exactly the kind of hotel that one would recommend to royalty, visiting family or business associates, but it had its place in society at that time. It was clean, if not a little crude, and very reasonable, especially for long time residents. And of course, with Patty being the town Magistrate, he didn’t put up with any ‘shenanigans’. You accessed the lobby by walking up a long wooden walkway from Second Avenue. As you entered the lobby, your eyes had to adjust to the low light emitted by fifty watt light bulbs, that were used extensively throughout the building. There were big overstuffed arm chairs, used by tenants during the day, and a huge old safe in one corner (rumored to be filled with cash). If you happened to check in late at night, you’d find yourself standing alone in the dimly lit lobby. A gruff voice would resonate through a screen covered cubby hole in the wall, asking you what you wanted. If it was a room you wanted, you were asked to sign the register, then slide the money for the room through a slot under the screen. Your key would then appear from the same slot, and the voice would tell you which room the key was to. The Connaught Hotel was defiantly a ‘no frills’ hotel.
Today, we have ‘Snowbirds’ that migrate south for the winter. It was no different back then. Many of the hotel’s clientele were pensioners, old loggers and such, who didn’t fancy freezing all winter in Prince George. So, they’d commit a minor infraction in the fall that’d put them in Patty’s court. He’d sentence them to four to six months in the Oakalla prison in New Westminster, and they’d harvest potatoes from the prison garden. Then, before being sprung in the spring, they’d plant them again. If the old timers were asked where they’d been, they’d simply say, ‘Growing potatoes’.