The 1960’s was a time of optimism in Victoria. The economy was booming, unemployment was low, prices were reasonable and the future looked bright. Victorians celebrated the Garden City’s 100th birthday in 1962 and the following year saw a major redevelopment of the lands surrounding City Hall called the Centennial Square Project.
It was during this time of economic growth and renewal that the new owners of the Westholme Hotel, located at 1415-1417 Government Street, southwest of Centennial Square, submitted plans to expand their hotel to fit into the spirit of the Centennial Project.
The new hotel was named the Century Inn and from its’ opening in November 1965 and for the next twenty years the ‘Inn at Centennial Square’ would provide fine dining, live entertainment and luxurious rooms all within a setting of an Arabian theme.
This article will trace the history of the Century Inn as we take a peek behind the beaded curtains of the new Arabian theme hotel and examine how changes throughout the years eventually led to the hotel’s demise in 1986.
Before the Century Inn was constructed there was the Westholme Hotel. The three story Westholme Hotel was built in 1911 and located at 1417-1419 Government Street between Johnson and Pandora Streets. The Hotel-bar was to the left of the entrance to the hotel when and the liquor license was transferred from once famous Driard Hotel.
A handsome three story brick and stone building just north of the Westholme, housed the Prince Saloon from 1907 to 1912 and occupied the Southeast corner of Government and Pandora. That building was home to a variety of businesses over the years until it was demolished in 1964 to make way for the expanding Westholme Hotel.
In September 1954 the Kings Beer parlour and the Westholme beer parlour opened on the same day, each becoming the second beer parlours to open in the city of Victoria. A few months earlier the Drake Hotel Beer Parlour opened on the corner of Store and Johnson Streets.
Pandora Avenue was realigned as part of the revitalization and the McPherson Playhouse Theatre with adjoining restaurant was expanded to the corner of Government and Pandora.
Across from the theatre, located on the southwest side of Pandora and Government sat the newly renovated and enlarged Westholme Hotel reopened in November 1965 as the Century Inn. The new hotel advertised itself as “The Inn on Centennial Square”
Cormorant and Pandora streets before and after the completion of the Centennial Square Project.
The grand opening of the Century Inn turned into a three day gala event from November 17, 18 and 19, 1965. The 63-room Century Inn was decorated in an Arabian theme from the decorations on the walls to the dress of the employees. Customers to the hotel were greeted by employees dressed as genies, complete with turbans. The street outside the hotel was modified to allow easy access by the driving public who would simply glide under a colourful canopy and experience “the magic carpet valet service.” Waitresses served patrons clad in mysterious and revealing Scheherazade costumes. Lawrence of Arabia would have felt right at home.
Inside the lobby of the new hotel was a miniature working model of the Centennial Square fountain. Fine dining was featured in the exotic Persian Room where one would dine in an atmosphere of eastern opulence. Besides the Persian Room, the hotel features included the Oasis coffee shop, the Rubaiyat Room, Ali Baba’s Cocktail Lounge and the Centurion beer parlour. A cabaret was planned to open in the near future. At the time the Arabian theme was unique, fresh and new in the city of Victoria and was well received by a curious and appreciative public. The Century Inn was a huge success.
H.R. Hutchinson, known as Moe by his friends, managed the Westholme and its’ successor the Century Inn from 1964 until his retirement in 1976. ‘Moe’ Hutchinson was a capable manager who guided the new hotel through the inevitable changes and adjustments that occurred throughout his twelve years tenure as manager resulting in sound, steady growth and substantial profits for the owners.
The Centurion Beer Parlour was an important revenue generator for the new Century Inn. The beer parlour reopened in the space where the old Westholme bar was located on Government Street. The original Westholme beer parlour was the second beer parlour to open in the city in September 1954 and those patrons now went to the new Centurion beer parlour. The restrictive and antiquated liquor regulations had been relaxed by 1965 and although separate entrances for Men and Ladies with Escorts still existed, the inclusion of food, radio, television and a larger brighter atmosphere attracted new customers.
By 1962, by a change in the Indian Act, Aboriginal persons were finally allowed to drink in local beer parlours and lounges. By 1968 separation of the sexes was no longer a legal requirement while the signs remained over the entrance way of most beverage rooms for years reminding patrons of an antiquated past.
The Centurion Beverage Room lasted from November 1965 until 1982 when Ron de Montigny purchased the hotel. De Montigny and the new hotel manager, Ted Anderson previous owner of a hotel in Okanagan Falls, renovated the pub into a country bar named the Buckin’ Bronco.
Anderson saw an opportunity to cash- in on the country music craze that was popular at the time. The Buckin’ Bronc featured live country music bands, complete with a huge barrel of shelled peanuts, hay on the floor and a mechanical bull where many an inebriated urban cowboy or cowgirl would take up the challenge to ride the bull with usually hilarious results. It wasn’t long before the owners realized the potentially serious legal problems that could arise if a patron got injured riding the bull and eventually everyone who wished to take up the challenge signed a waiver before falling off onto their head.
Like all fads, the novelty of the Buckin’ Bronc Country Pub quickly lost its’ appeal and by 1984 plans for a new and exciting replacement were in the works.
A lavish and enormous renovation of the 200 seat pub took place in the fall of 1984 by owner Ron de Montigny. A generous use of solid Oak, mahogany and brass was used in the construction of the multi level pub with no attention paid to cost or cost over-runs. A model about half the size of an original of a World War One Sopwith Camel bi-plane was suspended from the ceiling and distinctive light standards were added to give the room a Victorian feel.
This new neighbourhood-style pub was better than most in the city at the time and initially competed very well against the bars of the day.
Ron de Montigny spared no expense during the massive renovation of the pub and he went on to renovate the nightclub and the rest of the hotel which were completed in November 1984. As if having the most luxurious pub in town wasn’t enough, de Montigny began work on Monty’s Club 40, a three hundred seat nightclub was built next door to the pub designed provide patrons with a unique disco experience previously known as the popular 40 Thieves Disco then for a brief time named Decca Dance, which adjoined to Ali Baba’s Lounge. Party-goers would get to the new disco early but still ended up standing in a long line. Admission costs were reasonable but one had to adhere to a strict dress code
By the spring of 1985 renovations were completed and both establishments were opened. Monty’s Pub and Monty’s Club 40 initially did a roaring business. Crowds of curious customers wanted to see what the fuss was all about as word of mouth spread about the opening of these two new and exciting venues. Meanwhile the lounge and the dining room did a good business attracting a loyal clientele.
The optimism of the spring and the success of the summer business began to wane as 1985 came to a close. The first signs of financial trouble came in December 1985 when payments to contractors and the previous owners defaulted. The situation deteriorated when it became obvious that Ron de Montigny was unable to pay his debts which quickly culminated in bankruptcy in March 1986. The Hotel went into receivership and the assets reverted back to the partnership of Mark Hambrook and Gary Fisher who sold the Hotel to de Montigny back in 1982 for 2.5 million dollars.
The Century Inn closed its doors in March 1986 leaving 28 people out of work.
Hambrook and Fisher looked for a quick sale.
The demise of the Century Inn just over twenty years after its optimistic beginning can be attributed to a number of factors, the main one being that de Montigny over-extended himself and spent far more than he could afford or could hope to recover. Another, minor factor for the bankruptcy lies in the nature of the business itself, trying to keep up with an ever-changing and fickle nightclub scene where new clubs and cabarets would come and go in many cases just lasting for a few months.
The hotel eventually sold and the name changed to the Century Plaza Hotel then simply to the Victoria Plaza Hotel. Monty’s Pub exists today as Monty’s Exotic Showroom Pub where strippers perform and patrons pay too much for their pint of beer. The nightclub has also survived by continually re-inventing itself and going through a number of rebirths as is the nature of that business. Any paraphernalia from the original Century Inn are lost in some dusty boxes forgotten in the basement of the hotel and in the memories of those who once enjoyed a fleeting period of time now gone.