On this day in 1972, the Royal George Hotel checked out for the last time.
The hotel's founder, Abe Cristall, and his wife, Rebecca, became the first Jewish residents of Edmonton when they moved here in 1893. Abe entered into a partnership on a small storefront soon after arriving.
The early 1900s was a time of tremendous growth in Edmonton; scores of new residents and visitors packed train cars and arrived at the Canadian National Railway station on 104 Avenue.
Abe knew all these visitors needed somewhere to stay while in town. In 1909, he funded the construction of the posh Royal George Hotel, just a couple blocks from the train station. As noted at the time, the Royal George included top-of-the-line luxuries for the period — a telephone in every one of its 106 rooms, hot and cold running water, and elevator service. The ground floor also included a café for guests and other patrons.
The Royal George proved to be an instantly popular spot. It was frequently chosen as accommodations for politicians and other high-profile visitors, and the hotel's gathering spaces were often used by political parties, clubs, and other organizations for their events.
The hotel received a complete remodel in 1921. The work added a soda bar to the ground floor and a strong animal-head motif to the lobby, with taxidermied trophies of mountain lions, moose, bighorn sheep, and other Alberta wildlife.
Throughout its 60 years near the intersection of 101 Street and 103 Avenue, the Royal George attracted some controversy. Several times, the hotel was fined for having the bar open on Sunday in defiance of city bylaws, eventually leading to a legal battle that went to the province's Supreme Court in 1920.
In the 1950s, the hotel found itself in the sights of the fans of Edmonton's CFL football team when it sought to deny access to player Rollie Miles because he was Black. This did not sit well with the team, which rallied around the future Canadian Football Hall of Famer. Team owner Henry Singer reportedly kept public pressure on the hotel until it fired the employee who turned Miles away.
In the 1960s, the bar at the Royal George was a frequent gathering place for Edmonton's queer community. Similar to the rival King Edward Hotel across the street, the management of the Royal George was not exactly welcoming to queer patrons. But, they were at the least tolerant, which made the bar one of the few safe spaces in the city for the gay community to gather.
The Royal George remained in the Cristall family until 1970 when it was sold to make room for the Edmonton City Centre Mall. By 1972, all that was left of the storied hotel was a pile of rubble.
The Royal George, and the other hotels and shops nearby, were linchpins of early Edmonton and its once-thriving downtown. That vibrancy has dipped as of late, with research confirming a large amount of retail space is vacant. Recent initiatives have tried to tackle the amount of empty retail space downtown, including a grant to help independent businesses open in the area.