Written by Canmore Museum

Written by Ada Sampson

Watson and Sampson Years 1946 – 2000

Walter Watson was born December 8, 1888, in Newbiggen, County Durham, England. He left his home of Newbiggen, April 1, 1910, to come to Canada. Having worked in the mines from age fifteen, he was destined to become a miner again in this new homeland. Upon his arrival by ship, he worked his way across Canada and found employment at the new coal mine at Nordegg, Alberta, in about 1914. At Nordegg he married Ruth Hunter of Caroline, AB, and had one daughter, Ada. The family left Nordegg in the summer of 1943 as there was a bad mine explosion on Halloween, 1941.

Walter and Ruth bought their first hotel at Gibbons, Alberta, and lived there for three years. At this time my parents separated. My mother went to Vancouver to become one of the first of twelve policewomen there. Mom passed away at the young age of fifty-nine years in April, 1971, and is buried here in Canmore. In the fall of 1946, Walter Watson and Alfonse Rodda bought the Canmore hotel in a partnership. Mr. Rodda passed away in the spring of 1952 and this formed the partnership of Marie Rodda and Walter Watson, which would last until Walter’s death, April, 1964. 

These were busy years for Canmore and the hotel as Calgary Power was to start the Spray Lakes project about 1947. Calgary Power and Mannix Construction rented all the rooms in the hotel for office space and for some of the employees. The rest of the men were in camps. The three main camps were located first, where the Calgary Power houses are today; second at Three Sisters Dam, and third at Upper Spray Dam. When the construction was at its peak about 1,700 men were working. Sammy worked with Alf Wright, an engineer. Those were the days one could have a string, piece of paper, and a pin shaped like a hook, and get a five-pound trout out of Spray Lakes. Until the building of the dam, the only way to get there was to walk or on horseback. 

I, Ada Watson, was born January 12, 1933 at Nordegg, Alberta, and was an only child. After a year with my grandparents at Caroline, I came to Canmore for a two-week holiday with plans to go back to Dickson to school. However, this was not to be and I have been in Canmore since August 1947. 

We had a lot of fun in our teen years in Canmore. There were shows every night except Sunday. Friday night, there were dances at the Canmore Miners’ Union Hall, and if one was lucky to have a friend with a car, there were dances in Banff on a Saturday night. Those cars going to Banff on a Saturday night were really crowded. 

The school I attended was the one torn down around 1990. We were blessed with excellent teachers and we had our share of honour students writing grade nine and twelve departmental  exams.

At the end of a school day, we would walk over to the Company store, which was located on the Mineside of the river, have a pop and pick up the mail, as the post office was located just across the tracks from the store. Also Evelyn and Joe Kram’s Cafe was a great place to meet. It was located across from the Canmore Hotel, where the video store is now. 

Martin (Sam) Sampson, the eldest son of Martin and Beatrice Sampson was born June 7, 1928, in Bromhead, Saskatchewan. Sam and two 32 friends arrived in Canmore in 194? to work with Calgary Power and Mannix in construction work. They planned to work long enough to get enough money to continue to Parksville, B.C. The other two moved on. Sam decided to stay in Canmore. Sam was one of the young men to be staying at the hotel. At that time, the coffee shop of today was a large lobby. As he was too young to go into the bar, he would sit and watch the people go by. As my dad owned the hotel, I spent much time around there. I would watch Sam watching people go by. I liked his grin and quiet disposition, so I made sure I walked by a little more often.

I finished school in 1951 and we were married in the United Church, August 10, 1951. By 1951 the Spray Lake dam was near completion and the men were leaving for other jobs. Sam started work for Canada Cement at Exshaw in the spring of 1952. His first day at work was spent planting flowers. It was not too long before he was working as a ‘burner’, a job he held until 1964. 

Bonnie Thompson, a young hairdresser, came to Canmore to work for Claire Trenholm and while here, she lived with us. Our favourite pastime was to go skiing at Pigeon Mountain Ski Hill, about five miles east of Canmore. Sam’s brother, Stan, came to Canmore, and Bonnie and Stan were married in 1966. They had two children, Meshell Lea, born in 1967 and Collin Laverne, 1968. Bonnie passed away in 1977 and Collin, our nephew, came to live with us. Collin finished high school in Canmore and works for BayMag and is still living in Canmore. 

In April, 1964, my father, Walter Watson, died of cancer in the Holy Cross Hospital in Calgary. He is also buried in Canmore cemetery. At this time, Sam and I started our years in the business world, beginning with the years in the Canmore Hotel. We knew nothing about the business and I am sure the Lord above did the guiding. We were now in partnership with Marie Rodda, as her husband had died in the spring of 1952. The downstairs of the hotel was completely remodeled in 1965 and in about 1968 we bought Marie Rodda’s shares. Those were very busy years for us and we give thanks for a very good staff. Construction workers would stay in the rooms, and eat in the cafe. The bar had a good local trade as the miners would stop in after their shifts in the mine. It was the place to be on the weekends. Everyone in the town, of about 1500 in those days, knew one another and it was a fun place to be. Everyone had staked out their own table and would grumble if someone else took it. You could pretty well tell the time of day by who had come in.

The first music allowed in the bars was the Juke Box which proved to be popular. There were some young people working at Seebe. One young man could play the piano very lively. He and his friends would load the piano from our suite onto the back of a truck, and take it into the bar. At the end of the night, they would load the piano back into the truck and take it back to our suite. They did this several times one summer. We would let some of the teen kids sit in the beer cooler and leave one of the small doors open so they could listen to the music. It was very good and it made for a fun time for all.

Soon after, live entertainment was in the bars on a regular basis. Some was very good, but once in a while, you would get bad entertainment. I remember one time it was so bad one of the local boys threw a cherry pie at one of the performers. Of course, he was very insulted and took his partner and left. Thank goodness. Then again, we had our share of free entertainment. One time when neither Sam nor I was around, one of the local kids decided to ride a horse through the bar. Luckily, the floor didn’t give out. Also, like most towns, we had our streakers. I was standing behind the bar when I saw a streaker come in the far door. I closed my eyes thinking he would streak right out the far door. However, when I opened my eyes, this young man was doing a jig for the patrons. I covered my eyes, yelling, ‘Get out, get out!’ which he finally did. On another occasion, we found a couple of girls with nylons over their heads, ready to streak. They were stopped. That was the end of the streakers. There were always some fun things going on and I always enjoyed going to work and being part of it. We sold the hotel in 1977 and then bought the Banff Alpine Motel in Banff. This we sold in 1980.

Sam and I and our two daughters grew up in Canmore during the coal mining era. Brenda, our eldest daughter, was born May, 1952. She completed her high school in Canmore, then went to S.A.I.T. in Calgary. She married a local Mountie in 1971. They have twin boys. Mark is a medical doctor and Bradley is a pilot flying a 737. The boys were born in Edmonton in December, 1975. Sharon finished school in Canmore. She then worked at the Bank of Montreal for about five years. She then went to S.A.I.T. in Calgary and has spent the past twenty years working for oil companies. 

Ada Sampson 1951

1947 – Walter Watson and daughter Ada on cafe entrance

Alve Peterson and Walter Watson, hotel steps 1960

Laverne Sampson 1951

Martin and Ada Sampson, 1990

In Canmore Seniors at the Summit, ed. Canmore Seniors Association, 2000, p. 32-34.

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