Dinner at the Quilchena Hotel

You need to read the last post to see how we arrived at the Quilchena Hotel.

If you’ve never been there, it’s worth a side trip.

We were returning from Nelson and needed to stay overnight in Merritt. We were heading back to Burnaby the next day after an exciting, adventurous weekend. Mother, always trying to help out those who helped her, offered us dinner at the Quilchena hotel in appreciation for us taking her up to her latest grandson’s christening and in celebration of Easter.

Our hotel phoned and made a reservation for us. We hied out there mid afternoon to have some time to walk around and view the place. It’s been over twenty years ago now, so if memory fails and I get it all wrong, please don’t send fan mail to correct me. I remember the hotel as a late Victorian structure with a large lounge like room to the left of the front entrance filled with ancient stuffed arm chairs upholstered in cut velour, comfy and welcoming for visitors after a long day of horseback riding or any of the other ranch activities. You could imagine ladies taking tea in this room or reading a Jane Austen novel on a drowsy summer afternoon.

Behind it, through a pair of tall french doors, was the bar. You could have held a ball in this room if it weren’t for all the tables and chairs and bar stools. The bar was original from the early 1900’s, pioneer and goldrush days, with a large mirror behind it. A long brass rail ran the length of it. You could imagine cowboys bowleggedly sauntering up to the bar asking for a double and shooting it back to wash away the muscle tension and aggravations of the day. There were a couple of bullet holes in the wood work, proof of a few tensions being settled in a less than civilized manner.

Both these room attached to the front corridor which had a handsome staircase and lovely wooden railing up to the second floor. On the right side of the door way, a single French door gave onto the dining room. It wasn’t so big, less than twenty tables, each accommodating about four people, each with its linen table cloth and fine dining apparatus – cutlery, glasses, folded linen napkins, floral arrangement etc, etc.  I’d like to think there was a fireplace crackling at the far end on this somewhat chilly evening. We had come rather lightly clothed because the afternoon had been quite fine, but it was only April and the evening chilled quite quickly as the sun went down.

Behind the dining room and the kitchen, which we couldn’t see, were washrooms in an old fashioned style.

Before dinner, we asked the receptionist in the front hall if we could see the hotel rooms upstairs. They were reputed to be much like they were in the early 1900’s. With permission, we mounted the stairs and poked our heads into rooms that were not yet occupied, it not yet being high tourist season. True to reputation, there were old style wrought iron bedsteads, quilted bed spreads, lamps with bell shades, wash stands with china basins, and turn of the century furniture and furnishing. Loos were down the hall and there was a true bathroom which one had to reserve. Its only furnishing was the bath itself and a chair and shelf to place one’s necessities upon.

When we were all done admiring the old time atmosphere, we went down the grand staircase and entered the dining room. We were placed at a central table and we started to consider the menu before we resumed our review of the day’s activities. Mother of a sudden remembered that she had not washed her hands. We asked the waitress where to find the washrooms and  she indicated the hallway to the right.

“You can’t miss it” she said.

Mother excused herself to undertake her ablutions.

“Do you want me to come with you?” I asked solicitously. Sometimes she was pretty nervous about going places where she hadn’t gone before.

“No, no, ” she said emphatically. ” I can manage on my own.” She was pretty independent at this stage of her life. I think she wanted to appear independent before her recently acquired son-in-law. She didn’t need help! And off she went.

We ordered a good French Cabernet to celebrate our delivery from the misadventures of family Chevette. Mom didn’t drink because of her medication and so we went ahead with the wine when it came. The time was beginning to seem long and I mentioned something to Franc about it.

“Seems funny,” I said, abit perplexed. “She doesn’t usually take this long. I wonder if I should go see if she is alright?”

“She’ll be okay,” he replied. “We’ve been on the road quite a bit and out walking about. She probably just needs a bit of time to restore her make up, comb her hair and so on.” No matter where she was, Mother always wanted to look her best.

As we were talking, I could hear voices out in the reception area, just past the French glass door.  There was something of a commotion going on. One lady’s voice was sounding a bit panicky and was raised in a complaint. I rose to see what was up. It wasn’t Mom’s voice, but she was elderly. Perhaps something had happened to her. It was, after all, too long for her to be away.

I opened the door to a cloud of steam emanating from the restroom. Mother stood in the reception drenched down the front of her clothing, her hair looking somewhat worse for wear. The lady standing beside her was more drenched than Mother, and it was this lady who was panicky and vocal.

As the receptionist soothed and the voices calmed, the story began to clarify. The other lady was washing her hands in the ladies’ room when the antique plumbing burst in the hot water line of the wash stand before her. Provided by the hotel’s boiler, hot water and steam pumped out into the long washroom filling it with clouds of vapour. The other lady was drenched, perhaps scalded. Mother, standing directly beside her did not get the brunt of it but was drenched and sprayed as well.

Large dry hotel bath towels were offered the drowned ladies. Mother sopped at her hair and her clothing until she was relatively dry. By this time, at least, you couldn’t tell she was wet though her hair would take another half hour to dry.

“What do you want to do?” I asked her. “Return to the hotel?”

“We haven’t had dinner yet,” she said. “I’ve been waiting for this all day. Nobody can see I’m wet, really, and its warm in there. I will dry out as we eat.”

We explained what had happened to Franc then ordered our meal. You could tell that the other diners were listening as we spoke as the room noise fell to a hush. Our dinners came and we went on to talk of other things.

On Wednesday, I said another thankful prayer that I had taken an extra day off work so that I could come back to work refreshed. It’s what I always say about misadventures in travel: The worst days of travel make the best stories.

I had stories to tell.



One Response to “Dinner at the Quilchena Hotel”

  1. suburbanlife Says:

    I am surprised at your telling of how Nonie reacted to being a scalded cat, and how she persevered through dinner, because it seems so unlike her to make or be a part of a scene, or the centre of attention. She was an amazing woman! 🙂

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