The Union, an empty space filled with memories

Dave Thompson’s Sports ‘n’ Things

I have mixed emotions about the newest empty lot in downtown Trail. I have a lot of memories of the Union Hotel, most quite positive.

It, along with the Legion Hall across the street, formed the true hub of Trail for decades. In the early and late 60s, when I worked at the Times, a Chef Burger and fries and a strawberry milkshake were frequently my lunch of choice. Both were quite good and the location was ideal.

The Union was, back in the day, ideally located at the bottom of the smelter stairs, and it was quite acceptable as a watering hole for couples, both single and married, on top of being a truly convenient meeting place for workers coming off shift.

For a few years it was an essential stop after work on the hill, every Friday, where my (Crowe) teacher winger and I would meet up to begin our weekends. It was also a pretty standard stopover before, during and after hockey games and curling.

There was, until the 80s, no bar in the curling rink. As it was the most stringent rule of curling etiquette back then that the winning team in each game bought the losing team a drink (one of the fun sportsmanship aspects which drew me to curling), most curlers, at least male ones, stocked their lockers with liquor of some sort for that purpose.

Longer sessions were transferred to the Union, or, for those with membership, the Legion lounge, which had many added enticements for competitors, like good pool and snooker tables, darts and some card and board games.

There was, until recently, no liquor at Cominco Arena, either, and it was a regular occurrence that people streamed rapidly out of the arena between periods of Smokie, or even Smokie Junior, games, heading for the Union Hotel bar. The bartenders would start pouring drinks when the first hockey customer came through the door and the Union would soak up sales for 10 or so minutes twice, or in the case of overtime, more than twice, during each hockey night in the Silver City.

Things have changed, of course. Both sporting venues now retail alcohol, so folks no longer have to dodge traffic to imbibe – Fred Merlo always blamed that change in circumstance as the downfall of his hotel venture. He was more right than wrong about that, but seemed to make only sparse efforts to adapt to that changed circumstance.

The Union operated as an actual hotel until the last years of its operation, and maintained a fairly decent dining facility to very near the end, and was considered a convenient and reasonable accommodation for out of town curlers, hockey players and attendees at regional events held at the Legion and Memorial Centre.

My most recent memory of that is having lunch with Rick Folk and Pat Ryan after they had teamed up in Kelowna to form what most thought would be a provincial super team. They were well sponsored, so it says something about the quality of the hotel that they chose it during that particular provincial play-down.

I remember, too, that when my father ran the most successful blood donor clinics in the province across the street in the Legion gymnasium in the 50s and 60s, the Union was considered an ideal place to hydrate before dropping off a pint, then re-hydrate afterwards. It also served as a good recruiting station for potential donors.

All that is gone now. The memories will not be for a long while. Still, it will seem strange for both sides of that last (first) block of Cedar avenue to be devoid of structures (I was born in the hospital across the street, the only hospital I have ever been required to spend an overnight in), which covered the lot on a tiny piece of which sits A&W today.

I wish the city well in what has always been an extremely difficult job of attracting construction capital to available downtown spaces. The town has many needs besides parking – condos, for instance – and just clearing ground is not finishing the job.

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