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Trail Blazers: Memories of Dixie Lee still linger

Trail Blazers is a weekly feature in partnership with the Trail Museum and Archives
Photo: Trail Historical Society

Trail Blazers is beyond excited to share this jewel of a shot.

“Dixie Lee is likely a name that brings back fond memories for many Kootenay residents of the 1970s through early 2000s,” begins Sarah Benson-Lord, Trail Museum and Archives.

The restaurant first opened in Trail at 1160 Pine Ave. in 1969, by owners Syd and Frances Bates.

The franchise itself began operating in 1964 in Belleville, Ontario, and could be found in many small towns across Canada, including Castlegar (Dave’s Dixie Lee) and Nelson (Howard’s Dixie Lee).

In an interesting Kootenay fact, Dave Sylvester, of Dave’s Dixie Lee in Castlegar, brought the first Dixie Lee to B.C., purchasing the area franchise for the province. He bought the parent company in 1979, which he sold in 2006.

Syd and Frances Bates operated Dixie Lee in Trail for eight years at its original location, then built their new restaurant right next door at 1166 Pine Ave.

They welcomed the public for the first time on Feb. 26, 1977.

The grand opening was a major event, complete with Mayor Chuck Lakes, Miss Trail Melanie Megisson, and radio station CJAT “hostesses.”

The Bates’ offered free t-shirts, balloons, coffee, records, and eight-track tapes to all who attended.

An entertaining draw outside was the chicken box mascot.

Dixie Lee served fried chicken, jo-jos, fish, and an array of sides, including their famous macaroni salad.

“Who can’t forget the red boxes with the dancing chicken and fish?” Benson-Lord reminisces.

Owners associated with the business after the Bates’ were Ben and Valerie Huth, Greg Amantea, Bob and Sharon Werbowy, Roger and Donna Prior, Dawn Evans and Al Sheehan, and Casey LeMoel, who closed the restaurant in 2008.

According to the official website, only three franchises remain in Canada today, with one in the United States.

For those with a hankering, the closest restaurant is in Sylvan Lake, AB, west of Red Deer, should you be looking to take a culinary road trip.

“While we can’t attribute this photo and staff team to the grand opening in 1977, we hope to identify some faces,” Benson-Lord adds.

Have information? Contact the museum at 250.364.0829 or follow the Trail Museum and Archives on Facebook to message them.

The museum gives special thanks to Roger and Donna Prior and Dawn Evans, who helped fill in some of the ownership gaps.

The lot

Longtime residents will recall the railway that ran through this uniquely-shaped Pine Avenue lot when the train station was located at Cedar Avenue and Farwell Street.

The tracks were removed in 1963 and the station demolished in 1965.

The location of the restaurant became a hot topic while developing the 1980 Official Community Plan, as the building sits far back on the lot.

While it provided space for off-street parking in the front, it created issues for the back laneway, which was shared with neighbouring businesses.

The building’s location was used as an example of improper land-use planning and helped the city set a better trajectory for future construction.

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Sheri Regnier

About the Author: Sheri Regnier

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