The Keno City Hotel burned down the night of Dec. 11, and an online fundraiser has already raised more than $13,000 for owner Leo Martel. (Bonnie Lynch/Submitted)

The Keno City Hotel burned down the night of Dec. 11, and an online fundraiser has already raised more than $13,000 for owner Leo Martel. (Bonnie Lynch/Submitted)

Fundraiser started after fire destroys Keno City Hotel

Building described as “heart and soul of Keno City”

Just a couple of days after the century-old Keno City Hotel was destroyed by fire, more than $13,000 has been raised for owner Leo Martel.

Stuart Gray, who has a placer mine in the Keno area, started the GoFundMe campaign shortly after learning of the fire and contacting Martel to ensure he was agreeable to it.

“Everyone knows Leo’s such an amazing guy,” Gray said in a Dec. 14 interview.

Gray, who spends winter outside the Yukon, said it was important to do something for Martel and this is one way those who aren’t in Keno can help.

“We just felt really awful,” he said, noting that after learning a fundraiser had not yet been set up and checking in with Martel, the GoFundme campaign was started on Dec. 13.

Others are also finding ways to raise funds for Martel. Kristine Laluk, for example, stated on the My Life In The Yukon! Facebook page that she would be raffling off homemade beaver gauntlets with the money raised from the $20 tickets going to Martel.

Gray said he’s pleased with the response that has generated thousands of dollars in just a day, noting that Martel has lost everything in the fire.

As it’s highlighted on the fundraiser page, Martel and his brother purchased the hotel in 2006. Major renovations were done and the hotel, which was also Martel’s home, reopened, “creating a wonderful space locals and visitors from around the world to enjoy.”

On the Keno City Hotel website, Martel stated of the hotel, “before we started she had both feet in the grave and was sliding fast.”

The hotel was renovated to feature upgraded rooms, kitchen facilities and more, the building going on to host numerous guests through the tourist season.

Featuring 10 rooms and a pool hall, the hotel is being remembered as an iconic part of the community.

“The heart and soul of Keno City is gone,” said Mike Mancini who owns the Keno City Snack Bar and is a friend of Martel’s.

It was on Friday night when Mancini was cleaning up from the snack bar’s weekly pizza night that he looked out the window to see what appeared to be an orange glow coming from the top floor of the hotel.

He told Martel, who was at the snack bar, and called 911.

With no fire department in the 24-person community, Alexco Resources, which has mines in the area, sent water trucks in with Mayo’s volunteer fire department also making the journey on a night that was about -25 C.

“They had to scramble,” Mancini said, adding it was probably about an hour before any water trucks or firefighters could make it on the scene.

Both Mancini and hotel general manager Bonnie Lynch recalled the hotel as a gathering place for celebrations — weddings, birthday parties, community events among others.

“It was just a fun place,” said Lynch, who’s worked at the hotel on and off since 2013. She too was at the snack bar when Mancini noticed the fire.

For Lynch, the wedding of Gordie Tentrees and Kelly Proudfoot a few years back was of particular note with “so, so many people having a good time.”

Mancini, meanwhile, recalled the hotel as being the place to be during the Keno Gras festival in previous years. The event drew musicians from throughout the Yukon to the community in September for performances and events, with many staying at the hotel.

“The town just filled up,” Mancini said.

Both Mancini and Lynch said Martel, who is staying with Mancini, is still processing the loss.

“It’s like a death,” Lynch said of losing the historic hotel that was so much a part of the community’s landscape.

Many who have visited the hotel are also recalling their own memories on social media and through the GoFundMe page.

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell also released a statement Dec. 12 highlighting his own memories of the building and it’s role in the history of Keno.

“The hotel was an irreplaceable and iconic piece of Keno area history, and will be missed by all those who experienced its vibrant frontier atmosphere,” he said.

“I have fond memories of attending Yukon Chamber of Commerce meetings there, and fun that the building added to any visit. I can only think of the thousands of hours of labour Leo Martel, and others, put in to restoring the historic hotel so it could be open once again to the public. This is a truly sad day for the Yukon.”

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

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