Liard First Nation sells hotels

Liard First Nation has gotten out of the hotel business. It was a "difficult decision" to sell Watson Lake's Belvedere Hotel and Gateway Motor Inn, said Chief Liard McMillan.

Liard First Nation has gotten out of the hotel business.

It was a “difficult decision” to sell Watson Lake’s Belvedere Hotel and Gateway Motor Inn, said Chief Liard McMillan.

“It’s not the direction I would have liked to see things go. I wanted us to be successful and carry these things forward. But I respect the decision of our board of directors to make a sound, business-minded decision. It was definitely the right decision to make.”

The First Nation’s development corporation sold the hotels for an undisclosed sum, after receiving an unsolicited offer in mid-February.

The corporation concluded it could “achieve more for its stakeholders by not owning hotels,” states a newsletter released this month. The corporation plans to focus on partnering with mining and oil and gas companies.

The new owner of the hotels is Andy Shannon, owner of Dragon Construction. He moved to Watson Lake from Grande Prairie last summer while putting new siding on a rival hotel in town.

The veteran contractor was looking to buy a hotel. And he likes Watson Lake. “My sister owns Iron Creek Lodge. She’s been there for 25 years,” he said.

“This is my opportunity to actually be there and stay there.”

Shannon plans to renovate both buildings, make them smoke-free, and bring back live entertainment.

“That hasn’t been there for a while,” he said. “Make it like a real hotel.”

The First Nation bought the Gateway Motor Inn, and the Belvedere and Watson Lake hotels in June of 2007. The acquisitions were plagued by political controversy, staffing challenges and a fire that burned the Watson Lake Hotel to the ground in April.

The controversy started after it came to light that the First Nation had bankrolled these purchases, in part, with federal money earmarked for affordable housing.

The deal proved all the more controversial because of the political connections of the former owners. They’re two close allies of Premier Dennis Fentie: Community Services Minister Archie Lang and Pat Irvin, a one-time campaign manager of Fentie’s.

The First Nation paid its development corporation $1.2 million in affordable housing funds for a building known as the Campbell Block, which stood adjacent to the Watson Lake Hotel, with plans to convert the building into social housing.

This renovation work still isn’t complete, said McMillan. He faults the economic downturn, a rising dollar and gas prices for delaying the work.

But the Campbell Block, the Belvedere and the Gateway have all been periodically used to shelter First Nation members in need, said McMillan.

Two other small buildings stand on the same lot. The development corporation plans to eventually turn them into rental units. Part of the Campbell Block may turn into commercial apartments, too, said McMillan. “It may be a mixture of both.”

McMillan won’t say whether the First Nation ultimately lost money on the hotel purchases. But he concedes that running the businesses proved more of a hassle than they were ultimately worth.

“Running a hotel business along the Alaska Highway in the North can be very difficult if you’re not running it as a mom-and-pop-type operation,” he said.

Retaining qualified managers proved hard. But, on the bright side, the hotel purchases were a “learning experience” for the First Nation, said McMillan.

The First Nation has paid off its $1-million mortgage owed to the hotels’ previous owners, said McMillan.

Contact John Thompson at

Just Posted

Whether the dust jacket of this historical novel is the Canadian version (left) or the American (right), the readable content within is the same. (Michael Gates)
History Hunter: New novel a gripping account of the gold rush

Stampede: Gold Fever and Disaster in the Klondike is an ‘enjoyable and readable’ account of history

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your furnace and your truck need to go

Perhaps the biggest commitment in the NDP deal with the Liberals was boosting the Yukon’s climate target

Awaken Festival organizers Meredith Pritchard, Colin Wolf, Martin Nishikawa inside the Old Firehall in Whitehorse on May 11. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Performing arts fest plans to awaken artistic talent in Whitehorse and the rural North

‘A value of ours is to make theatre as accessible as possible.’

April Mikkelsen tosses a disc during a ladies only disc golf tournament at Solstice DiscGolfPark on May 8. John Tonin/Yukon News
Yukon sees its first-ever women’s disc golf tournament

The Professional Disc Golf Assocation had a global women’s event last weekend. In the Yukon, a women’s only tournament was held for the first time ever.

Dave Blottner, executive director at the Whitehorse Food Bank, said the food bank upped its services because of the pandemic. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Food Bank sees Yukoners’ generosity firsthand

“Businesses didn’t know if they could stay open but they were calling us to make sure we were able to stay open.”

A prescribed burn is seen from the lookout at Range Road and Whistle Bend Way in Whitehorse May 12. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Editorial: Are you ready for a forest fire?

Citizens for a Firesmart Whitehorse have listed some steps for Yukoners to boost safety and awareness

Caribou pass through the Dempster Highway area in their annual migration. A recent decision by the privacy commissioner has recommended the release of some caribou collar re-location data. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News)
Privacy commissioner recommends release of caribou location data

Department of Environment says consultation with its partners needed before it will consider release

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Family pleased youth will be able to get Pfizer vaccine

Angela Drainville, mother of two, is anxious for a rollout plan to come forward

Safe at home office in Whitehorse on May 10, 2021. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Federal government provides $1.6 million for Yukon anti-homelessness work

Projects including five mobile homes for small communities received funding.

Drilling at Northern Tiger’s 3Ace gold project in 2011. Randi Newton argues that mining in the territory can be reshaped. (Yukon government/file)
Editorial: There’s momentum for mining reform

CPAWS’ Randi Newton argues that the territory’s mining legislations need a substantial overhaul

At its May 10 meeting, Whitehorse city council approved the subdivision for the Kwanlin Dün First Nation’s business park planned in Marwell. (Submitted)
KDFN business park subdivision approved

Will mean more commercial industrial land available in Whitehorse

Main Street in Whitehorse on May 4. Whitehorse city council has passed the first two readings of a bylaw to allow pop-up patios in city parking spaces. Third reading will come forward later in May. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Whitehorse council pursuing restaurant patio possibilities

Council passes first two readings for new patio bylaw

Most Read