Residents are mourning the loss of the historic Watson Lake Hotel, which burned to ground on Saturday morning in a suspected arson.
At 3:20 a.m., fire chief Dan Miller got the call the place was engulfed in flames. The boarded up building had become a popular place to hold parties.
“It was arson, we’re pretty sure it was arson because there was no electric or heat in there anymore,” said Miller in an interview on Saturday morning. “The boarded part was not that secure, so I think they just ripped the covering off the windows – they’ve been in and out of here the past three years.
“When I drove by the flames were coming out of the upper floor of the old part. When we got here with the trucks it was already long gone. The place was extremely dry.
Miller says he was scared this might happen because three years ago the old Heritage House was burned by arsonists.
He would not speculate who may have started the fire.
“There were a lot of people around here who had too much to drink, all night. There were groups of young guys running all around town last night”
The landmark log hotel was built right after the Alaska highway was pushed through in the 1940s.
At the time, it was the only hotel in the region and was a residence to miners and other single men working there, said Bonnie Dalziel whose father, George, bought the hotel in the 1940s. The family ran the hotel until 1972, when it was sold it to Archie Lang.
In June 2007, the Liard First Nation bought Lang’s Watson Lake Hotel, Belvedere and Gateway Motor Inn using a $2.83 million federal affordable housing grant that passed from the Yukon cabinet to the First Nation’s development corporation.
A section of the Watson Lake Hotel was to be used as a residence for elders.
But the hotel was boarded up shortly after it was purchased. And it is not clear how much money the First Nation has spent on affordable housing initiatives in the town.
“We were looking at several options for it” says Development Corporation head Alex Morrison “ We realized it would never be an operating hotel.
“It’s a sad day for me because my mom and dad were married in that building. It’s a huge loss for the community.”
The Liard First Nation Development Corporation has mop-up insurance to cover the cost of removing the debris from the fire.