Skip to content

The Empire building has seen a lot of Timmins' history file by its doors

After opening in 1925, many celebrations and milestones were marked at the majestic downtown building

“The Pride of the North”. “Home of the Smorgasbord - The Fountain Court Lounge - Bogie’s”. The fire at the Empire Complex is devastating for those who called her home, our hearts go out to the residents at this very sad time. It is also heartbreaking for many of us who did not live there, but who hold fond memories of time well spent in her dining rooms, bars and lounges. The Empire Hotel, sitting majestically on the corner of Algonquin and Spruce, saw so very much of our history file by her doors.

It was May 18, 1925, that Timmins’ newest hotel threw open her doors for the very first time.

Leo Mascioli and Pete Bardessono invited town and area dignitaries to a special soirée commemorating the opening. Fifty lucky couples arrived dressed in tails and gowns and were treated to a tour of the hotel, which featured a brick exterior, four stories and a basement. There were 80 rooms available, each equipped with running water; 20 of the deluxe rooms were equipped with a private bath, a very modern addition to hotels at that time. The rooms were well-appointed and the building was carpeted throughout. No expense was spared. The hotel even featured a fire alarm system on each floor, directly connected to the fire hall.

After the tour, guests were ushered into the dining room which could accommodate 175 guests. The tables were dressed with linens, flowers and handsome tableware featuring (discreetly) the name of the hotel. Diners tucked into a “haute cuisine” feast that started out with caviar and fruit cocktail “á la Mascioli-Bardessono”, potage Alexandria, baked salmon with haute sauce, pommes lou-lou, stuffed roast turkey, cauliflower, asparagus and mushrooms, salade á la Empire and finishing with an old English pudding with ice cream for dessert (cigars and cigarettes for after dinner enjoyment were also provided).

After the meal, each gentleman guest was presented with a gold safety razor set in a case bearing the compliments of the Empire Hotel. The ladies all received a bouquet of flowers as their gift. Once the many, many speeches were delivered, Mayor McInnis was presented with a gold fountain pen and was asked to be the first person to sign the guest register. After all the official stuff was completed, the tables were removed and guests enjoyed a dance, the dining room/ballroom boasted a full orchestra balcony where the Ramblers performed under the guidance of Bandmaster Wolno. Mr. and Mrs. I.D. Smith, managers of the new hotel, received compliments from both the owners and the guests, while A.F. Brigham, general manager of the Hollinger Mine, and R.J. Ennis, general manager of the McIntyre, toasted Mascioli and Bardessono for their efforts to “build up the town of Timmins through their work and investment in the town”, and to the hotel, affectionately deemed “the pride of the north”.

With the great success of the hotel, renovations and an addition were completed in 1937. The first passenger elevator was installed in the Empire Hotel (“it finds a ready patronage and is proving a great convenience to guests”). Twenty-four new rooms were also added, as well as a new ballroom. 

“In decoration it is lavish, from the intricate pattern of the ceiling done in pastel shades, to the smooth, narrow-board hardwood dance floor. Sound-absorbent wall board, such as was used at the new Palace Theatre is laid in a pleasant geometrical pattern on the walls," wrote a reporter in the May 20, 1925, Porcupine Advance.

The lights were of a unique design, featuring inverted bell-shaped glass fixtures; dimmer switches and coloured lights allowed for “rather exotic illumination.” A large orchestra shell and a terrazzo-floored buffet dining room added to the sumptuous re-design. No wonder the Empire Hotel was considered the most sophisticated “home-away-from-home” in Timmins in the 1930s.

Throughout the years the Empire would go on to host many official dinners and events, weddings, anniversaries and private parties. When Roy Thomson came to town to open CKGB Radio in 1933, he held a banquet for all concerned at the Empire. In 1936, an international art exhibit was presented at the hotel. Organized by Marcel Kahn “of London and Paris”, the show featured works from the private collection of the Duke of Rutledge and the Marquis of Anglesey. The works were being sold as part of an estate sale for the two individuals; Kahn was touring Canada to make them available to those interested in purchasing. Surprisingly, he had works by Rembrandt, Gainsborough, John Constable and many others. Proceeds from the sale of works (and there were local sales) went to St. Matthew’s Cathedral.

The crowded bar at the Empire in the '60s around the time of the Kidd mine discovery. Timmins Museum: NEC photo

The Empire Hotel was ground zero in 1964 when the big copper and zinc strike gave Timmins new hope on the mining front. 

Life Magazine published a big story on the rush: “Instead of grizzled sourdoughs, it drew speculators and prospectors who travelled in helicopters and wore shiny shoes – the old excitement was there again – the sweet madness of mineral wealth – billions – awaited the lucky, the strong, the brave – any man could hit, and hope burned like fever.” 

The reporter got his story firsthand when he bellied-up to the Empire Hotel bar, the unofficial clearinghouse for rumours and tips, courtesy of the prospectors and speculators who rented rooms there for cheap. Those rooms were turned into makeshift offices and drill core labs and all the good news about the Texasgulf find filtered out from there down to the brokerage offices on Pine Street.

The Empire Hotel will always be a big part of our local history. Over the last few days, many of us shared stories from our youth, shed some tears for those bygone days, and many more tears for those who lost their homes. Buildings like the Empire Hotel/Complex or the Victory Theatre or the Maple Leaf Hotel are much more than bricks and mortar, they are treasured spaces that house our shared memories. And while the buildings are vulnerable to many forces, the memories created in those spots will remain with us always.