Flakes of plaster drift to the floor from the blistered surface of the third-floor hallway walls. Paint curls back on itself as it peels free from baseboards.
Bedroom walls, once white, are stained by mould and water damage, while in other rooms, gyprock and panelling — warped and rippled from too many years of cold and damp — have been torn away to reveal the original slats-and-mortar construction of the building’s internal walls.
Cobwebs droop from overhead, while ceiling tiles, installed in the 1950s or 1960s as a means of conserving heat, dangle from their frames or are altogether absent.
Dust and damp — and a hint of mould — all contribute to the pungent perfume filling the dimly-lit corridors and rooms of its upper floors.
This is The Travellers Hotel as it stands today — a mere shadow of its former luxurious self.
Run-down though it may be, The Travellers is back on the market, and Wes Smith, my tour guide and a realtor with RE/MAX Ocean Pointe Realty, is responsible for its sale. In spite of its derelict condition — the main floor has been without heat and electricity for the last eight or nine years, Smith says, and the upper floors have suffered from a similar lack of utilities for 16 years — Smith has received more than 50 serious inquiries from prospective buyers. Developers from Victoria, Vancouver, the Lower Mainland and Calgary have all expressed interest in the hotel, he says, with particular interest having been shown by a Vancouver developer responsible for restoring heritage buildings in Gastown.
Smith is marketing the building’s potential for mixed-use development — the town of Ladysmith will back nearly any project that preserves the building’s heritage-status character — focusing in particular on projects revolving around a pub or restaurant situated below office space, apartments, a hotel or condos.
Each floor hosts over 4,500 square feet of space, Smith says, providing ample room for either a 40-room hotel — the original Travellers hosted 32 rooms — or condos in the 1,000- to 1,500-square-foot range. A condo or hotel development that takes advantage of the heights reached by the original ceilings would create a space that’s “highly desirable,” Smith says.
The majority of the interior walls aren’t load-bearing either, meaning someone can come along and reconfigure the space as they see fit.
A redevelopment involving either a hotel or a pub makes particularly good business sense, Smith says, considering The Travellers’ prime downtown location and the fact that Ladysmith is home to a lone pub and only one hotel.
Regardless of what is to become of The Travellers, any redevelopment project will require a sizable investment, Smith says, costing a developer “at least $1 million to finish.”
The original hotel was built by pioneering hoteliers Annie and Chris Stevens in 1913 for a mere $18,000 — valued at $400,000 to $450,000 today, not taking into account differences in labourers’ wages.
Unlike most hotels built in Ladysmith during the mining boom era, however, The Travellers was intended to serve a moneyed class of clientele rather than transient miners.
The hotel “boasted one of the largest and best equipped bars on the west coast,” according to a heritage registry writeup, and featured two dining rooms to service guests in its 32 rooms.
The Travellers’ high-class character faded slowly over the latter half of the 20th century, and by the early 1990s, the former hotel had been transformed into low-end housing.
The upper floors have been abandoned since the mid-1990s, Smith says, and the bar on the building’s main floor hasn’t announced a last call for “eight or nine years.”
The Travellers Hotel is listed for $674,900 with a price that “reflects the condition of the property.” Photos of the Travellers’ interior can be found online.