August 16th, 2018

‘All Hell for a Basement,’ and then some

By Gillian Slade on February 13, 2018.

A book about the history of Medicine Hat 1883 - 1983 reveals accessing your own supply of gas was possible in the early days and in some cases caused explosions.--PHOTO COURTESY 'All Hell for a Basement' - by Ed Gould 

It was relatively easy to harvest gas for your home or business in the early days of the Gas City — but sometimes there were dangerous consequences.

“The roof of one house was blown a half a block away …,” according to a book about Medicine Hat’s history: All Hell For A Basement – Medicine Hat 1883 – 1983″, by Ed Gould.

A homemade furnace was built to burn gas in the cellar of a home on the Southeast Hill. However, the homeowner failed to build a chimney to carry off fumes. He apparently thought because there was no smoke that could be seen, a chimney would not be needed.

Between 1890 and 1904 gas wells were drilled “to the shallow gas horizon at 650 to 750 feet below the river flat. And not one of them had cemented casings,” according to the book.

“…some of these old wells a person could shove a stick into the ground and pull it out, then light the gas that came out of the hole.”

An old gas well, believed to date back to the 1890s — although there are no records — is being addressed at 210 S. Railway St. where the Hitch’n Post Saloon is to be demolished upon approval by council.

The Alberta Oil & Gas Orphan Well Abandonment and Reclamation Association is partnering with the city to address the old gas well on site. OWA has developed a soil gas management system comprised on very shallow extraction/vertical wells in the ground around the building. These are connected with slotted pipes to a vacuum unit that collects the gas, OWA director of operations Pat Payne told the News last week.

The address was the site of the American Hotel, one of three “hostelries” catering to the needs of pioneer residents, according to a story in the News on June 29, 1949 when the building was being demolished.

The building was constructed by J.C. Colter in the 1890s.

“Mr. Colter was the first one to use natural gas in Medicine Hat,” D.A. Colter, the owner’s daughter-in-law, said in a News story.

“He used to pipe gas into the building by means of a watering hose. He used it for cooking.”

She also described a colourful memory — something she had observed in the diningroom of the hotel one day. Two cattlemen entered for a meal, tied their table napkins around their necks, raised their soup plates to their mouth’s and drank the content with considerable noise.

In April 1911, the American Hotel was the venue for a lavish banquet for exhibitors of a horse show. The extensive menu included “Blue Point Oysters”, B.C. salmon, ham with a champagne sauce, “breasted pigeons”, and “Cow’s brain patties.”

The News reported on a fire at the hotel on Dec. 9, 1944. The cause of the fire was reported to be from a child igniting a gas heater and then a piece of paper which was carried to another room. Two policemen in the area at the time could see the child at a window and flames behind. The fire was extinguished before the fire spread very far.

The American Hotel was sold in 1910 for $7,000.

When the current building at 210 S. Railway St. is demolished there will be no further building on the site. There have been expressions of interest about using the space either for parking or perhaps a patio, according to a city document.

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