Standing for over 100 years just south of Nanaimo, the Cassidy Hotel was an important landmark in the area. From bunkhouse to general store, hotel to beer parlour, and neighbourhood pub to squatters’ residence, the building served many purposes over the years before it burned down in 2016.
Originally called Granby, Cassidy was a mining town created in 1914 by the Granby Consolidated Mining, Smelting, and Power Company in order to house its workers. (The town was renamed Cassidy in 1928 in honour of the pioneer Thomas Cassidy who had explored the area in the 1870s.) Mining operations began by 1918, and within only a few short years, business was booming.
Before long, the townspeople wanted recreation. By 1922, the mine had grown significantly and the company now employed 450 men, most of whom lived in Granby. They toiled long, arduous hours in the dark tunnels stretching for miles under the sea, and they needed entertainment.
Enter Napoleon Manca, the industrious wholesale liquor merchant from Ladysmith. In response to the miners’ requests, the company converted an old bunkhouse into a store for Manca to run––hardly the recreation centre that the miners had asked for, but all in good time. As it would turn out, Manca was a shrewd businessman, and by 1925 he expanded the store and also established the Cassidy Hotel, complete with a beer parlour license.
But by 1932 the Douglas coal seam was exhausted. This was bad timing, as it came right at the peak of the Great Depression. Cassidy came close to becoming a ghost town with the closing of the mine. Many of the townspeople left, but a handful––including Napoleon Manca––remained. Ever the entrepreneur, Manca continued to find ways to entice visitors.
As one of these business endeavours, he bought an old coin-operated player piano––a 1,500-pound beast made in Brussels in 1890––to attract visitors with its charming songs. Decorated with a painting of a voluptuous woman, the piano took a nickel and played one of ten tunes to enchant the listeners’ ears. Unfortunately, strict liquor laws at the time prohibited any music or entertainment whatsoever in beer parlours. Manca kept the charming thing in storage nonetheless, and when laws relaxed in 1954, it came out of its long hibernation and was finally put to use.
In 1947, Manca sold the hotel, and it passed through multiple hands until the 1980s, when it was reborn as a neighbourhood pub. This decade was the establishment’s last real hurrah, offering live music and famously good food. By the 1990s it was a smokey roadhouse bar, and in 2012 it closed due to the expansion of the highway coupled with tougher drinking and driving laws. For a number of years after that, squatters were sometimes reported to be living there.
Having already been fated for demolition, the building burned to the ground in 2016 in a fire that the RCMP deemed suspicious. To date, the cause of the fire remains unknown.