As regular readers may have noticed, I’ve had some old-time neighbourhood locals checking in and commenting on things pertaining to the downtown Windsor neighbourhood I currently live in. Dante & Mara were talking about the old Horseshoe Hotel that was around the corner the other day, and the fire that took it down. That got me interested, and off to look into the history.
This is the layout of the Horseshoe (the intersection of Howard Ave. to the south, Aylmer Ave. to the east, and Glengarry to the West.) from 1937. The south section of the Horseshoe was occupied by the Horseshoe Hotel on the west half, and a gas station on the east half. As a side note, someone once told me, that the service center was/is Horseshoe battery and electric.
The fire that burned down the Horseshoe Hotel occurred April 29, 1976. As many will remember the Windsor Star was an evening Newspaper until the late 1990’s. So the evening edition on 04/29/1976 had this story in a small box on Page one.
FIRE LEVELS CITY HOTEL
It’s believed that no one was
injured in a three-alarm fire
which destroyed the
Horseshoe Hotel today.
Fire chief Jack Malott said
the fire, which began about
1:15 pm, was fought
by seven units, including a
The entire roof caved in
and a 60-by-30-foot section
of the upper east wall
collapsed into the parking
lot beside the building.
Flames and dense black
smoke from the fire at
Howard and Glengarry
Avenues, could be seen
in the downtown area.
The main story about the fire appeared the next day in the April 30th edition.
Photo by Bev MacKenzie
Windsor firefighters poured water on the smouldering remains of the Horseshoe Hotel last night and early this morning after the building was gutted by a fire causing more than $200,000 damage and leaving a city firefighter’s dreams in ruins. Firefighters finally had the fire out at 7:30 am today. For more on the fire see the photos and story on Page 3 in today’s Star.
Photo by Jack Dalgleish
Spectators lined up to grab a look as flames destroyed the Horseshoe Hotel
Photo by Walter Jackson
A Firefighter throws a brick to break windows so water could get inside
FIREMAN’S DREAM GONE WITH $200,000 BLAZE
By Tony Wanless
Fire destroyed the Horseshoe Hotel at Glengarry Avenue and Cataraqui Street Thursday causing more than $200,000 damage, slightly injuring an ambulance attendant by a bizarre incident and leaving a city fireman’s dreams in ruins.
Mike Casey, an ambulance attendant standing by at the fire, was shot in the arm after a gun in one of the hotel’s rooms went off. He received only a superficial wound.
Firefighters battled the blaze for more than 18 hours as dense black smoke , visible two miles away, filled the area.
The fire broke out about 1:00 pm in a second floor room in the building’s south east corner as nine patrons sipped beer in the beverage room downstairs.
The hotel, a former stagecoach roadhouse, was formerly owned by Margaret Irvine who left it to her four great-grandsons last year.
Their father, Bill Irvine, a city fireman who was acting as trustee of the estate, said he was in the midst of renovations that have cost $30,000 so far. He had been working on his off-duty hours for a year to give the hotel a new life and his sons a future business.
Mr. Irvine valued the buildings loss at $200,000. He said he had only $120,000 in insurance coverage.
Nine rooms of the hotel were occupied while 42 were being renovated. No one was in the occupied rooms when the fire broke out.
Mr. Irvine said he was in the beverage room when he heard a trouble alarm and ran upstairs.
Standing on the street, wet and covered in soot, he described what he saw.
“Just as I got up there the fire seemed to flash through the corridors,” he said. “I ran through he smoke to check all the rooms but, thank God, they were all empty.”
Mr. Irvine then returned downstairs and told everyone to leave the beverage room.
The spectacular blaze sent flames shooting 20 feet in the air and raised a column of dense black smoke that had residents in Detroit, two miles away, calling police to ask what was going on.
About 30 minutes after the fire began the roof of the building caved in and, 20 minutes later a 50-foot-by-20-foot section of the east wall collapsed into the parking lot.
Firefighters then turned their hoses to the west wall which was also showing signs of collapse. The water cooled the wall enough to save it.
While 30 firefighters and 10 units poured water on the flames, extra police arrived to keep back hundreds of spectators.
Mr. Irvine was joined by his four sons, Joe 16, Jim 14, Bill 12, and Jason 4, after the fire had been burning for two hours.
Joe salvaged one bright spot from the loss. “In a way, I’m glad the place burned down” he said. “I haven’t seen much of my dad lately. He’s either working at the hotel or at the Fire Department. Now he’ll get a rest and I’ll get to see him more often.”
Mr. Irvine said he was trying to complete changes required in order to obtain a liquor license for the semi-circular-shaped hotel. “As a matter of fact, the liquor inspector was supposed to come today,” he added. “I guess there’s no need for him now.”
The hotel, although little used in recent years, was at one time a stop-over for stagecoach travellers and farmers bringing produce to the Windsor Market.
Clayton Broomfield, 1096 Lillian St., said he could recall before the First World War when the hotel, which was surrounded by hitching posts and horse troughs, was filled every night with carousing farmers.
Built around 1885 on a mud road at what was then the edge of Windsor, the hotel was first remodelled in 1907 to accommodate a growing population. Members of the “Horse Shoe Gang” were known for their pranks and their singing.
In 1915, the hotel was taken over by William “Red” Irvine, a prominent horse racer, who turned it into a posh nightclub and dining lounge that sported massive crystal chandeliers and red velvet drapes.
The hotel was one of the first in Windsor to receive a liquor license when it became law in the 1930’s and, just before the Second World War, a west wing was built and renovations undertaken but never completed. The hotel has been renovated at least three times.
Mr. Irvine said the wing contained an elevator and several half-completed rooms.
Then as is still the case now, the Windsor Star wasn’t always accurate. The expansion “just before the Second World War”, actually occurred sometime between 1956 and 1961.
Here are some aerial views of the property over the years:
The tavern is visible as is the service station.
Seven years later everything is still the same.
The service station is now gone, and the hotel clearly has a second wing to the west that was not there 5 years prior.
After the fire in 1976, five years later shows the block as it appears today, occupied by houses.
So by my quick calculations the Irvine’s should still be around town, and not too old. Joe should be about 46, Jim 44, Bill 42 and Jason 34. If anyone who reads this knows them, I’d love to see any photos they might have of the old tavern.