© 2018 Michael Riis-Christianson and the Lakes District Museum Society
Harold Bennett came to Ootsa Lake in 1906. Like many of the men who carved a home out of the wilderness in that era, he was a bachelor.
In 1911, though, he decided it was time to take a wife, and so sent for his childhood sweetheart, Polly Johnston. The wedding was to be held in a big tent house in Hazelton, the outfitting centre for pack trains and survey crews, and the most metropolitan community in the region at the time.
The bride arrived in Hazelton on time, but the groom was delayed on the trail and arrived a day late and had no time to prepare for the ceremony. Polly Johnston married him, long hair, whiskers, slouch hat, dirty shirt, and all.
At the wedding supper that followed, Harold reportedly informed his new bride that he had to spend the night with his horses to prevent them from stampeding, adding that he would pick her up the following morning.
The Bennetts returned to their ranch at Ootsa Lake, where they became pillars of the community. They raised all their own food, including beef, and there was always “plenty of it” according to their friends and neighbours. Known for their hospitality (they often opened their home to strangers passing through), they built a five-room, two-storey log hotel that catered to itinerant travellers and locals in search of a decent meal.
The venture was a success. Bennett’s Hotel was known to every traveller as a good place to stay. A bed in the establishment was fifty cents, meals cost a dollar, and every trapper and prospector who ate there raved about the fare. A favorite dish was the corned beef that Polly put up every fall in forty-five gallon barrels.
Harold was a reader of good books and had a reputation as a fine conversationalist in a country where good stories and anecdotes were the chief form of entertainment.
The Bennetts and their store drew others to the community. Nearly all of the area’s teacher’s boarded with them. A Mr. Van de Carr built a store nearby, and brought in the area’s first radio. People came from miles around on Friday nights to visit and listen to the Oldtimer’s musical program from Calgary, and Lord and Lady Tweedsmuir ‘dropped by for lunch’ in 1937 enroute to what later became Tweedsmuir Park.