Lantzville: Hometown Heart

By Darryl Wilson

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The small coastal community of Lantzville may be a lot quieter since its days as a booming coal mine town in the early 1920s, but its heart still beats strong. The Village Pub, also affectionately known as the Lantzville Pub & Hotel, could take top prize as an Island survivor. It has endured the closing of the Lantzville Mine, the Great Depression and even a World War. The business has been home to many in this community of 3,500.

Walking into the pub, one gets a feeling reminiscent of the comfort and camaraderie of another era - or maybe that's just the resident ghost.

The pub dates back to July 25, 1925, in its first incarnation as the Lantzville Hotel.

With Lantzville booming as a coal mine town and the Vancouver Island Highway passing on its doorstep, the hotel was a natural fit to serve the increasing number of travellers. Built by the Caillet family, the hotel opened with 10 rooms on the second floor, a dining room, a large dorm in the attic and a zoo outside that housed a menagerie of bears, monkeys and other animals.

In 1926, the facility became licensed and was given approval to sell beer and cider by the glass or bottle. A gasoline pump from the coal mine was purchased and set adjacent to the hotel steps. As the years passed, the one gas pump gradually grew into the Lantzville Garage. A rubber hose across the gas pump area activated a buzzer in the dining room. Not only were the Caillets parents to three small children, they also served as cook, bartender, gas pump jockey and chief bottle washer.

Armand Caillet was born in the Lantzville Hotel in 1921. In his memoirs, he recalls many fond memories including his mother polishing chimneys and oil lamps and refueling the gas lanterns.

The hotel operated without electricity for 10 years. The property also used to boast a cow barn, a chicken house, a smoke house, a large orchard with apples, pears, plums and cherries and a large vegetable garden. The family and the hotel guests consumed the produce. Armand's father would fish around Maude Island or buy locally caught fish, served fresh or canned in fruit sealers.

At one point, the miners' houses looked abandoned. With talk of trouble in the coal mine, most believed Lantzville would soon become another coal mine ghost town, like Wellington and Northfield. But the Caillets could still see a future.

A sign was placed on the highway advertising the weekend special of French-cooked chicken. This held the bank at bay, until the miners' houses filled with workers from the Straits Lumber Company and the local logging camps.

Between the late 1930s to the 1940s, the hotel telephone served the wider community. In a small village, it was customary to phone the local hotel to get a message to those without a phone. The message was usually delivered by bike.

Stories of the pub's history add to its charm. Stories range from the resident ghost, to the local drunks, to the back door (illegal) beer sales on Sundays.

Current owner Rod Egerton recalls his first encounter with the ghost.

"I don't believe in ghosts, but last year, I was here renovating at night; it was around Christmas time. Everything was finished for the day and we were sitting in the main area having a coffee when we heard a bang in the pool room," says Egerton. "We went to investigate, and I felt something grab my arm. I must have jumped about six feet off the ground! My dog is a Rottweiler and he [hid] under the pool table for at least three or four hours with his claws dug into the floor."

Between the early 1950s and late 1970s, a reformation began. Prior to the '50s, the Liquor Act prohibited food in the pub. Dancing and singing was also not permitted, nor was moving from table to table. Gentlemen had to have an escort to sit in the ladies' section and no ladies were permitted to sit in the gentlemen's section.

Renovations commenced after the government adopted a new type of license in 1977. The bathrooms were completely rebuilt, the stripped walls were insulated and Gyproced, the upstairs was blocked by a heavy steel fire door and the dining room and lobby walls were eliminated. In 1975, the Caillets brought in a 100-year-old antique bar, salvaged from an old saloon in Missoula, Montana as the centrepiece. Rumour has it that it may have been one of the bars that Jesse James used to frequent. With the antique saloon bar as the centrepiece, the newly renovated pub took shape. A side porch was added and hours were spent in the Caillet home basement fibreglassing 29 burl tables and upholstering 125 wooden chairs. The Caillets eventually sold the pub in 1979. For some time after, Armand Caillet would still walk into the pub and behind the bar, ready to work, before realizing he didn't own it anymore.

Fast forward to present day, the same atmosphere, sense of history, and hometown friendliness that made the Village Pub the heart of this town, lives on. Staff members love their jobs and have been around for years. Many of them know regulars by their first name, and if that isn't enough, ocean views blow the customers away.

Assistant Manager Arlene Scott has been at the Village Pub for over a decade.

"The locals are definitely what make up the Village Pub," she says. "Even Armand Caillet, who was born in the hotel still comes for lunch about three times per week."

With the friendly hometown atmosphere and great pub food, it's no surprise the Village Pub has been home to many for so many years.

Lantzville Hotel The Caillet Years: July 25, 1925 to October 5, 1981

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