July 23rd, 2014 ~ Vol. 84 No. 29
Looking Back - John Kinnear
The Sleepee Teepee Motel - An Iconic Story
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Sleepee Teepee, Blairmore, AB
It is a matter of conjecture about which design came first. The giant teepee my father built in the yard of our house in Coleman in 1958 that overlooked main street or the very similar Sleepee Teepee Motel units that Max Brown and Roger Demoustiez constructed in the early 1960’s in West Blairmore.
Whichever came first, the design was truly unique and this particular motel became an iconic part of the Pass highway accommodations for many years. Motels like the Sleepee Teepee were an important part of the service industry on Highway 3 that at one time passed through the communities of Bellevue, Blairmore and Coleman.
The word motel is a portmanteau (a combination of two words) put together from the words motor and hotel. They were in fact motor hotels, designed for tired travelling motorists with parking for their vehicles. The Pass had more than an ample share of them in its heyday that included the Bluebird Motel on the east side of Bellevue all the way west to Kerr’s Cabins across from the sulphur plant and the Kozy Knest Kabins at the lake that still operates to this day.
The Sleepee Teepee was truly a unique western Canadian motel that had at one time eight teepee units, a chuck wagon office, lawn sculptures and a neon sign that was memorable.
The units were spacious and no doubt a lot of fun for young children to stay in with their parents. Outside on the front lawn entrance area was a specially sculptured bison and some deer. It is the neon sign though that sticks out in my mind. Neon was such a great part of early commercial culture, including here in the Pass. The flashing Roxy theater sign in Coleman comes to mind but the Sleepee Teepee sign was one of a kind. I think if I recall it had the outline of an Indian head that moved up and down along one side of the sign. How could you not be drawn into Joyce and Max Brown’s special place with tired kids after a long drive.
A postcard for the Sleepee Teepee used to read:
With hammer and nail on this ancient trail. Where the Rockies touch the blue, On the sunny side of the Great Divide, It was built and priced for you.
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The Sleepee Teepee Motel is long gone but some of the teepees and the 2,000 pound buffalo and the deer sculptures are still around. You will find two remaining examples of the five teepees donated to the Crowsnest Lake Bible Camp still being used there and another out at Bohomolec’s Ranch. One of the deer is out that way also on Terry Graf’s property. The big bison and another deer still roam the grasses in the Blairmore Lions Park by the swimming pool. Long time local artist and sculptor Franz Koci was responsible for creating the bison and the deer.
How interesting it is to study Franz and his creative history alongside the motel story. His has a remarkable art legacy here in the Pass and elsewhere in Canada. Mr. Koci was the creator of the other iconic Pass symbol, the Crow’s Nest Crows, one of which sits a short distance from his studio. Amongst his huge body of work you will find a twenty seven foot high Canada goose designed and built by him for the town of Wawa, Ontario in the early 1960’s. This magnificent bird made of steel and hand mixed plaster weighed a whopping 150,000 pounds. He in fact did two of these geese for Wawa and a life size moose to boot that sat atop the Salt Mines Motel there.
Franz Koci just turned 87 and still has his studio open in West Blairmore but tells me his is selling and moving to the senior’s apartments across the road. He has dozens of wonderful works for sale, so don’t miss the chance to own a piece of his remarkable fifty plus year legacy of creative art here.
July 23rd ~ Vol. 84 No. 29
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