Nanaimo's notorious Howard Johnson Hotel to shut down

By Dominic Abassi
September 5, 2018 - 1:32pm Updated: September 5, 2018 - 2:54pm

Nanaimo's Howard Johnson Hotel will close its doors on Oct. 31.Ian Holmes/NanaimoNewsNOW

The Tally Ho first opened at the corner of Comox and Terminal Ave. in the early 1960s.Nanaimo Community Archives

The hotel opened on land that originally was on the "fringes" of NanaimoNanaimo Community Archives

The Tally Ho hotel and pool was considered cool and modern during its early days.Nanaimo Community Archives

NANAIMO — One of downtown Nanaimo's most well-known landmarks will soon become a thing of the past, leaving many wondering what's next for a prime piece of waterfront property.

Howard Johnson Harbourside Hotel operations manager Erik Brook said in an emailed statement the hotel "will close its doors and cease operations as a hotel accommodations provider" effective Oct. 31.

The statement said plans for the hotel and property are not yet known and other businesses operating in the adjoining buildings will remain in operation following the hotel's closure.

Representatives from the Howard Johnson could not immediately be reached for further comment.

In 2015, the hotel's owner went public with intentions to build a new hotel and 5,000-seat arena on the land at the corner of Comox Rd. and Terminal Ave. But after an initial splash in local media, the plan was never seriously mentioned again.

When the City began its ill-fated attempt to build an events centre in late 2016, the Howard Johnson property was one of two sites considered suitable to host the venue. Ultimately, Council followed the advice of a consultant and decided to focus on City-owned land on the south downtown waterfront.

Nanaimo Community Archives manager Christine Meutzner said the site was originally a sawmill from the 1870s to about 1930, serving as storage for all of the lumber coming to the mid-island area.

She said at the time, the property was hardly a central downtown location.

"In the early days that would have been the very fringe of town. As the bridge got better and that developed more you saw some changes there," Meutzner said.

She said a hotel was first built on the site in 1962 when the Tally Ho Travelodge opened, operated by the proponents behind one of Nanaimo's most prominent construction companies A&B Construction.

"When it first opened, that would have been considered kind of cool and modern compared to the rest of the hotels in town."

Meutzner said as the automobile became king in the 1950s, motels became very popular. The Tally Ho became a key figure in a row of motels along what was Nanaimo's "north end" at the time.

At least two infamous crimes were committed in the hotel and its adjoining buildings.

In 2006, Garbiola Island resident Michael Brophy was fatally beaten in the hotel's Grizzly Bar. In April 2017 a man was shot dead in the hotel's lobby in what RCMP called a targeted incident.

Although harbouring huge respect for Nanaimo's history and its old buildings, Meutzner was less than nostalgic about the hotel.

"I guess if you had your wedding there or significant life event you'll miss it. But I'm more concerned with what replaces it really. I have to say, architecturally, I don't feel it's a very good example of anything."


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