Residents of Beaverdell are mourning the loss of the historic Beaverdell Hotel, which had been embroiled in a lengthy legal battle prior to being obliterated by a fire early Monday morning.
Police on scene confirmed two provincial fire marshals out of Kamloops and Vernon, and a local investigator out of Kelowna, are sifting through the meager charred remains of the more than 100-year-old structure found fully engulfed in flames at 2 a.m. Monday, in an attempt to find evidence.
“We’re only in the preliminary stages of the investigation,” Staff Sgt. Jim Harrison confirmed in an interview Tuesday.
“We are certainly looking at all of the possibilities out there.”
The investigation is bound to be a “lengthy” one, he said, noting investigators don’t have any witnesses, for example, who might have spotted anyone in the vicinity around the time the fire would have started.
“Any arson investigation is a difficult investigation to perform,” he said.
Considered the oldest operating hotel in B.C., Beaverdell fire chief Bill Wellwood said the blaze at the heritage site follows the burning of Tyrone Daum’s house in Beaverdell last month.
Daum was listed as the owner of the hotel until November 2010 when assessment records indicate title was transferred to a numbered company, of which Daum is not listed as a director.
Nevertheless, residents and the fire chief indicated they are under the understanding Daum is the owner.
“I know he had insurance on the hotel, but I don’t know about the house,” Wellwood said in an interview on scene.
He reported seeing someone from an insurance company at the hotel site in the immediate aftermath of the fire, but little else is known.
According to court documents, Daum had been fighting with the previous owners, Mary Ellen and Eugene Katchin, after a lease arrangement went south around the time Daum tried to purchase the property in what he characterized as a lease-to-own scenario.
The court battle ended a year ago with Daum awarded title.
The Katchins had taken out a mortgage in 2001, with Bryan and Leona Rosekrans acting as guarantors.
Court documents indicate in 2005 Daum believed he entered into a lease-to-own agreement to make payments, after the Katchin’s collected a $20,000 down payment from himself and a girlfriend under an understanding he would pay for the rest of the property at a later date.
The Katchins denied in a statement of defense that they had a written agreement to sell; although they indicated there was an oral lease agreement on the property.
Daum assumed responsibility for running the hotel at that time and the Katchins left town.
According to the court documents, Daum indicated he was in a position to pay the parties out in 2008, around the time he received two offers on the property—one for $700,000 and the other for $800,000—which were more than double what he had agreed to pay the Katchins.
But the documents allege Eugene Katchin then broke into the hotel, changed the locks and started to liquidate Daum’s belongings from the property, although Daum had sunk $100,000 into the building to run it as a tourist attraction.
The Katchins deny the allegations outright and criminal charges were never filed against either Katchin.
In 2009, the Rosekrans requested a foreclosure order, indicating in court documents the Katchins had defaulted on their mortgage. The status of that action is unknown.
The court ordered title be granted to Daum in January 2010 and in November of that year it was then transferred to the numbered company.
Meanwhile, Beaverdell residents are wondering how they will cope with the heart of the town gone. The hotel was well-known as a tourist stop for cyclists along the Kettle Valley Railway and motorcycle enthusiasts who would line their bikes up out front for a picture before visiting the few remaining shops in town.
“People are just crying,” said Lorna Hollingsworth. “When the town was active, it was like everybody’s front room. Weddings, birthdays, you went to the hotel.”
Constructed in 1897, The Beaverdell Hotel opened in July 1901 under trapper D.W. Smith’s name as Smith’s Hotel.
Roughly 1,000 prospectors were living in the area at the time.
The town grew with the opening of the Bell Mine, which transferred hands several times before becoming the first large mine Teck Corporation (later Teck Cominco) owned in B.C.
The mine closed in 1991, and the hotel was one of the few remaining attractions and anchor for the Beaverdell town site.
—with files from Capital News staff reporter Cheryl Weirda