At 3 a.m. on Feb. 9, 2011, Ed Musich, the owner and manager of the Leask Hotel, woke up to the sound of his smoke alarm.

He barely had time to escape the hotel in his stocking feet before the 99-year-old hotel burned to the ground. “It was an older building, one of our originals,” said Murray Donohue, volunteer firefighter. “Lots of dry wood, layers of paint and varnish ... when it went up, it went up like a Roman candle.” 

The Leask Hotel is another in a long line of hundreds of hotels that have been destroyed by fire in Saskatchewan over the decades. Most of them were rambling wood-frame structures that didn't stand a chance, especially in the days when most towns had no firefighting equipment. In the early days, when a fire broke out at the corner of Railway Avenue and Main Street, the townspeople formed bucket brigades, passing pails of water from hand to hand in an effort to put out the blaze. Today, well-equipped volunteer firefighters struggle to save these heritage buildings.

The Windsor Hotel in Leask was built in 1912 by Emil and Marie Cuelenaere. Emil, formerly of Belgium, and Marie were married in 1908 at Duck Lake, where Emil owned a hotel. The couple had four children, three of whom were born at Duck Lake. The fourth was born at Leask. 

The Cuelenaere family moved to Leask in 1912 and built the Windsor Hotel. The Windsor Hotel had a Chinese cook. Emil, however, had apprenticed in meat cutting while in Belgium, so did all the butchering himself. He also made sausages and blood pudding, which was considered a delicacy. After Prohibition in 1915, the bar at the Windsor Hotel became an ice cream parlour.

In 1942, Emil and Marie retired and moved to Chilliwack, B.C., and their son George and his wife Mildred took over the Windsor Hotel. Another son, John Cuelenaere, born in the Duck Lake hotel and raised in the hotel at Leask, practiced law in Prince Albert for 30 years. He was the mayor of Prince Albert for 11 years and was elected to the Saskatchewan legislature as a Liberal member for Shellbrook in 1964. He served as the minister of Natural Resources in the Thatcher government. The youngest son, Marcel Cuelenaere, served as a wing commander during the Second World War. Because of his war tours, Marcel was twice awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Marcel became a lawyer, joining the Diefenbaker and Cuelenaere law firm, and later the law practice of John Macklem in Prince Albert. 

According to the RCMP, the fire that destroyed the nearly 100-year-old community landmark in Leask in 2011 was caused by a “significant explosion” of suspicious origin. At the time of the fire, the mayor of Leask said they were preparing for a centennial party for the hotel in 2012.

@Joan Champ, 2011

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