Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Photo by Emily McTighe

Photo by Emily McTighe
Java Shop owner Vasant Patel stands behind the counter on Friday as he prepared to close the popular Fort Macleod restaurant.
Former Fort Macleod Mayor Ken Hurlburt visits with economic development officer Gordon MacIvor and assistant Riet Kliessen Friday.

‘The end of an era’

Fort Macleod landmark Java Shop closes its doors


A Fort Macleod landmark is closed.

The Java Shop served its final meals Friday after decades as a popular meeting place and destination.

“I think it’s a tragedy,” long-time Fort Macleod businessman Frank Eden said. “I hope it’s not a sign of more things to come.”

The distinctive building at the corner of Second Avenue and 23rd Street has long been a popular meeting and eating place, and home to the Greyhound depot.

Java Shop owner Vasant Patel closed the business last week because he can’t get building owner Greyhound Bus Lines to make necessary repairs.

“The roof leaks all over,” Patel said. “That’s the main thing. I’ve been fighting for two years to get them to fix it.”

Patel even took a Greyhound employee on the roof to show him the trouble spots.

“Nothing happened,” Patel said. “We’ll look into it, that’s all they say.”

The public health inspector also mandated missing wall tiles need to be replaced and the washrooms upgraded.

“It’s not my building,” said Patel, who refused to put money into a building he doesn’t own. “The way I see it they (Greyhound) doesn’t have the budget.”

On Friday customers returned to the Java Shop for a wake of sorts, to say their goodbyes and enjoy one last meal — on the house.

“It’s kind of sad,” former Fort Macleod mayor and Member of Parliament Ken Hurlburt said. “This was such an important corner in town. It’s going to hurt the town for a while.”

Frank Eden recalled when groups such as the Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club held their meetings in the dining room at the Java Shop.

“It’s the end of an era,” Eden said.

Eden shared a story from the Java Shop’s past, when it was owned by Hugh Craig, who was named to the Order of Canada. Dances were held in River Valley Wilderness Park on the north side of the Oldman River.

“When the dances ended at midnight, Hugh used to wade across the river and get the coffee going before the people from the dances got here,” Eden said.

The Java Shop was an important part of life in Fort Macleod, cultivating its share of regulars like Chris Cheesman, the Town of Fort Macleod’s electric department superintendent.

“I had my morning ritual to come here every morning to pick up my coffee and my two daily newspapers,” Cheesman said.

Cheesman had another ritual associated with the Java Shop. It’s where he would bring his daughter Sara for special father-daughter meals.

“Fort Macleod is kind of a hub, and the Java Shop is part of the hub,” Cheesman said. “The spokes of that hub are now shattered.”

Cheesman also recalled special feelings attached with picking up Christmas packages delivered by bus, and meeting loved ones travelling on Greyhound.

“This is how communities bleed to death,” Cheesman said of the loss of the Fort Macleod icon.

Greyhound bus drivers looked upon the Java Shop as an oasis on the prairie.

“Coming through Fort Macleod, this was my supper break or this was my breakfast break,” said retired driver Al Douglas, who spent 35 years behind the wheel for Greyhound. “You were dying to get here.”

Drivers appreciated the warm welcome and friendly service they received.

“It was great,” said retired driver Lorne Eremenko, who put in 38 years with Greyhound. “You were always treated good here.”

At one time Highway 3 was the only route through Alberta to the west coast, and those buses used to frequent the Java Shop.

“This was so busy you wouldn’t believe it,” Eremenko said.

Eremenko remembers being part of a convoy of six Greyhound buses heading west on Highway 3.

Added Douglas: “I can remember us having nine or 10 buses lined up in the alley. You won’t see that anymore.”

The two retired drivers agreed the Java Shop was a Fort Macleod landmark.

“It didn’t matter where they were from,” Douglas said of his passengers. “People knew the Java Shop.”

Douglas and Eremenko and their wives appreciated the invitation for a free lunch Friday at the Java Shop.

“We’ll get over it,” Douglas said of the restaurant closing. “But the town of Fort Macleod is going to be in the dumps for a while after this building goes.”

Waitress Judy Thomas, who has worked on and off at the Java Shop for 23 years, spent Friday consoling her soon-tobe- former customers, putting on a brave smile and handing out hugs.

“I’m going to miss the people who come in here, even though I always gave them a hard time,” Judy, as she is known to everyone, said with a smile. “I’m going to miss the people big time.”

[Reprinted with permission.]

Photo by Frank McTighe

The interior of the Java Shop was featured in the award-winning movie Brokeback Mountain and other films.

Photo by Frank McTighe

The Java Shop sign, which was designed by internationally acclaimed artist Neil Boyle, who was from Fort Macleod.


  Revised 23 February 2008