Wells, Cariboo


by Jennifer Brown

The fire which destroyed the Jack of Clubs Hotel on February 14th of 1994 was an immeasurable loss to the community of Wells. Visitors and locals alike remember the Jack of Clubs Hotel as an important part of the local landscape and from its location at the top of the hill on Pooley Street it served as one of the best-known Wells landmarks.

The construction of 'the Jack' was begun in 1937 by Frank Keith. Keith himself was unable to finish the hotel due to a lack of funds and the ownership was transferred to two Vancouver hoteliers, Andy and Vera LaDreche, who continued the construction the following year. By May 25th, 1938, the Jack of Clubs was open for business.

In its early years, 'the Jack' played a pivotal role in the Wells social scene, as all saloons inevitably seem to do. But the Jack was more than just a saloon, it had thirty-two rooms and overlooked the thoroughbred racetrack and the nine hole golf course! Adjacent to the Jack was the local pool hall and the Sunset Theatre. In essence, the Jack of Clubs was at the centre, if not the heart, of entertainment in Wells.

The establishment itself was named after the lake, which took its name from the creek of the same name. The creek was discovered by a native of Missouri, William Giles, who came to the area in 1858 and was well known as "Jack of Clubs" due to his habit of trimming his beard in such a shape.

The fire that destroyed the hotel, the causes of which are still unknown, began in the early hours of February 14th, 1994. Bob and Marsha Rea, the receivers of the Hotel at the time, were inside the building when the fire began. The Reas, finding their phones dead and the hallways engulfed in smoke, were forced to jump from the second story balcony to the street below. Marsha Rea suffered a broken leg from the escape. The Wells Volunteer Fire Department arrived at the hotel in only ten minutes and despite valiant efforts were unable to contain the blaze which quickly engulfed the wooden structure.

The loss of the Jack of Clubs has been felt deeply by many; not the least by the Rea's, who spent many hours restoring the restaurant and rooms within the hotel and who had made it their home over several years; by visitors, who had traditionally stayed in the historic hotel during sojourns to this area; and especially by the locals of Wells, to whom the Jack of Clubs was not only a familiar meeting place, where everybody knew your name, but a part of the fabric that made up Wells both physically and historically.

In referring to the importance of the Jack to the community, Marsha Rea called it the "Living Room of Wells" an historic landmark and community gathering place whose uniqueness may never again be recaptured...

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