Remembering New Glasgow’s first motel, owner

John Brannen
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NEW GLASGOW – A good place to rest your head and get a good meal.

The Alma Motel and Cabins along the Westville Road in its heyday in the 1950s. SUBMITTED

That was Vince Mahar’s winning strategy when he decided to open one of the town’s first motels. But the story of how it all came about is quite coincidental.

In the early 1940s Mahar built and operated a small business on the Westville Road, the current location of the Dragon Bowl restaurant. He called his small diner the Sandwich Bar.

“He did the cooking and maintenance from electrical to carpentry to plumbing – he was very talented in these fields,” said Philip MacKenzie of the Pictou County Roots Society. “Mahar built the business from the ground up and soon had a steady Pictou County clientele coming to patronize his restaurant business.”

One of his staff members when starting the business was his sister Eileen Mahar. She was charged with the waitress side of the business for a couple of years at age 15. Her take-home pay was $12 weekly, six days a week – about 25 cents an hour after deductions.

“Truckers, tourists and of course loyal everyday people were the mainstay of Mahar’s business,” said Philip.

Though Mahar owned a house just a stone’s throw from the restaurant, he found it more profitable to rent it, as he spent so much time at The Sandwich Bar. In fact, he took up residence in the back room of the restaurant.

“After getting married, his wife Lydia joined him in running the business, choosing also to take up residence in at the diner,” said MacKenzie. “This business was later changed to Lyd-Vin, a combination of their names.”

In the later 1940s, Jimmy MacLean had 14 cabins formerly situated in Alma, moved to where the present Tim Hortons is located, Next to the Dragon Bowl on the Westville Road.

“Knowing Vince was a go-getter and had a head for business, he asked him would he consider taking over as manager and soon Mahar was running both the diner and the cabins, later becoming the owner,” said MacKenzie.

Mahar and his wife had made a few vacations to the U.S. and it wasn’t long before he saw the potential to take his business further.

He’d corner the market on accommodations by building a motel.

“When he spoke to close friends about this new venture, they tried to talk him out of going in this direction. But in spite of it all he built a large building and changed the name to Alma Motel and Cabins.

The establishment catered to many conventions weddings and anniversaries. But the years of hard work were catching up with Mahar and he was seeking a buyer to take over. While at a real estate office he found just the man to train in the business of dealing with the public, use of credit cards and other new ways of doing business.

It was Ralph Friske who later managed and owned the Heather Hotel.

Jessie Busby a good friend of Eileen Mahar worked for Vince also, then went on to work at the Heather Motel two years short of retirement age.

“The years Vince put in getting started in business finally took its toll and at the young age of 64 years, he passed away,” said MacKenzie. “But not before giving Friske a start in the business world. From his late teens to until late in life, Mahar left this mark on Pictou County. Truly a man with vision.”

 

*Special thanks to Philip MacKenzie of the Pictou County Roots Society for the research for this article

Organizations: Pictou County Roots Society, Tim Hortons

Geographic location: Westville Road, Pictou County, New Glasgow U.S.

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  • Kaye Taylor
    March 30, 2014 - 12:20

    My aunt, Kathleen Johnson, was friends with and worked for the Mahars and later worked for Mr. Fiske at the Alma Motel & Cabins.

  • Linda MacKay
    March 27, 2014 - 20:18

    This was my Uncle Vince. Still miss him.