One day, someone is going to invite me for a sail up Indian Arm in their luxury yacht so I can get a look at the Wigwam Inn. It seems crazy to me that it’s still fairly inaccessible (unless you own a boat), yet in 1910 there were four different sternwheelers taking guests up and down the Arm from Vancouver—the year the Wigwam Inn opened.
I first “discovered” the Inn about 10 years ago. I was doing some research on Alvo von Alvensleben, an early Vancouver businessman and son of a German count who came to Vancouver in 1904, and not only has a name you couldn’t make up, he’s one of the most fascinating characters in BC’s history. For some reason, he has never rated a biography, so I’ve dedicated a chapter to him in my book At Home with History: the secrets of Greater Vancouver’s heritage homes.
Benny Dickens, an advertising manager for the Daily Province saw potential in creating a resort and bought up a few hundred acres at Indian Arm in the early 1900s. He quickly ran out of money and turned to Alvensleben.
Alvensleben financed the construction of the Dominion Building. His private residence is now part of the Crofton House girl’s school in Kerrisdale, he owned a hunting lodge on Somerset in North Vancouver and houses in Pitt Meadows, Surrey and Washington State that are still known as “Alien Acres” and “Spy House.” It was Alvensleben who made the Inn a reality, turning it into a German Luftkurot (fresh-air resort). At the same time, Alvensleben was also selling lots for $200 to $300, and promising a private boat service to Vancouver that “guaranteed to get business people to the office by 9:00 a.m.”
When the war hit, Alvensleben headed to Seattle. The inn which had attracted guests like American millionaires John D. Rockefeller and John Jacob Astor, fell upon tough times after the government seized it in 1914. Over the years, the Inn changed hands many times, and all but disappeared from public view until the early 1960s when William “Fats” Robertson and his partner Rocky Myers took control.
The police caught wind of it and two boatloads of RCMP officers busted the old resort, arrested 15 people and uncovered an illegal gambling operation and plates for printing counterfeit money. Robertson and his partner were found guilty of trying to bribe an RCMP officer and received six years in prison. More owners followed until the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club bought the Inn in 1985. Now it’s strictly members only, and there’s no more room at the inn.
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