The Wigwam Inn at Indian Arm

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Alvo von Alvensleben
The Wigwam Inn ca.1913. Photo courtesy Vancouver Archives LGN 1028

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.

Alvo von Alvensleben
Alvo von Alvensleben, ca.1913. CVA PORT P1082

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.”

Wigwam Inn 1937 CVA LEG 1319-017
Wigwam Inn 1937 CVA LEG 1319-017

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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© All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Eve Lazarus.

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21 comments

  1. Really interesting article, Eve! We have an original 1910 Wigwam Inn guest book on display at Old Hastings Mill Store Museum. One of the signatures is that of John Jacob Astor. I’d love to get up there sometime!

  2. In the 1960s I was an alter server at Guardian Angels Parish. Broughton at Davie. Every year the church took the alter boys on a picnic trip and one year we went for a cruise up Indian Arm to Wigwam Inn. My memory of the trip is a day of exploring the woods and wandering around the grounds of the Inn. I seem to recall an outdoor in ground swimming pool that seemed out of place at the time.

    1. My mom used to go up with her Grandmother (who read tea leaves for people on the trip) in the late 40s and early 50s – she talks about swimming in the pool on some of those trips.

      It was only filled in 15 years ago or so……

  3. there used to be some sort of a paddle wheeler/boat that would go up that way, past the inn, to a rocky island, i recall. Went on it with my dad. would have been the mid 70s. It would stop at the island, (very small rocky ) and you could go explore for about an hour, til you headed back to Vancouver. I remember my dad, telling me about the Wigwam Inn, and how people such as the Rat Pack, Howard Hughes and such would hang out there.. Love the history of Vancouver..

    1. I still have trouble getting my head around the regular service to Indian Arm over 100 years ago. If we’d never invented cars it would have been much easier to get around Vancouver

  4. My Dad was in the RCMP and was on one of those boats. He said, they left in complete darkness and turned the motors off so no one at the inn would see or hear them coming. He said there were some prominent people there that night but did not name anyone. Apparently there was also prostitution going on there as well. It was one of his most interesting memories of his time with the RCMP.

        1. I have no idea! Lost touch after mom died. If he is still alive he would be well in his eighties. He was always one of those guys who was on the edge with every scheme he was involved.

      1. My dad knew Rocky as they both went to Kits. My dad also met Alvo when he was a young Vancouver CA and knew the RCMP officer Jack who had to be hidden away at the barracks on Little Mountain as he waited to testify. He was the one who was bribed. His family was hidden on Vancouver Island. We actually picked them up at the ferry at departure when they were coming home.

  5. In the mid 70’s I was around 12 years old and went up there a few times on are family boat. Went close enough to see the place but was told back then you had to be a member of the RVYC to even tie up to the dock. Over the years always wondered what had come of that historic place. Glad it is still alive, but a shame the public can’t see inside, like an open house once a year.
    Would bring my boat down to the salt to go up if there ever was an open day tour.

  6. Our graduating class from Hamilton Senior Secondary in N.Van went by boat in 1969 for the day to Granite Falls which was very close to Wigwam Inn. It was a beautiful place and a buddy of mine (Ed Mulcahy) and I went back that summer and camped close to the top of the falls. Me and several friends went back up to the area in a 18 foot speed boat and went over to Wigwam Inn. The place was a total mess from squatters and vandals. I remember seeing huge fire places at the Inn but the vandals had lit fires on floors, smashed our every window in the place, graffiti all over and garbage and empty liquor bottles smashed all over. It must have been a very time consuming and expensive renovation on that old place.

    1. I remember the dereliction too. The old bed stands that had been tossed into the water under the dock. It amazes me the energy people will put into vandalism.

  7. Went up there in early 70’s
    with friend and his parents in their “Wahoo” speedboat. Totally abandoned. Our feet when through the stairs on the inside. There was a pool full of rainwater and tadpoles. Really amazing that it could be renovated considering how destroyed it was!

  8. We spent an night at Wigwam in the 80’s as guests of the Goodman’s (members of the RVYC). The architect of the Wigwam was Sholto Smith. He had designed several buildings in VAncouver, I don’t think any survive. With the advent of the WW1, he went to New Zealand and became one of the preeminent architects there. He was prolific with both commercial and residential commissions, borrowing heavily on Samuel McClure with his coaxial unique design flow. RIchard’s family home in Remuera in -Auckland was designed by him.

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