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By Elaine Anselmi
POUCE COUPE, BC––When the idea for Peace Energy Lodge first came about, hotels in nearby Dawson Creek could barely keep up with the number of rooms needed for the influx of workers coming to town for oil and gas development.
At the same time, Northern Health put the former Pouce Coupe hospital turned retirement residence up for sale—and local investors saw an opportunity for conversion to a hotel.
“There was a lack of quality lodging in the area,” said Jason Knutson who owns the hotel with a silent partner. “When we purchased it there were virtually zero rooms available.”
Although activity has lessened significantly since then, operations manager Alfred Lau said there remains a need for a more upscale experience for some of the “higher-ups” in the industry, visiting town.
Named for its location in British Columbia’s Peace Region, the lodge is about ten minutes outside of Dawson Creek in the hamlet of Pouce Coupe. Several stories offer reasonings behind the anagrammatic town name. The most common is that the French met a First Nations chief, Pooscapee, when arriving in the town and assigned their own dialect to title it. Pouce Coupe (pronounced “coupee”) literally translates to “cut thumb”.
“The location we have is quite a little bit out of the way,” said Lau. “It’s serene in here and it helps provide that atmosphere.” Tucked behind a residential area, off the main highway the lodge has 25 rooms, including seven suites.
With a full renovation from its most recent use as a retirement home, Lau said the work took just under a year. The Peace Energy Lodge eased into a soft-opening in the fall of 2012.
The renovations included transforming former nurses stations, staff rooms and shared rooms into the suites and standard rooms that offer a queen or king-size bed, respectively, as well as flat-screen TVs and WiFi throughout.
Lau described the décor as simple but elegant, working mostly with earth tones. Photos hung in each room and around the lodge were taken in the surrounding area.
As well as a full exercise room, treadmills are set up facing exterior windows. “We didn’t want to put in TVs—we wanted to use the scenic surroundings,” said Lau. “A lot of the executives these days are very health conscious.”
Operations at the lodge are largely geared towards the growing and locally-prominent oil and gas industry. Knutson has worked in the industry for 19 years, starting his own oilfield communications company in 1994.
“Unlike the rest of the industry, our high season is winter because of the oil and gas focus,” said Lau. “Our low season is summer. That’s the cycle for the oil and gas industry.”
He said the ideal situation is having a whole company rent out the lodge for their staff, something that they’ve done several times over the past year. One company rented the lodge for 3.5 months, taking up every room and using the great room—with a fireplace, television and couches—as a communal living room.
Knutson said the lengthy contract really kick-started the lodge’s industry-focused service. “We showed them the building on Thursday and they moved in Saturday,” he said. “We’ve had a number of small contracts since then—one other took the whole building and others took just partial, eight or ten rooms.”
Room rates are negotiated depending on the length of stay and the number of rooms booked, and can include meals at the lodge’s breakfast, lunch and dinner buffet.
“Our oil and gas guests are often on 12-hour shifts, so we have lunch bag program [at an added cost],” said Lau.
Guests can also choose to eat at the lodge’s onsite restaurant, Doc Hollies Eatery. A hint at the lodge’s former use, the 60-seat restaurant is named after Edward Hollies, a notable community member and doctor at the former hospital. A cairn for Dr. Hollies still sits on the 2.5-acre property.
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The restaurant, headed up by Edmonton-based corporate chef Richard Middleton, also does full catering service both for functions at the lodge and offsite.
Wrapping up his first year in the hospitality industry, Knutson said, “it’s been a giant learning curve but it’s been fun too.”
As for the future, he said they are looking seriously at expansion by adding rooms to the existing hotel and growing their catering operations with Doc Hollies.