It was really the place to be. It was a summer hotspot. Campers, cottagers, and tourists alike would come out to the Hawk as it was a place to party and let their hair down on a summer night. In Manitoba, just about every second person you talk to has been to the West Hawk Inn, and about 99.9 per cent of those people will have some epic story or a great memory/memories from that place. The Hawk also contributed tremendously to the local economy as it attracted campers, tourists, and also many Ontario residents to the area.
The Hawk was also a place where locals would congregate year round. Every time you walked in the front door (or vendor door) there was, again, a 99.9 per cent chance that you would see a familiar face; and with certain groups of people, you would often be greeted by a loud, “Haaaaayyyyyyy!” the second you stepped your foot through the door. You could always find a group of locals out given’er on the dance floor or out on the patio – Just follow the loudest group of laughter and you’d usually find the locals. Many people were met there and many memories were made. The friendships made there are countless and, as many have pointed out, there has also been a number of marriages that came out of relationships initiated at the West Hawk Inn.
Over the years, the West Hawk Inn saw several different owners and many staff come through its doors. And for many staff that you will talk to, it was more than just a workplace. Working at the West Hawk Inn, it was very likely that your co-workers and bosses will become your friends. You truly worked as a team and made great memories while doing so – Whether it was working the door and joking with the awesome group of bouncers all night, moving quickly (and sometimes colliding) behind the bar to get people their drinks on a busy Saturday, serving a long-lineup out the vendor door on the Friday of the long weekend, serving wings or steaks to the locals on Thursdays and Fridays, cooking up delicious omelettes, wraps, soups, or burgers in the kitchen (shout out to Matt Blunt and Gerry McClure), or even just working a quick shift during the week, stocking the beer coolers and visiting with the regular VLT’ers.
The West Hawk Inn was one of the first buildings/businesses in the West Hawk townsite. It was originally known as the Trans-Canada Restaurant or Katie’s Tea Room, as it was on the original Trans-Canada Highway, now Highway 44. The building was originally built around 1930, by a university student who went on to pursue another career path as a druggist, according to Olive Zimmerman’s book, History and Folklore of the Whiteshell Park South.
The next owner was Katie Budzinski, who bought the restaurant in approximately 1933 or 1934. At this time it was only a dining room with a small room behind it. Water for cooking had to be hauled up the hill from Crescent Beach Cottages. While Katie owned it, she saved a lot of papers and invoices that she put away in the attic of the building. Those papers weren’t found until Duke and JoAnne Daquay took over the business in 1979. The papers held many stories of cold winters, hard times, and some lonesomeness for her family, who lived far away and she could not afford to go visit.
On Friday, July 25, 1943, this business was taken over by Frank and Adele Riechert and they re-named it the Trans-Canada Restaurant. They made an addition on the building by adding a store, which later housed a laundromat and eventually became part of the dining room. The last major addition was the Birchwood Beverage Room, which was built in 1957.
As pointed out in Zimmerman’s book, a memorable event during the summer of 1950 was the railroad strike; no passenger trains were running and the Trans-Canada Restaurant was the first pit-stop for buses coming from Winnipeg. Kitchen staff would be working hard to prepare sandwiches and coffee for the people on the buses. The kitchen staff also had to work extra hard on Sunday nights, as five to seven buses headed back to Winnipeg as well as the local cottagers would be coming by for the famous Sunday chicken dinners. In recent years, Sunday dinners with the locals were reborn, thanks to the cooking skills of Al Nicholson.
In the summer of 1953, a semi-truck driver was having lunch with his truck parked out front. While he was eating the brakes let go and the truck came crashing in through the front of the store, stopping near the cashier counter. Sure hope the driver left a tip.
On April 1, 1979, the Trans-Canada Restaurant was sold to Duke and JoAnne Daquay, and they changed the name of the business to the West Hawk Inn. They also turned the front store into a laundromat, and later into an expansion of the dining room. The pub at the West Hawk Inn was the last drinking establishment in Manitoba to not have sleeping accommodations, and so the motel unit behind the restaurant was built in the 1980s. The last additions the Daquays made were the dance floor and a the back patio.
The business was later taken over by Bob and Lenore Williment until Char Hebert Trudel and Dennis Trudel took over in 1999, followed by current owners Dale Charbonneau and Jeff Chambers, who’ve owned the West Hawk Inn since 2005. Jeff & Dale added on a large patio to the front of the building and renovated the dance floor area inside. In recent years, the restaurant part was taken over as the West Wok Chinese Restaurant. It was these recent owners (Trudels, Jeff & Dale) that turned the West Hawk Inn into the local summer hotspot that many people know and love today.
Sadly, on Friday, August 29, 2014, the West Hawk Inn was lost in a fire. This was heartbreaking news to many locals, owners, staff, summer residents, weekend warriors, and anyone who shared great memories there. Many people lined the street watching the local hangout spot go up in smoke, but everyone will always have those memories and friendships to keep forever. You can take the West Hawk Inn out of West Hawk, but you can never take the ‘Rock’ out of the Hawk. #RockattheHawk4Ever
From the Hawkstars:
“I had my first Summer job there working for the Dacquays. Made lifelong friends and a ton of memories.” – Janet Meissner, former employee.
“I remember working at the Inn in the kitchen. I remember wing night and how popular it was. It was the same locals every week. Everyone had a blast.“ – Natalie Bonneteau, former employee.
“I’m pretty sad they (the murals) are gone. When you create something from your heart I believe you leave a little of yourself with each piece. Doing those murals was hard for me at times because it made me feel really vulnerable. I put so much of my sacred self into them that in the end the process was really empowering. Those pieces were the catalyst for me to pursue my art and share my spirit. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity, first by Dennis and later by Jeff and Dale.” – Chrissy Sie-Merritt, artist of West Hawk Inn murals.
“Lost a lot more than just a workplace – Truly lost our second home. A place where the locals came to share some laughs, relieve some stress after a long days work and make a complete mess of themselves before they stumbled on back to their cabins – Those bar tabs sure didn’t lie. You guys really knew how to put back the Jag and Irish car bombs! Driving out to the lake every weekend was always something to look forward to. We always knew there were big hugs and smiles from our regulars waiting for us as we’d walk through those big wooden doors! I can’t figure out whether to cry because I won’t be serving Al his MGDs anymore. Or to smile knowing I won’t be having to scrub down the men’s washrooms after another crazy foam party. I’m so sorry for your loss Jeff & Dale, you really brought this community together and created some life long friendships! So a big thank you for the summers filled with drunken hazy memories; you sure left some tattoos on this town. Cheers West Hawk Inn.” – Mia Dion, employee.
“Every post I saw (on social media) about the loss of the Hawk makes my lake heart break a little more. Countless nights singing Mr.Jones at the top of our lungs (even when the music was off), the making of unshakeable friendships and incomparable dance parties…we will never forget you. Thank you for the memories!” – Allison Goodman, former employee.
– Written and compiled by Marney Blunt, Experience the Whiteshell editor. With files from History and Folklore of the Whiteshell Park South, by Olive Zimmerman.
Special thanks to Al Nicholson, Allison Goodman, Fast Eddy and Rebecca Birss for helping supply photos.