Sobriety in ruins – Demolition of The Canberra Hotel

Canberra Hotel, Brisbane, 1941. State Library of Queensland. Negative number: 42869

Canberra Hotel, Brisbane, 1941. State Library of Queensland. Negative number: 42869

Usually when we reflect on Brisbane’s “lost” buildings we immediately think of the Bellevue Hotel or Cloudland. However some may have forgotten about another building which played an important part in Brisbane’s early tourism industry.  The Canberra Hotel, which stood for 58 years, had a remarkable and successful history before the wrecking ball crashed down.

Location of the Canberra Hotel - published in an advertising flyer from c.1937. State Library of Queensland

Location of the Canberra Hotel – published in an advertising flyer from c.1937. State Library of Queensland

The Canberra Hotel was officially opened on 20 July 1929. The hotel was situated on the corner of Ann and Edwards Streets, opposite the Salvation Army’s People’s Palace. It was erected by the Queensland Prohibition League (formerly the Strength of Empire Movement, and later the Temperance League). The founders aim was to demonstrate  “that a first class hotel could be successfully conducted without the curse and nuisance of liquor“. They dedicated the building to “the highest type of residential life … [and as] a guarantee and an assurance that the fight for a sober land was not going to die out“.

At the time of opening the Canberra Hotel was a 7 storey steel, reinforced, concrete building. A few years later two extra floors were added. The 9 floors contained 280 rooms, (which could accommodate 465 people), 13 specialty stores, a lodge hall and office accommodation for the Queensland Temperance League, the Independent Order of Rechabites and the International Order of Good Templars.

Taken from Canberra Hotel advertising flyer c.1937

Taken from Canberra Hotel advertising flyer c.1937

The State Library of Queensland is very fortunate to hold an advertising flyer for the hotel from ca.1937. On this flyer, among the various features and virtues of the hotel, it proudly states that “it offers its guests the safety of a fire-proof building. Because of no fire risk, the Canberra carries no fire insurance“. In today’s society such a boast would probably see a sudden decline in bookings. Also in this flyer, the Canberra promotes itself as the first hotel in Australia to “incorporate re-conditioned air to its dining room service (providing cooled, cleaned, and dehumified air at a fixed temperature)”.

The Canberra Hotel was a popular destination for people travelling from regional Queensland to Brisbane and it was often referred to as the “city hotel for country people“. Naysayers, who believed at the time of opening that a “dry hotel” was doomed to be a commercial failure, were forced to eat their words as the hotel attracted 442,001 guests between 1930 and 1935.

View of the Canberra Hotel in Ann Street, Brisbane. State Library of Queensland. Image number: 10189-0001-0089

View of the Canberra Hotel in Ann Street, Brisbane. State Library of Queensland. Image number: 10189-0001-0089

In 1952 the Bjelkie-Petersen’s, Joh (later Premier of Queensland) and Flo (later Commonwealth Senator), had their wedding reception at the Canberra.  The Canberra was reputed to have the largest selection of non-alcoholic beverages in Australia, specialising in virgin cocktails. The Lamplight Bar was the first non-alcoholic bar in Queensland. In 1979 the Canberra Hotel celebrated its 50th anniversary in style with a “monster” birthday cake, reported the largest ever produced in Brisbane, or so the proprietors claimed.

Illustrated advertisement of the Canberra Hotel from The Queenslander annual, November 1, 1937, p. 3. State Library of Queensland. Image number: 702692-19371101-s003b

Illustrated advertisement of the Canberra Hotel from The Queenslander annual, November 1, 1937, p. 3

In 1985, the Queensland Temperance League sold the hotel. The new owner was granted a liquor licence, and the first beer ever served at the hotel was sold on 3 March 1986. By the time the Hotel closed for demolition in 1987, it had welcomed over 8 million guests. Unlike Cloudland and the Bellevue Hotel, the Deen Brothers’ demolition company was not contracted. On this occassion a competing firm, Bo’s Demolition was used.  When speaking to the press their demolition expert commented “I’ve got no regrets whatsoever. If I didn’t do it, George Deen would“.

At that time it was one of Brisbane’s largest demolition projects . The site of the Canberra Hotel was ear-marked for ‘Central Place’, which the developer intended to be the “world’s tallest skyscraper” – standing at 445m high, with 104 storeys. In 1987 the world’s tallest building was the Sear’s Tower (now named Willis Tower) in Chicago, at 442m in height. The building project was eventually shelved. Today the very modern (and modest in height) Mincom building stands in its place.

Mincom Building now sits on the site formerly occupied by the Canberra Hotel. Photo taken by Myles Sinnamon for State Library of Queensland

Mincom Building now sits on the site formerly occupied by the Canberra Hotel. Photo taken by Myles Sinnamon for State Library of Queensland

The State Library of Queensland holds a number of collection items relating to the history of the Canberra Hotel, including old photographs, advertising flyers and administrative records of the Queensland Temperance League from 1939 to 1955.

Myles Sinnamon – Project Coordinator, State Library of Queensland

Posted in Brisbane, Collections | Tagged , , , , , , , Jo Browse John Oxley Library
Conversation Hub
< PREVIOUS STORY
Queensland Places – Goodna
NEXT STORY >
Do you remember Huntingtower?
13
COMMENTS.ADD YOURS
  1. Peter

    My father always took me to the Canbeera on Saturday mornings for a milkshake after YMCA , which was just down the road. I enjoyed the photos and article – nice work!

  2. Colin Gurnett

    Earlier this evening I was talking to Gael O’Brien who owned the Canberra Hotel before it was demolished. An incredible part of Brisbane history.

  3. c.walker

    In 1953 we stayed at the Canberra on our honeymoon.

    It was famous for the delicious food and each lunch time we went into the dining room and had fresh lobster at a very reasonable price.

  4. margaret

    I have many wonderful memories of of stays at the Canberra with my family.
    I remember, as a small child, not wanting to eat marmalade on my toast and they send out for a small jar of vegemite especially for me. That was service!

  5. Graeme Rouillon

    I commenced work as an apprentice cook at the Canberra as. 14 year old in 1962. I had four and a half happy years there. In 1970 my wife and I had our wedding reception in the jacaranda room. There is still a group of former employees meet for. Reunion each year. Thanks for the article.

    • MAREK (MAVERICK) HOLDEN

      MAVERICK, (MAREK HOLDEN) (28th August 2017) I started at the “CANBERRA HOTEL” on 15th MAY 1961 as a apprentice cook and left on 19th JUNE 1965 after the four year apprenticeship. Reunion is normally held on the second Sunday in September. Reunion this year (2017) is in Queens Park Ipswich around the entrance to the zoo .

  6. Lorna

    For my 21st birthday in 1969 my mother took me on a trip to eastern Australia. One of the first hotels we stayed in was the Canberra. I was so impressed by its height and the breakfast of kornies, steak egg, chips, tomato and toast and marmalade all included in the price.(My letter home didn’t record the cost.) I did not that we got little sleep because of the railway station. I have just seen a photo from the 50s that shows the proximity of both buildings

  7. Jan Burnett

    I grew up in Townsville, Qld & I remember in 1974, my mother & I went to Brisbane during the August school holidays, where I did a June Dally-Watkins course at their premises in the Brisbane CBD. My mother & I stayed at the nearby Canberra Hotel, where we really enjoyed the full English breakfasts which were served at the table. We also enjoyed some nice dinners in the small intimate restaurant, which I remember only served non-alcoholic wines & drinks. The hotel had an attached coffee shop. The rooms were basic by 1974 standards, but very clean & comfortable. I knew it was run by the Temperance League. The hotel seemed a little “old-fashioned” in 1974, but I always felt “‘safe” there, & have fond memories of staying there.

  8. Judy, daughter of Doris Rixon (nee Blanchard)

    When US army officers stayed at the Canberra Hotel during World War II, my mother was one of the telephonists at the hotel. The telephonists operated a plug and cord switchboard. In 1946 Dad in came in to fix a phone as he was working with the Postmaster General’s Department (the PMG). They were married in 1947. Our family, five children, stayed there several times during the 1950s when we visited Brisbane. I remember the brass railings and smell of furniture polish, the old lift, people reading newspapers in the lobby area and the dining room with potted palms, white tablecloths and real serviettes. Mum met with several of the telephonists for lunch regularly in the city until the late 1990s.

  9. Elizabeth Handley

    We held works christmas party in their function rooms at the top of the hotel in about 1986. It was very enjoyable and the rooms were lovely. They also had a roof top bar in the year or so before it was demolished that was very pleasant.

POST A NEW COMMENT

View our comments policy.Your email address will not be published.