Cochrane’s other Hotel

Cochrane once had a second Hotel on Main Street where the Royal Bank currently is. Its story and its founder is described on page 249 of “Big Hill Country”

Images courtesy of “Big Hill Country” and CHAPS archives. Click on any image for a larger version.

A.J. MURPHY AND THE ALBERTA HOTEL — by Helen Murphy Brown 

It has been said of A. J. Murphy that he was a great contributor to the development and prosperity of Alberta, and that his accomplishments did much to make the resources of Alberta known and its opportunities and future appreciated not only in Eastern Canada but in the United States. 

Joe Murphy, as he was known to his friends, was born and educated in Mount Forest, Ontario.


In 1882 when he was twenty years old his father, who was a Dominion land surveyor, took him West with a survey party. From Brandon, Manitoba, they travelled by Red River carts to Prince Albert, surveying ten townships before returning to Winnipeg in the fall of 1883. There the young man went into the plumbing business, and it was not until the spring of 1888 that he continued west to Calgary where he started a boot and shoe business. In 1891-92, or possibly earlier, he carried the mail between Calgary and Macleod. About this time the railway between those towns was completed so he bought some teams of horses and went to work on the construction of the Crow’s Nest Pass Railroad. Later he took his outfit to Lake Dauphin on the C.P.R. 

Although he had many interests his greatest love was for good horses and the most famous of the many he owned was the Thoroughbred, Cyclone. In 1896 he showed him at the Toronto Exhibition and as this was the only entry from the Northwest Territories the horse was transported free of charge from Winnipeg to Toronto. That year Cyclone was shown at the racetracks in Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton, Detroit and at the Chicago World’s Fair. On the track, he won many races and his name was known on both sides of the border to all who were interested in good horses. 

J. Murphy was an excellent judge of a horse and was asked to judge at many shows. This he enjoyed doing. He would drop everything to talk “horse” with an interested or knowledgeable person. About 1900 he located a horse ranch about two miles from Cochrane, adjacent to the present St. Francis Retreat, and made it one of the most important stock farms in Alberta. He raised Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds and draft horses that won many ribbons for him at the Calgary Exhibition and other shows. Ike Pepper worked for him at the ranch, enabling him to attend to his many other interests. He was one of the founding members of the Cochrane Racing Association and was a starter at the Cochrane Race Track for many years.

 In 1898 he and his brother, Jim, built the Alberta Hotel on the main street in Cochrane. This was a large frame building, three stories high, with a verandah across the front and a balcony above the verandah. The hotel became the social centre for Cochrane and a large surrounding district and was the scene of certain wild and woolly escapades. In that same year, they built the Murphy Livery Stable, and closer to the hill Joe Murphy had a lumber yard. He turned the management of the livery stable over to someone else but managed the lumber yard himself. 


Mr. and Mrs. Joe Murphy

In 1904 he married Miss Helen O’Reilly of Norwood, Ontario. In 1905 he gave up the management of the hotel, rented it to others and moved into a house about a block away. In 1910 he built a fine home at the mouth of the coulee. The stable had a high stone foundation, the yard was nicely landscaped and the lot surrounded ed by a stone wall. In 1920 this house was sold to the Gillies family. 

Mr. and Mrs. Murphy had one daughter, Helen, and after Jim Murphy’s death, they raised his son, Jim. The other children of Jim Murphy often spent the summers with their aunt and uncle. Helen Murphy married Ed Brown who predeceased her. They had a son and a daughter who have distinguished themselves in their respective careers, Ken as an engineer, and Sylvia in the Department of External Affairs. She is Secretary to the Canadian High Commissioner, has been stationed in Paris, Tokyo, Singapore, Nairobi and Guyana and she is fluently bi-lingual. 


Joe Murphy’s many achievements were invaluable to his community and his province. Yet all who knew him loved him most for his wonderful personality and disposition and for his kindness to all in need. No one was ever turned away from his door. He was a loyal friend, an entertaining host and a gentleman. An old friend remembers that his remarks were often prefaced with the words, “Do you see -.” “Do you see,” he would say, “It would last as long as a white shirt in a free fight!” 

On June 25th, 1920, Joe Murphy was injured in a car accident. He was taken to the Holy Cross Hospital in Calgary. Mrs. Murphy who was a Registered Nurse stayed with him and helped to nurse him, but he died on July 17, 1920. 

The funeral was the largest that had ever been held in Cochrane. Requiem High Mass was celebrated by the Rev. Father Hermes in St. Mary’s of Cochrane. F. L. Gainer sang and there were many beautiful flowers and wreaths. A multitude of friends joined with his family in mourning his loss and fifty cars were in the funeral cortege that climbed the Big Hill to the Catholic cemetery. 

Mrs. Murphy and Helen went to live in Calgary but kept the hotel. It was rented and on one occasion was sold but Mrs. Murphy had to take it back. The last renter was J. W. Dickenson. In 1927 it was destroyed by fire. A few furnishings were saved but the big oil painting of Cyclone which hung there was overlooked and lost. 

NOTE: Helen Murphy Brown passed away in May 1975. 

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