Joel Chudleigh has seen a lot during his 52 years with the Strathcona Hotel.
Chudleigh started as a shoeshine boy when he was 18 years old and is now the sales and catering manager.
“Being a shoeshine boy was fun and educational,” Chudleigh said. “You grow up pretty fast. There were a lot of interesting characters. It started my love of working with people.”
ATMs now sit in the back of Big Bad John’s in the spot where Chudleigh used to work at the shoeshine stand. He has since worn many other hats, including managing the nightclubs and the hotel front desk, and he was also a PBX phone operator and a night auditor.
“Everybody has their own special skills,” Chudleigh said. “I’ve had great owners and great managers that allow you to grow.”
Chudleigh also used to book bands and a highlight for him was when Nirvana played at the Forge (which is now called Wicket Hall) on March 9, 1991.
“We got lucky,” Chudleigh said. “The experience was amazing. There were about 80 to 100 people that saw them. I didn’t know the band. They were a garage band. The sound quality was terrible. The production was terrible. It was fun that it happened. They took off within three or four months after that.”
Nirvana’s massive hit Smells Like Teen Spirit and breakthrough album “Nevermind” were released in September of that year.
Chudleigh said it was amazing seeing one of his favourite bands, The Tragically Hip, play at his workplace.
“I loved seeing them perform. We never made money doing the Tragically Hip. We always got them just before their albums came out. We paid them too much, and there were not enough people. Then they got too big and didn’t play here anymore.”
Several other musicians played at the venue before becoming famous including Meat Loaf, Finger Eleven, Bachman-Turner Overdrive and Eddie Money.
“Some great artists have walked through this building,” Chudleigh said. “We sometimes are getting people on the way up. You never know. Sometimes you get the right band at the right time. I also passed on some bands I should have booked. I even passed on the Bay City Rollers. I misjudged that.”
The businesses have also gone through many changes over the years.
“Technology has taken over,” Chudleigh added. “It’s been fun to watch. All reservations used to be done by mail. Our kitchen equipment is so much more efficient now. We used to use a gas burner and an oven. We never used to be open on Sundays. We were originally not allowed to serve draft beer. You could only do that at a beer parlour.”
Chudleigh says the fantastic people he has worked with and met have kept him around for more than five decades.
“I’ve made a tremendous number of friends being in this business for a long time. That’s the reason I’m still here. It’s a big family.”