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Last call at the Zoo

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services

Hay River (July 11/05) - It will soon be last call at the Zoo in Hay River. The historic bar is being sold to a new owner and will be closed.

Current owner Garth Mackie says he is still finalizing the sale with the buyer, whom he cannot name because of a confidentiality agreement.

Owner Garth Mackie stands outside the Zoo, an historic Hay River bar which will close in August.

However, Mackie says the sale will include the bar, everything in it and the attached 43-room Hay River Hotel, which closed in 1994. The bar features a fascinating collecting of photos and artifacts from Hay River's past.

As far as Mackie knows, the building, which sits on leased land, will be closed by the new owner and not used for a couple of years. "What the future of it holds is anybody's guess."

The final weekend of the Zoo will be Aug. 5 and 6, concluding with an invitation-only party.

The bar has been a landmark in Hay River's Old Town for about 50 years.

Mackie is not certain when the bar and hotel were built, but he has a menu from 1956. The cedar log structure was erected by the Calgary Brewing Company and has gone through a number of owners since.

"I think the most historic thing about these buildings has been the people who have come and gone here over the years," says Mackie, who has owned the Zoo for seven years.

One of the legends about the hotel is that former prime minister Jean Chretien, then minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, stayed there in the 1960s and got into an argument and a bit of a scuffle with a local man.

Mackie can relate many other stories about the bar.

"There was a black bear cub let loose in here when the place was full," he says, noting he was told that story by a man who claimed to have done it.

Then there was the time someone rode a horse into the bar. The horse got spooked and kicked over some tables.

Sometime in the 1960s, a couple of men were barred from the Zoo, but returned with a Caterpillar and hooked a cable around a portion of the building.

They threatened to pull down the building unless they were served, which they were.

Mackie also notes the bar and hotel survived the big flood of 1963 without getting wet inside. People told him they would canoe to the bar, tie up outside and go inside for a drink.

"There's a lot of great memories here for a lot of people," he says.

Wanda Robertson, who has tended bar at the Zoo on and off for about 20 years, has her own unique memories of the place.

"People are going to think I'm crazy, but I have seen two ghosts in here - an old man and an old woman," Robertson says, noting they were sitting on a back bench near the pool tables.

"The funny thing is they didn't scare me," she recalls, noting the woman was wearing a kerchief on her head.

That brief glimpse was in 1984, and Robertson has not seen the ghosts since. However, she says a couple of times she has felt a tap on the shoulder, only to turn and find no one there.

She notes a few other people have also said they have seen the ghosts.

Robertson is part of a staff of four at the bar.

"I'm just going to miss all the regulars," she says.

One of those regulars is Wayne Rodgers, who says he has been a customer for 27 years.

"There are many memories in this place here," Rodgers says.

He particularly likes the location on the banks of the Hay River, where people can sit on the patio and watch boats sail by.

Mackie says he will also miss the regulars.

However, he explains he is selling to spend more time with his family, noting running a bar is a tough and time-consuming business. "I really haven't been home for seven years."