history of the wigwam inn indian arm north vancouver british columbia canada

History of the Wigwam Inn: Gangsters, Booze, Gambling and Billionaires

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Fun fact: you can access the Wigwam Inn using logging roads from Squamish, pending weather and your outdoor experience level, however, do note that it is private property and you need permission to visit.

The Wigwam Inn is a historic and stunning hotel situated at the northern end of Indian Arm, boasting a fascinating past. It was built in 1909, with financial support from Alvo von Alvensleben, a German-born entrepreneur who became a real estate king in Vancouver within five years. He financed various ventures, and the Wigwam was one of them, which was rumored to have been aided by Kaiser Wilhelm.

The Wigwam Inn opened in 1910 as a world-class resort, financed by Count Gustav Constantin Alvo Van Alvensleben, and changed ownership several times. It was once raided by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) as a gambling casino, and notable guests included John D. Rockefeller, John Jacob Astor, and Al Capone, who allegedly used it as a hideout. The Royal Vancouver Yacht Club now privately owns the Wigwam Inn, and kayakers and paddleboarders can only view it from afar.

The building has a full industrial kitchen, showers, and many comfortable hotel-style suites. The balconies offer a breathtaking view of the surroundings.

Around ten years ago, the Wigwam Inn came to the attention of a local writer when they researched Alvo von Alvensleben, an early Vancouver businessman and the son of a German count who came to Vancouver in 1904. Alvensleben is one of the most intriguing characters in British Columbia’s history, but there has never been a biography of him. Consequently, the writer dedicated a chapter to him in their book, “At Home with History: The Secrets of Greater Vancouver’s Heritage Homes.”

The idea of a resort in Indian Arm came from Benny Dickens, an advertising manager for the Daily Province, who purchased several hundred acres of land in the early 1900s. However, Dickens ran out of money and looked to Alvensleben for help. The Dominion Building was built with Alvensleben’s financing, and his private residence is now part of the Crofton House girls’ school in Kerrisdale. He owned a hunting lodge on Somerset in North Vancouver, along with homes in Pitt Meadows, Surrey, and Washington State, known as “Alien Acres” and “Spy House.”

Alvensleben turned the Wigwam Inn into a German Luftkurot (fresh-air resort) and sold lots for $200 to $300, offering a private boat service to Vancouver that “guaranteed to get business people to the office by 9:00 a.m.” However, when the First World War began, Alvensleben left for Seattle, and the government seized the Inn in 1914, causing it to struggle financially.

Over the years, the Inn changed hands several times and was mostly forgotten by the public until the early 1960s, when William “Fats” Robertson, 34, and his partner Rocky Myers, 30, took over. In July 1962, the RCMP raided the Inn and found an illegal gambling operation, plates for printing counterfeit money, stolen art, and 300 cases of beer. Robertson and his partner were found guilty of attempting to bribe an RCMP officer and received a six-year sentence in prison.

The Wigwam Inn passed through several owners until the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club purchased it in 1985. Since then, it has been strictly members-only, with no more room for the public. The Deep Cove Heritage Society offered a boat ride up Indian Arm as a summer fundraiser, and the speaker booked a ticket a few years ago to see the Inn. The Inn’s history is fascinating, and the story of Alvo von Alvensleben remains a mystery, making it an exciting topic for research and exploration.

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