Small pub in tiny B.C. community gets ready to celebrate big anniversary

·3 min read

As a young girl watching her parents run a busy pub, Patti Martin never imagined she would one day run the establishment — let alone see it through its 100th anniversary.

But the bar owner, now 63, is doing exactly that.

She's plotting a big anniversary party for her Rolla Pub — named after the farming community it's served for a century, about 20 km northeast of Dawson Creek, near the Alberta border.

"We'd like to have an outside concert and have a couple days of celebration," Martin told Sarah Penton, host of CBC's Radio West.

Of course, the party will have to wait until the public health restrictions on large gatherings are lifted. Martin is hoping to reunite with thousands of customers who have walked through the pub's doors and have been attracted to its rich history.

The Rolla Pub began its life as the Columbia Hotel in 1920. The Peace River Regional District recognized the building as a heritage site in 2006.

The tavern changed hands many times before Martin's parents moved from Vancouver to take it over 57 years ago, following a site visit.

After watching her parents run the pub for most of her young life, Martin got married in Rolla at the age of 19 and moved with her husband to the Lower Mainland. But five years later, pregnant with her second child, she moved back to Rolla to stay with her parents while her husband — whose health was poor — underwent heart surgeries in Ontario.

Sadly, her husband died a few years after that and, having nowhere else to go, Martin was invited by her mother to become a business partner.

Martin soon took over the pub and has been running it for the past 30 years.

"I've really worked hard to put some character into the building," she said.

She has filled the room with items from local antique stores, purchased with her own tips. The collected items fill nearly every inch of wall space inside the pub.

"I try to collect different types of things for different types of people," Martin said. "Most people feel really comfortable here and share their stories."

Submitted by Patti Martin
Submitted by Patti Martin

She also uses her tip money to hire bands — some from as far as Scotland and Australia — to perform at the pub.

"I like paying it forward to music because I really believe in music."

Martin has had to put the live concerts on hold because of COVID-19 health restrictions.

The small room can accommodate 42 people at full capacity, but she's currently operating at about half of that.

According to the B.C. public health order, bars are allowed to have live music only if performers maintain at least three metres of distance from the audience, which isn't possible at Rolla Pub.

Submitted by Patti Martin
Submitted by Patti Martin

The pandemic also forced Martin to close the pub for nearly three months until early June.

This reality was initially hard for Martin, who is the only worker at the pub, but she later welcomed the rest.

"I never had a break for 30 years," she said. "But it was nice having a break."

The pub is about 16 km from the Alaska Highway and has been a popular attraction for international travellers looking for unusual destinations.

Martin is looking forward to her international customers coming back after travel restrictions are eased.

"My community is kind of worldwide," she said.

"I don't care where you're from or what you look like. You're part of my clan."

Tap the link below to listen to Patti Martin's interview on Radio West: