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Bentley’s landmark, historic Monkey Top Saloon burns in fire

It’s a ‘huge loss,’ says Bentley’s mayor
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Bentley’s landmark Monkey Top Saloon was burned in a fire that started early Tuesday. The owners say they want to rebuild. (Contributed Photo)

Another devastating fire has consumed parts of a historic building in Bentley, dealing a big blow to the community of 1,043 people.

Flames broke out in the Monkey Top Saloon sometime after around 4 a.m. on Tuesday morning. The wooden structure, whose origins go back more than a century, was a popular local landmark and destination for farmer’s market-goers, motorcyclists and other day-trippers.

“Thousands of people have visited it over the years,” said Bentley Mayor Greg Rathjen, who considers this a “huge loss” for the town’s tourism.

The community lost its historic grain elevator to a previous fire, about a year ago.

Rathjen noted the Monkey Top’s owners had recently made improvements to the building, including expanding the facility’s kitchen.

Firefighters from Bentley with assistance from Eckville and Lacombe crews, battled the blaze for several hours to get the fire under control.

Bentley’s fire chief was still at the smoldering site at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, said the town’s chief administrative officer Marc Fortais, who also considers this a major misfortune for the community.

The saloon’s roof is completely burned, along with a sidewall along 50th Street, but town residents are heartened that no one was hurt in the blaze.

The Monkey Top’s owners posted on Facebook that they intend to rebuild, stating: “With heavy hearts we share the devastating news of The Monkey Top Saloon, which caught on fire last night. We will be closed until further notice… Thank you for your continuous and ongoing support during this difficult time.”

Blaine Calkins, MP for Red Deer-Lacombe, was among those commiserating: “One of my favourite places! I’m sad about the fire, happy about the desire to rebuild!” he wrote on Facebook.

Others lamented about losing one of their favourite locations. “I’ve never felt so devastated for a business. This town is strong, The bar is historic and we will rebuild,” posted one woman.

“My heart breaks for the owners, staff and patrons of this historic building with so many memories and stories,” stated another poster.

Fortais expressed thanks to the firefighters, including many from neighbouring communities, who rushed to the scene to prevent the fire from spreading. Fortais brought coffee and doughnuts for at least 22 of them earlier Monday morning.

The cause of the blaze is still unknown. Fortais is pleased the owners want to rebuild, but he knows much will depend on the fire investigation and insurance adjusters.

The site of the Monkey Top Saloon originally contained the town’s post office in about 1903. That building was then was sold and became the Putland & Thorp commercial complex, which burned down in 1919.

The present wooden building was then built on the site, becoming the Bentley Co-operative and later the Bentley Mercantile store. It was still a store and bakery in the mid-1980s but was later sold and re-opened as the Monkey Top Saloon.

Mayor Rathjen said Bentley has suffered some hard knocks, but residents are looking forward to the re-opening of the local grocery store, which was purchased by the former owner of Sylvan Lake’s Sobey’s store.

Fortais is heartened that the community’s downtown business core has remained strong right through the pandemic. “There are still no vacancies,” he added.

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Bentley’s landmark Monkey Top Saloon was burned in a fire that started early Tuesday. The owners say they want to rebuild. (Contributed Photo)
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Bentley’s landmark Monkey Top Saloon was burned in a fire that started early Tuesday. The owners say they want to re-build. (Photo courtesy of Lacombe Regional Tourism).
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Bentley’s landmark Monkey Top Saloon was burned in a fire that started early Tuesday. The owners say they want to rebuild. (Leah Bousfield Photo)