Downtown Saskatoon, Sept. 24, 2021 — It only seems fitting to honour William (Bill) + Eftyhia (Effie) Geatros on a plaque at the location they previously owned, and where their businesses operated for many decades.  They grew and honoured their roots in Downtown Saskatoon as legendary mentors to Greek-community entrepreneurs.

 

Bill and Effiea Geatros (1946)
Source: Family Photograph

Origins

Bill + Effie Geatros were born in the village of Agios Nikolaos (now known as Kastri) in the Peloponnese of Greece. Bill was born in 1890 and emigrated to the United States in 1912. Eftyhia (née Pontikes) was born in 1906 and emigrated to the United States, via Cuba, in 1929. When they emigrated to Canada, Bill (in 1913) and Effie (in 1930, after marrying Bill) settled in Weyburn where they operated a successful family-owned café (Commercial Café) and commercial/apartment building (Geatros Block). Bill + Effie moved to Saskatoon in 1931, and for half a century, they owned and operated businesses in the Ritz Block at 118 – 21st Street East (the former Clinkskill Block and the present location of the Lululemon Athletica store) in Saskatoon. Over many decades of operation, the businesses operating in the Ritz Block nurtured the business interests and skills of many members of Saskatoon’s Greek community. Many former employees later established their own restaurant dynasties in Saskatoon’s downtown and nearby business areas.

 

Ritz Hotel and Cafe, Bijou Theatre on the Right (ca 1930)
Source: Saskatoon’s Greek Community: The Pioneers (1901-1949)

The Apollo Room, Ritz Hotel (1974)
Source: Creative Professional Photographers Collection, Saskatoon Public Library, Local History Room9)

The Ritz Block

Bill Geatros initially operated the Ritz Café in the Ritz Block in a partnership arrangement. However, within three years of his arrival to this city, Bill had become not only the sole operator of the café, but he also owned the entire Ritz Block, had a partial share in another Downtown Saskatoon restaurant (Gem Café), and maintained ownership interests in property in Weyburn. In addition to the Ritz Café, the Ritz Block included separate businesses that operated a hotel on the second floor, a 300-seat movie theatre on the main floor, and a basement pool hall.

With the end of prohibition, the Ritz Café was closed in 1935 and the space was renovated to create among Saskatoon’s first provincially licensed hotel beer parlours. The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix described the Ritz beer parlour as “one of the most artistically decorated in Saskatoon”. The food service was provided by a seven-stool luncheonette which also sold magazines and tobacco products. A fire in 1948 destroyed the Ritz Theatre after almost forty years of operation. In 1950, the theatre-space and the basement were repurposed. The Ritz Café was re-established in the renovated space previously occupied by the main floor movie theatre. Two banquet rooms were constructed in the basement. Barber shops, a dance studio, and music school were also accommodated in the basement at various times. When Bill died in 1949, after being ill for more than a year, Effie took over as owner-manager of the Ritz Hotel Ltd. By 1970, the beer parlour had been licensed as a beverage room. To compete within the city’s downtown “bar scene”, it was renamed as the Apollo Room and redecorated with an outer space theme, featuring large mural photographs of the Apollo 15 landing on the moon that occurred in 1969.

In 1973, Effie was recognized with a life membership in the Hotels Association of Saskatchewan. She continued to work at the Ritz until her death in 1984. The building, as well as property owned around the corner on First Avenue, were subsequently sold in 1985 to the Royal Bank of Canada and the Ritz Block was demolished in 1987. The Apollo Room continued to be remembered with several comedy shows and “reunions” between 1985 and 1994. They featured memorabilia and “personalities” from the beverage room.

 

1941 Saskatoon Gun Club Trapshooting Team: Winners of the Dominion Trapshooting Team Championship)
Left to Right: Jim Girgulis, Eddie Nagle, Bill Geatros, Paul Schwager, Jack Evans
Source: Family Photo Collection

Source: Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, March 21, 1941, p. 19.

Source: Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, May 8, 1946, p. 3

Saskatoon’s Official Pigeon Exterminator

Bill served as president of the Saskatoon Gun Club. He was an avid hunter and spent much of the fall months hunting for ducks with his dog, Pat.

Bill was also a provincial and national trap-shooting champion. Following his death, the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix recognized Bill “for his great trap-shooting prowess that made him one of the top shots in the continent in the late 20s and early 30s”.1

In 1941, he along with Jim Girgulis, Jack Evans, Paul Schwager, and Don Hyman were team winners at the Dominion (Canadian) Trapshooting Team Championship, with a score of 493/500. This was the team’s second national clay-pigeon shooting championship, having previously won in 1939.2 The team was inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame in 1974. 

Bill’s trapshooting skills did not go unnoticed. In 1946, firing a gun within Saskatoon’s city limits was illegal, except under special permit from the police department. That year, Saskatoon had been overrun by pigeons. Mayor Angus Macpherson asked Saskatoon’s police chief, George Donald, to assign a member of the police force to shoot the pigeons at City Hall. Chief Donald recommended that instead of a police officer, Bill Geatros should be asked to do the job. When Bill agreed (at no cost to the city), he was issued a special permit. He not only killed pigeons at City Hall, but also at the Canadian Pacific Railway freight yards and the Exhibition grandstand. Henceforth, “Shotgun Bill” came to be known as Saskatoon’s official pigeon exterminator.

 

Effie Geatros preparing her garden for planting, May 1951
Source: Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, May 9, 1951, p. 3

Source: Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, August 25, 1942, p. 3.

Effie’s Gardens

Effie was recognized by the Saskatoon Horticultural Society for her gardening skills and creativity. She won several city horticultural awards in each of the four years between 1945 and 1949 for her flowers, vegetable garden, and landscaping around her home at 804 Lorne Avenue (now Idylwyld Crescent). In 1943, the Saskatoon StarPhoenix reported that she was the first gardener to successfully grow grapes in Saskatoon.3 The Canadian National railway-line to the downtown train terminal, approaching from the south, passed her vegetable garden. The large wooden barrel that served as a tool shed was a prominent and memorable landmark.

Effie had a close relationship with staff of the City of Saskatoon’s parks department. In return for wintering several of her plants in the City’s greenhouse, Effie supplied the city with seeds and cuttings which would populate Saskatoon’s public flower beds.

Bill and Effie Geatros in their garden, with their daughters: Helen, Diane, and Mary (c. 1948)
Source: Family Photo Collection

Family

Bill + Effie had three daughters whom they raised in Saskatoon. Their daughters – Helen Lucas, Diane Stratas, and Mary Geatros – currently live in Ontario.

Helen became an internationally recognized feminist artist whose paintings have been acquired by private and public collections. In 1991, she received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from York University.

Diane studied hotel resort administration at the Ryerson Institute of Technology (Toronto) and then returned to Saskatoon to serve as manager of the Ritz Hotel and Café. She was also Saskatchewan’s regional coordinator for the Canadian Restaurant Association and served as secretary-treasurer for the national organization. She moved to Toronto following her marriage. In 1979, she was elected to the House of Commons as the Member of Parliament for Scarborough Centre. During that term, she served as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Secretary of State.

Mary also moved to Toronto where she was an art curator for many years. Later, she co-owned a highly successful home furnishings store, located in Toronto’s historic Yorkville area.

“Christ Blessing the Children”, St. John’s Cathedral, Saskatoon
Donated in Memory of Bill Geatros
Source: St. John’s Cathedral, Saskatoon

Agios Nikolaos Greek Orthodox Church with Geatros-donated Clocktower on the Right, Kastri, Greece
Source: Family Photo Collection

Memorials + Recognition

In addition to their recognition as LEGENDS DOWNTOWN, the couple’s achievements have been recognized elsewhere…
Bill is remembered by two memorials donated by Effie and their three daughters. The memorials are a stain-glass window, “Christ Blessing the Children” at the west end and behind the baptismal font at St. John’s Cathedral in Saskatoon, and a clock tower in Kastri, the village in Greece where Bill + Effie were born.

In 1984, Effie was one of five individuals recognized by Saskatoon’s Greek Community as “living pioneers”. The recognition was part of an exhibit and celebration of the history of this city’s Greek community that was hosted by the Ukrainian Museum of Canada. Besides being among the first generation of Greeks to settle in Saskatoon, Bill + Effie were active members and volunteers within the community. They participated in activities which promoted and preserved Greek culture, assisted subsequent Greek immigrants to settle in the community, and supported fundraising and other benevolent acts to support families and communities in Greece that had been devasted during World War II. For example, Effie served as president of the Daughters of Penelope (Telemachus Chapter), a fraternal Greek women’s organization operating in Saskatoon.

Effie at the Ritz
Source: Family Photo Collection

Bill Geatros (1946)
Source: W. L. West Photography Regina

Conclusion

His daughter, Mary, remembers Bill as a “people person” who often helped people in need. He had many friends, and many referred to him as “the unofficial Mayor of Saskatoon”. He had no interest in running for political office. He died too early in 1949.

Meanwhile, Effie began her life in Saskatoon by focusing on raising her daughters, managing her home, and creating gardens which attracted many admirers. Her husband’s death forced her to redefine her life and take on the management of the family business where she worked until the day before she died. Mary once asked Effie if she would consider retiring and moving to Toronto to be with her daughters and grandchildren. Her reply was: “Why? These are my roots”. With these words, Effie expressed her love for Saskatoon and its people who had given her and her family so much support and love.

For LEGENDS DOWNTOWN program details click here.

sources | This biography was researched + written by Bill + Effie’s nephew, Kenneth P. Pontikes.  Additional research material was provided by their daughter, Mary Geatros, and comments were made on the initial draft by their niece, Diane Pontikes.