CALLANDER – Now known as ‘the ghetto,’ the Main Street building was ravaged by fire on Monday night was once a landmark building in the Municipality of Callander.
Carol Pretty, curator of the Callander Bay Heritage Museum, says the building was built by George Morrison.
Morrison founded the town and was the first reeve in 1886.
“Where the bank is now is where the general store was and he opened up the first post office,” she said.
“It was his farm that got subdivided to become downtown Callander,” said Don Clysdale, local historian and author of Callander Now and Then. “He was a store owner. He opened his first store in 1880, across the street from that one. It burned three weeks after it opened and his infant son died in the house.”
Clysdale says since the first house burned in 1880, the house that was built in its stead, was likely also built in 1880.
“The Royal Bank Building that was right at the corner was George Morrison’s store,” he said. “That was his home but he lived above the store.”
Clysdale says he is assuming that building was built in 1880, but it is hard to pinpoint a date.
“He owned basically from west of Main Street up to MT Davidson and from Lansdowne up to Swale,” he said. “That was his farm lot.”
The house was home to two of the Municipality’s reeves.
According to Pretty, the house was also home to George’s son Ken, who was known as Mr. Personality of Callander.
“He became reeve as well,” she said.
When the provincial government at the time took guardianship for the Dionne Quintuplets, a board of directors was formed. Ken sat on that board of directors.
“Historically it was significant enough,” she said.
George Morrison had another son, William E. Morrison, who died fighting in the First World War.
According to Pretty, there was an addition added to the north side of the main house when it was converted into a boarding house and hotel in the 1940s.
“On the first floor they had a dining room that was open to the public,” she said. “Apparently there were great stories about wrestling and boxing, which were a big deal back in those days.”
Clysdale says over the years the building was the Lakeview Hotel, the Lakeside Hotel and the Central Hotel.
When Bell Canada brought Callander’s first telephone exchange, the switchboard was in the front room of the hotel.
“One of my friends from the church… I used to give her a hard time for when she was a call girl at the Central Hotel,” laughed Clysdale at the memory. “She’s in her late 80s now.”
Despite the historical significance of the building, it had dropped into a state of comparative disrepair.
“It was a disappointment for, I think, all the townspeople,” said Pretty. “I think everyone was saddened by its state. To watch the place degrading so much was horrid.”
Pretty said the morning after the fire people were commenting that although it was unfortunate for the families who lived in the building, it was good riddance to what had become an eyesore.
“It was a shame. When you know what it was,” she said.
Clysdale says there was a time when he would have loved to have seen the Morrison building brought back to its former glory.
“People who knew the building said the interior quality was such that it wasn’t possible to restore it to what it had originally been,” he said.
Pretty says a few years ago she had received letters written by Fanny Shannon to a son in Quebec.
“She had written to her sons that, because the Morrisons always had really nice gardens, she says it’s such a pretty place for the first house that people see when they are coming through town,” she said. “She said they’d get to see this pretty house with all these beautiful flowers.”
That letter was written in the late 1800s.