With the Internet still far in the future, the early 20th-century traveller turned to the Hotel Directory of the Parry Sound North Star to check out the local hostelry.
Turn-of-the-century hotels polished their frontier image.
The Montgomery House, in Parry Harbour. Later, the establishment was rebranded as the Queen's Hotel.
Courtesy of the Parry Sound Public Library
I have at my elbow the hotel listings from a 1904 edition of this newspaper. It carries classified advertisements for nine West Parry Sound District hotels. Topping the list, naturally enough, is T. J. Calder’s Victoria House, situated half way up James Street, in the heart of downtown, and “now complete with all modern conveniences.”
Next in order comes the Hotel Kipling (formerly the Canada Atlantic) and the Montgomery House, both located in Parry Harbour. The gulf separating these two and the Victoria House was much wider than the Seguin River dividing Parry Sound and Parry Harbour. While the “Harbour” hotels sold alcoholic beverages, strait-laced Parry Sound was strictly “dry.”
S. Phillips’s newly enlarged and remodelled Kipling, with room for 150 guests, compared itself “favourably with the best hotels in Toronto.” It provided the travelling salesman with well-lighted sample rooms in which to display his wares, and livery service for horses.
The steam-heated, electrically-lit Montgomery House was presided over by Frank Montgomery, member of a legendary family of hoteliers operating at points as widely separated as Peterborough in the civilized south and the “The Wildcat,” on the wilderness edge beyond Maple Island. Montgomery billed his place as “a modern up-to-date $1.00 a day house…for comfort, cuisine and service it is unsurpassed.” And it boasted a bar “stocked with everything the travelling public requires.”
Not mentioned, though, were the many lumberjacks who checked in between jobs on the rivers and in the camps. Logging contractor Walter Scott, of McKellar, who sometimes went there looking for men to hire, recalled the Montgomery House differently:
“Oh, that was an awful rough place,” Walter told me. “They used to have big fights there. Some fellows would start, then two or three more would get into it, then half the place would be fighting.”
John Sword, proprietor of The Maple Lake Hotel, situated beside the tracks of the Ottawa, Arnprior and Parry Sound Railway at Maple Lake (later Swords), waxed lyrical in describing his hotel. It stood, Sword said, “at the terminus of the famous Tally Ho Coach route from Port Cockburn to the railway, and fifteen miles from the pretty town of Parry Sound.” Moreover, the “numerous lakes in close proximity abound with bass and lake trout.” With lumbering winding down, Sword was angling for the tourist and sportsman trade.
So too was Malcom May’s Lake View Hotel in nearby Orrville, advertised as “a desirable summer resort for hunters and tourists.”
In general, the ads imply an attempt to tidy up the rough-and-ready image of the frontier hotel, a legacy of the pine-logging era. None mentions the itinerant lumberjack, long a mainstay of the business. W. E. Fleming, proprietor of the Seguin Falls Hotel, situated on the Nipissing Road about 20 miles east of Parry Sound, and long a gateway to the lumber woods, emphasized that his newly renovated quarters offered “good, clean, comfortable rooms, a tidy dining room and a well furnished table.”
Fifteen miles up the Great North Road from Parry Sound we encounter the McKellar House, “situated in one of the most picturesque villages of this celebrated free grant district of Parry Sound,” and offering some of the best boating and fishing opportunities in the Province. Built by village pioneer Henry Watkins and added onto by William and Robert Thomson, the McKellar House was, in 1904, operating under the proprietorship of one D. Hall. A similar pattern of frequent turnover applied to most rural hotels.
Scottish-born carpenter John Burns, architect of numerous local buildings, opened the Dunchurch Hotel, 12 miles beyond McKellar, in1880. During its 35-year lifespan, five or more other landlords, including James Kelly in 1904, presided over the Dunchurch Hotel.
It, too, dispensed liquor. Twice, in a plebiscite held in 1898 (41 for prohibition against 11 for booze) and a petition raised in 1911 (59–48 for “dry”) the local citizenry expressed their disapproval, but the hotel stayed “wet” until Province-wide prohibition took effect during the Great War. But shortly before that, the Dunchurch Hotel was destroyed by fire.
Rounding out the list is the Hotel Coponaning, located 50 miles north of Parry Sound at the mouth of the French River. My second last column, about a commercial fishing station on the Bustard Islands, also mentioned the nearby, late-19th-century sawmilling town of Copananing. Now, in 1904, proprietor John J. Kelly could boast of his “new and thoroughly equipped hotel beautifully situated overlooking the river and harbour,” furnished, needless to say, with the “best wines, liquors and cigars.”
Just three or four years later, lines of both the CP and CN railways bridged the French River a few miles upstream from Copananing, pinching off its lifeblood. The Ontario Lumber Company sawmill was dismantled and moved up to Pickerel CPR to resume operations under the flag of the Pine Lake Lumber Company. Copananing became a ghost town, and, along with the Coponaning Hotel, soon vanished from the landscape.