The Gananoque Inn & Spa, Gananoque Ontario
At the turn of the twentieth century fast rail access made the Thousand Islands accessible to affluent visitors from major cities of Canada and the United States. By far, the largest number of the rich and famous came from New York City. Many of these summer visitors were theater people, super-stars of their time, such as Canadian-born May Irwin, who hit the big time on Broadway in the U.S.
Resort development occurred more rapidly on the U.S. side because title to most of the Canadian islands was held by the federal government, which was not eager to sell for development, in part because of some concern for clouded title deriving from dubious past treaties with the Mississauga Native Americans, who had been removed westward.
The Canadian government auctioned off merely a few islands every year, perhaps testing the waters. Most of the grand summer homes rose on the U.S. side, where most of the grand hotels attracted tourists. Unlike the American village of Alexandria Bay, which at the mid-nineteenth century was primarily a resort for fishermen, Gananoque developed industry and commerce. Water power from the Gananoque River served many factories and still generates electricity. Like Clayton, across the river, Gananoque also became a rural trading town, building a commercial center on King Street. The village, like most of the communities on Canadian shore, acquired summer resort character later than those on the U. S. side, which had the advantage of more
direct rail access to urban centers.
Large steamboats linked Gananoque with other ports on each side of the river, and with many cottage colonies on islands. The vessels were more than mere "tour boats," since they delivered visitors, baggage, and supplies. The big boats also served as excursion steamers however, carrying throngs of sight-seers. Often the steamboats carried orchestras on board and offered food service.
Gananoque was not a major destination for nineteenth-century visitors, however. The waterfront was largely industrial in character, while the stone Provincial Hotel on King Street was far from the water.
The Gananoque Inn became exceptional as a major resort hotel on the Canadian shore, providing first class accommodations to celebrities like the American inventor, Thomas Alvah Edison. The inn was not constructed as a hotel, however. Originally one of several stone industrial buildings on the waterfront, the four-story works of the Gananoque Carriage Company, were vacated when the business moved to Brockville.
The major American investor in the company, George Barrows, recognized the potential of vacated building in a scenic situation on the water and converted it to the Gananoque Inn, which opened in June, 1896, operating under the Barrows corporate control for about a decade. Thereafter the facility was acquired by private parties experienced in the urban hotel business. For fifteen years Archie Walsh promoted not merely his hotel as an attraction, but the village of Gananoque.
The original, larger Gananoque Inn was U-shaped in plan. A mate to the present masonry wing on Stone Street ran parallel to it, closer to the water, with a small court between.The river side was adorned with verandas and towers, in the taste of the time, affording a picturesque profile.
A fire destroyed much of the Gananoque Inn in April, 1907, less than ten years after opening as a hotel. The wing closer to the water was never rebuilt.
After the Walsh tenure ended in the 1920s, the McCarney era began. John Ford McCarney, born in Brockville, purchased the inn in 1927, becoming widely known as its host for thirty-three years. Ford McCarney died in 1933, whereupon his son, John, then twenty-one years old, assumed proprietorship.
"The son of one of the best-known and oldest hotel men in Ontario," dapper "Jack" McCarney ran his house with precision and flair. But 1933 was not a very good year to take over a resort hotel. The depression, followed by war years, restricted business. Jack's wife, Dorothy, assumed management of the hotel after his 1955 death until the family, after twenty-seven years, decided to part with the property.
New owners Roy and Anna Hicks likewise had tenure for twenty-seven years (1960-1987) during which many of the more modern features were added that we see today. After shorter operation by two other owners, in 1995 John Keilty and his wife, Noni, assumed ownership and management of the historic Gananoque Inn, which they have thoroughly restored and decorated to maintain its status as the historic resort hotel of the Canadian shore.
By Paul Malo