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Fire at the Inn on the Cliff, February 19, 1970

October 17, 2022

After the fire at the Inn on the Cliff (Alpine Inn)

This Landmark previously operated as the Anchorage House, Alpine Inn, Hotel Kawartha and Clifton House

An Excerpt from the Fenelon Falls Gazette, February 26, 1970

Six fire engines and their crews were needed to quell the blaze which destroyed the Inn on the Cliff on Thursday evening of last week, a feat which was accomplished in spite of the cold and hazardous conditions. The Inn is virtually a total loss with the exception of some recoverable articles which were embedded in ice in the zero temperature. Water, smoke and fire have so damaged the major portion of the structure that it was a question of how much, if any, could be restored.

The fire appeared to have originated in the basement of the more than a century old wooden structure and spread to the third floor rapidly. The alarm was given at a few minutes past five and it was almost immediately recognized that the two local fire engines and their crews could not cope with the blaze. A call went out to Lindsay, Bobcaygeon and Little Britain brigades, who responded quickly and joined the battle to save the historic inn.

At 6:30 flames were licking their way skyward through the dormers and the roof of the top floor and a pall of smoke, white and black, spread its acrid odour throughout the area. The reflection of the fire was visible in the sky for some distance and it appeared that the hotel and perhaps some surrounding buildings were doomed, although none was actually threatened. A few residents of the immediate area prepared to leave their homes if it became necessary.

At 9:30 some of the roof of the north-east section collapsed and five firemen standing on a lower portion of the north roof narrowly escaped injury when they managed to jump clear before the roof collapsed. Minor injuries were sustained by two of them, a cut forehead of one and a cut lip by another, William Nimmock, of Lindsay.

The Inn is presently owned by Mr. and Mrs. S.E. Pavelek who have invested a great deal of money and countless hours of labour in restoring and refurbishing it in preparation for a year round tourist business. Mr. Pavelek also worked on making maps and much of his very fine equipment used in this occupation was buried in the ice and debris of the fire’s aftermath. Some of it is believed to be recoverable.

The destruction of the Inn is the passing of a landmark in Fenelon Falls, and if restoration is made the architectural design may undergo a change. There is a story that the original building on the site was a rambling rough cast barn-like structure, but the chronology of the history goes no further back than 1854 when it was built as the Clifton House. Even there, rumour disagrees with probability in that it was thought to have been given that name because of the posh Clifton House overlooking Niagara Falls. However, a man by the name of Clifton lived in the village at the time, a fact which is born out by the street of the same name.

In 1870 the property was taken over by the R.C. Smith Lumber Company, whose lumber mill was on the opposite side of the river. At that time the company built seven double houses of plank on plank construction fronting on Clifton and Francis Streets to house their married employees. The single men were borders in the hotel. By the turn of the century the property was without tenants and children played in the halls and the echoing rooms at will.

The years around 1905-06 saw a complete renovation of the main building when it is likely that the verandah were added at the front toward the water. It had now become the Hotel Kawartha and had a fine reputation as a posh place for summer visitors and their friends to enjoy a holiday. They came by train largely and Mr. Charles Edwards, who owned a livery stable and drove one of the village’s first cars as a taxi, can recall the names of many of the finer Toronto and United States patrons who made the Kawartha their holiday house and used his taxi as local transportation. Families came with trunks of clothing to stay the whole summer. Wives and children awaited the arrival of husband and father on the week-end train from the city. It was THE place to stay in the area at a time when fishing was at its hey-day and few people completed their vacation without a catch. On one occasion the late Sir Robert Borden, prime minister of Canada was a guest there. He had come to the village to meet with council on a matter the tenor of which our informant was unable to recall.

The Buffalo Fishing Club were also guests at the hotel and during their stay it was more or less exclusive.

From the Past:

The Following are excerpts from two separate booklets which were printed to advertise the attractions of Fenelon Falls as a tourist attraction when that industry was in its budding stage:

1910-11: The Hotel Kawartha makes a specialty of summer trade and accommodates forty guests. It has everything up to date and commands a fine view of the falls. Rates $2.00 per day. F.N. Rutherford, proprietor.

1918-19: The Hotel Kawartha has been taken over by Mr. J.T. Smith, formerly of the Hotel Hudson, Vancouver, B.C., with Mr. W.E. Glover as manager. Mr. Glover has been formerly in the railway dining service and has had considerable experience in hotel work. The hotel and cottages in connection with the hotel can accommodate about one hundred guests. They have everything up-to-date and command a beautiful view of the falls. Boats and guides can be procured through the hotel management. Rates $2.50 per day and up.

“There are no mosquitoes, black flies or sand flies at Fenelon Falls, owing to its high, dry location.”

1911:  The waterfall supplies power for illuminating purposes to the town and also for the town of Lindsay, 16 miles distant.

The town owns and operates its own electric plant and the illumination of the streets and places of business is not surpassed in any town in Canada.

The Kawartha offered a convenience not normally found in country hotels of the era. It had running water. A pump at the river’s edge forced water into a huge reservoir in the top storey of the building from which the water was piped into the hotel rooms and kitchen. The interior of the hotel was finished in lovely, natural black ash rubbed to a smooth glowing patina and was the pride of the Sandford Carriage Works whose plant stood between the bridges on the west side. They also supplied the doors, sash, spindles and bannister for the staircase and also the railing for the ornate verandahs on two storeys.

On fine moonlight nights the lake boats would run excursions from Lindsay, Sturgeon Point, Bobcaygeon or any other designated point where they could pick up passengers. Boats like the Stoney Lake, Lintonia, Esturion disgorged their happy crowd at the lower wharf to climb the steep steps to the top of the cliff and dance away the hours under the romantic light of the moon.

A group of New York City and New York State business men acquired the hotel in the 1920’s and made it into a private fishing lodge. They arrived via the lakes and river in a steam boat. Simpsons of Toronto were given the task of redecorating the hotel from top to bottom and a staff was kept to cater to the needs of members who were ardent fishermen. The crash of 1929 marked the end of their tenancy.

Now the depression was upon everyone and the luxuries had to be foregone. Once again the hotel fell into disuse until 1938 when Mr. C.O. Phillips became proprietor and retained the property until 1940. During his term some of the houses were torn apart and transported to a different location. At this time it became the Alpine Inn. Baird Bros. were owners in 1944-45 and Dickson and Keys kept a very successful business there from 1946 to 1949.

In 1950 the property was purchased by Mrs. Romola Taylor who, in turn, sold it to Mr. Pelletier in 1962, who changed the name to Anchorage House. The Paveleks purchased it last year, changed the name to Inn on the Cliff and began making extensive and painstaking renovations and refurbishing in preparations for a busy summer season. Since the proprietorship of the Taylors it has been a recreational area complete with swimming pool, outdoor and indoor games and dining room. Good anchorage is provided for boats and once again the transportation to the hotel is much via the river. A cycle has been completed. In the beginning all transportation was by water, now, by choice, the pleasure craft line up at the lower wharf and have made the old hotel their landfall for a while. May be hope that it can be restored to fulfill its purpose again.

Kathie and Sandie Pavelek wish to express their deep gratitude to the fire-fighting brigades, the neighbours, the ladies who served sandwiches and coffee, the many, many volunteers who worked so bravely at the fire which destroyed the Inn on the Cliff. Our appreciation cannot be measured in words. The Paveleks.

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