View all Stories

The Sturgeon Point Hotel

June 20, 2024

Sturgeon Point Hotel advertisement circa 1876 (Sturgeon Point Association)

In the mid to late nineteenth century, south-central Ontario was integrated into railway and steamship networks. Before the advent of steam-powered transportation, people could only travel as fast as muscle power could carry them—often by either canoe or horse and wagon/carriage. With railways and steamships, long-distance travel for leisure started to become possible. Today, most people take for granted that they can drive their car basically anywhere they want, but in the second half of the nineteenth century, the transportation companies decided what options people would have to travel. These businesses often owned accommodations as well—they could decide that passengers would be dropped off right in front of their own hotel.

On the upper lakes of the Trent Waterway, George Crandell developed the original steamship transportation network. Crandell had grown up at Borelia, near Port Perry and as a young man was convicted with his family members for his role in the Markham Gang. Initially the members robbed their neighbours, but the crimes escalated to murder. After serving time in the Kingston Penitentiary, Crandell worked on the steamer Woodman. When the steamship caught fire and his employer moved on, Crandell recognized the opportunity, and became a steamship captain. In the decades the followed he expanded his fleet, so that he could offer an integrated network of steamships serving the upper lakes. At that point, not all of the locks that would connect the Trent-Severn Waterway had been built—plus steamships were too slow for one ship to practically serve such a large area. In 1873, just as the western world was entering a Great Depression, Crandell christened the Vanderbilt, the largest and most comfortable passenger ship in the area, running regular service on Scugog and Sturgeon Lakes. It was named after his hero, American transportation magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, often said to be the world’s wealthiest tycoon of the time.  Crandell would also serve on Lindsay town council for 32 years.

Just as Crandell had seen the opportunity to develop a steamship network, he also recognized the unique potential of Sturgeon Point. Having been surveyed as an agricultural lot, its sandy and stony soils had not been particularly suitable for agriculture, but it was a beautiful location, where the two arms of Sturgeon Lake met. Further down the waterway, Mount Julian had developed in a picturesque location on Stony Lake, demonstrating the potential for steamboat tourism. In 1876, George Crandell began transforming the Point into a summer destination.

In the late nineteenth century, the most prominent building from the waterway in many communities was a hotel. In Fenelon Falls it was the McArthur House; in Bobcaygeon it was the Rockland House; and at Sturgeon Point it was Crandell’s Sturgeon Point Hotel. It was a three-storey building, and soon boasted a dance hall, bowling alley, shuffleboard courts and bath houses. It was located east of what is now Swananoah, conveniently beside the contemporary wharf.

Victorian Hotels were typically grand, even in small communities, and like its contemporaries, it was beautifully finished. In the original advertisements, its aesthetics were so embellished that, comparing the depiction to a photograph, the observer might not realize that they were of the same building. Crandell also built a hotel in Fenelon Falls, which lasted until the Great Fire of April 21, 1884 started in its kitchen.

In the nineteenth century, accommodations were often marketed to gentlemen, as bountiful locations for hunting and fishing. In an early advertisement for the hotel, it was said that Sturgeon Lake “abounds with maskinonge [muskie], bass and many varieties of smaller fish. The banks of the Lake are wooded to the very edge and to pleasure seekers the scenery is indeed a beautiful sight. Countless numbers of the feathered tribe inhabit the woods, amongst them many of the game birds, such as pigeon, partridge, woodcock, grouse &c. And along the marshes at the head of the lake, about two miles from Sturgeon Point Hotel, myriads of wild duck, geese, snipe, plover, etc. are to be found. Deer are also plentiful within a few miles of Sturgeon Point. All in all, no more enticing watering place can be found in the Dominion, and to those in search of health, pleasure or an abundance of sport, Sturgeon Lake offers inducements superior to all others.” In this era, most advertisements for accommodations would have made similar claims, regardless of the quality of local hunting and fishing.

The building itself was also promoted in equally glowing terms, “having large airy rooms, with lofty and extensive corridors. Verandahs are on all storeys on two sides of the exterior, and from their elevation give extensive views of the beauties of the lake. The Park in which the hotel is situated contains about one hundred acres and is naturally one of the most beautiful stretches of forest in the Dominion.” A visitor attracted by these ads might not have realized that Sturgeon Point was situated in an agricultural countryside.

In 1884, Crandell had Fenelon Falls land surveyor James Dickson create cottage lots near the hotel. At this time, Lake Avenue was created, running between many of the cottages and Sturgeon Lake, along with Irene Avenue behind the waterfront cottages. Many of these lots were purchased by prominent Lindsay families. Taking advantage of Crandell’s steamship service (and competitors that followed soon after) they could work in Lindsay, while staying at the cottage in the summer. Charles Gray would continue this route with the steamer Lintonia until 1931.

Initially, the Hotel was operated by Crandell’s son, Freemont (whose wife Irene is the namesake of Irene Avenue), but before long it was leased, then sold in 1883 to E.H. Dunham of Cobourg. Hotel keepers and transportation companies were eager to give potential customers a reason to travel, and in 1878, the Dunhams revived the Sturgeon Point regatta. The Langton family had hosted a regatta in 1838, but “on account of some noisy, rough work in the crowd the party broke up prematurely.” The next year they held a second regatta, which ended with a drowning. The Sturgeon Point Regatta of the 1870s would be a significant tourist draw. Presumably, practically everyone who attended would travel on Crandell’s steamers and many would stay at the hotel. Those from outside the district would also presumably take the railway.

The Grand Trunk Railway helped finance the event, which offered $1200 in prizes for a variety of events. First prize for the single scull was $350. The purses attracted some of the finest rowers in North America, including Ned Hanlan, Frenchy Johnson, Jake Gandaur, Evan Morris, and Charles Courtney. In the canoe race, August and Samson Yellowhead of Rama defeated Dan Whetung and his partner Toboco from Curve Lake and several other competing boats. To accommodate the 2,000 visitors who attended, the Vanderbilt, Victoria and Sampson all brought parties to the point. Three years later, the Oddfellows ran an excursion to the regatta, and attendance reached 3,000. With the crowds came some complaints about rowdy behaviour, including drunkenness and gambling. Becoming an annual attraction, by the end of the century medals and trophies had been donated for many contests. In 1905 the events included dinghy, sailing, canoe sailing, gunwhale, upset, two gasoline launch, and several canoe races; a water polo game of Sturgeon Point vs. the world; a tilting tournament; and a tug of war with four to a canoe.

By the mid 1890s, the hotel was operated by Dunham’s brother-in-law, W.H. Simpson and his wife.  It continued to be a popular destination, until it met the tragic ending that befell so many local landmarks. Shortly after 10 am on Monday, June 15, 1896, Mrs. Simpson and her three-year-old daughter went to a linen closet on the second storey. “As there was no window to the closet, Mrs. Simpson took a lamp, and while she was getting out the linen she required, some person called to her from below. Setting down the lamp and telling the girl to follow her downstairs, but the little girl lingered for a few moments. Whether she upset the lamp or it exploded is not known, but when she got down to her mother, she said the house was on fire, and the news proved to be too true. The hotel was situated within a very short distance from the lake, but there are not, as far as we know, any appliances for fighting fire, and there were very few persons at the Point, as the owners of the various cottages have not yet moved into them. Under the circumstances, practically nothing could be done to save the building, and only a portion of the contents could be got out.” The fire consumed the hotel and its adjacent hall. Simpson had $4,000 insurance, which was likely only a fraction of his loss.

Thomas Sadler’s steamer Greyhound passed by during the tragedy, then carried the news to the wider world. Because it had been so popular, many people wondered if it would be rebuilt, but as time passed, it became clear it would not rise from the ashes. The former hotel and its grounds were sold for private cottage development. An era was coming to an end: George Crandell would operate his fleet until 1901. In the decades that followed, motor launches and automobiles revolutionized transportation, and the era of beautiful white steamships, carrying passengers to elegant Victorian hotels came to an end.

© Copyright 2024 - Maryboro Lodge Museum