Stories in the walls

Toronto Star, Dec 9, 2016: GATINEAU, QUE. The British Hotel had been doing a booming business on the main drag here when real-estate developer and investment adviser Mike Clemann bought it in 2011.

“This is where you got stoned and drunk,” he says. You could rent a room by the hour, people in the bar would show off their shotgun wounds and the police made frequent visits. “It was a complete dive,” says Clemann. “It was something I wasn’t proud of.”

He changed his original plan of cleaning up the 1834 stone building near the Ottawa River and selling it when he realized he “was buying a legacy.” Long before the drug dealers, the British Hotel hosted politicians and dignitaries, including the Prince of Wales, who gave a speech to the crowd from a (since removed) balcony in 1860.

After a four-year renovation that went more than two-and-a-half times over budget to remove decades of walls and expose original wooden beams, rough stone walls and seven fireplaces, the British re-opened in the fall of 2016 with its original splendor.

The stylish rooms are so gorgeously minimalist you’re reluctant to put your bags down for fear of ruining the look. The 10 rooms — from two luxury suites on the top floor through executive, deluxe and traditional rooms on the second floor — are comfortably modern and steeped in history.

Big windows let the light in and small plaques explain the name of the room, from the “Sir Charles Tupper,” who met with U.K. officials in the hotel in 1895 before becoming prime minister, to “Jos Montferrand,” a legendary logger who would do backflips when he drank and left his 19th-century footprints on the pub’s ceiling.


These days in the Gold Room, where Sir John A. Macdonald would sit next to the fire and drink, a Saturday-night wedding party toasts the bride inside metre-thick stone walls.

In The Pub at the front of the building, where Thomas D’Arcy McGee’s assassins crashed a party to establish an alibi after racing across the river on horseback in 1868, families enjoy calamari with Sriracha aioli, wood-fired pizzas and gourmet burgers with rosemary fries.

In the British Public House, an addition built on the back of the building in the 1950s, locals come out for the open mic on Thursdays and to dance to live bands on weekends.

Just across the patio in an old bank building, the British Café enables hotel guests to start their days with lattes, pastries and a peek at the building’s original vault.

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