PORT HAWKESBURY: As Destination Reeves Street brings one of Port Hawkesbury’s busiest thoroughfares a sleek new look, a second project is taking place on Granville Street intent on celebrating the town’s past.
“I think it’s important to keep the history of all these old buildings,” said Eric Fowler, who’s investing both money and sweat equity to have the Hotel Lorraine restored to the glory it knew back in the 1930s.
“It’s a shame when any of them go by the wayside. Port Hawkesbury, at one point, had 18 buildings that were considered historic properties. Two of them are gone now, and had this one sat empty for another winter, it would have been gone too.”
Fowler welcomed The Reporter on site last week, as a crew of builders from Ross Stone Renovations swung hammers at the three-storey building that overlooks the Strait of Canso. Fowler and the carpenters have been quite busy at the site.
Over the years, the hotel was known by other names and served other purposes. According to the records Fowler has, the building dates back to 1930 and was originally built as a warehouse by Parker MacInnis. With the railroad out back, MacInnis had a great transport route right in his backyard. However, as far as Fowler can tell, the building was never used as a warehouse. It became the McGraw Hotel in 1931. In 1934, MacInnis took the building back and christened it the Hotel Lorraine.
Years later, it was home to a general store and apartment units. Eventually, it sat empty and came to be advertised on real estate markets.
“We had a close look at the property, and it was full of original, beautiful woodwork,” Fowler said. “We put it on our watch list, and we finally decided to make an offer. The offer was accepted, and we were standing there going ‘we just bought the place. What now?’
“And that’s how we ended up here.”
Fowler is planning to use the hotel as a residential home, but given its massive size — 6,000 square feet – he’s also adding apartments on one floor. The remaining space will be for him and his wife, as well as his mother who’ll be living with them.
“One thing we’re trying to do is bring back the history of it,” he said. “We’re not making any changes on the front of the building. We’re installing new windows and doors, but we’re keeping everything in the same place.
“A new balcony is going on the back to replicate a balcony that was there in the 1930s. Cedar shingles are being kept on the outside. The whole building will have the look it did in the 1930s.
“The hotel was a big part of Granville Street, and we want to bring that back.”
Fowler gave The Reporter a tour of the still-under-construction space. Once completed, the rooms will be quite large and the ceilings will be nine feet tall. The main entrance facing Granville Street leads to a foyer complete with a fireplace older than most Port Hawkesbury residents.
All the structural work is done, all the steel beams are in, and the carpenters are at the point where the can start framing in walls. Soon plumbers and electricians will be making the rounds.
“We’re going to get as close as we possibly can to the original,” Fowler said. “The whole idea is that when you walk through the front door, it’ll look and feel like the 1930s. We’re using all the old woodwork, the trim, old doors and even the arch doorways.
“A great deal of material is being re-used. The apartments are getting new material, and we’re using what we can salvage from there to finish off the two other floors.”
Anyone interested in following Fowler’s progress is welcome to visit Facebook where regular updates are made on the project. Check out “Hotel Lorraine Port Hawkesbury” on the social media site to have an inside view of the project.
Indeed, anyone with old photos of the property would be doing Fowler a favour by sending him copies. The easiest way is by Facebook. He’s also happy to chat with folks about old stories featuring the hotel.
“We’ve had all kinds of people send us messages or stop by, telling us their memories of the hotel or the store,” he said, smiling.
Originally from Halifax, Fowler said he and his wife have many friends in Port Hawkesbury and they’re looking forward to making more. The town will be a wonderful place to enjoy their retirement years, he said.
Coming to the Cape Breton community was something he and his wife had their hearts set on, and now with so much work done to Hotel Lorraine, the couple is sure they made the right investment. Of course, Hotel Lorraine seemed to be the ideal property right from the get-go.
It might have been coincidence or it might have a sign from a higher power, but Fowler said the very name of the hotel told them they were eyeballing the perfect spot.
“My wife’s name is Lorraine,” he said.