Description of Historic Place
The Old Grand Narrows Hotel B&B is a three storey, five bay facade, Second Empire style building. It was built in 1887, as a hotel and is located beside MacDonald's Pond on Derby Point Road overlooking the Barra Strait of the Bras d' Or Lakes in Grand Narrows, Nova Scotia. Both the building and the surrounding property are included in the designation.
The historic value of the building, as recognized in its municipal designation, lies in its role in the construction of the Intercolonial Railway Line, the development of tourism in Cape Breton, and its continued use as a hotel. The hotel's developers were Grand Narrows merchants, Edward A. MacNeil and Hector Francis McDougall. Hector Francis McDougall was also the local Member of Parliament while Sir John A. MacDonald was Prime Minister and he lobbied for the extension of the Intercolonial Railway through the centre of Cape Breton and the communities of Grand Narrows and Iona. The Parliamentary legislation for the railway extension was proclaimed in 1886, and soon after McDougall and MacNeil began the construction of the hotel to serve the needs of train travelers to Cape Breton that would stop in Grand Narrows because of the new railway line and train station. The hotel was finished in 1887, four years before the railway was completed. One of the hotels early guests was Sir John A. MacDonald. Legend has it, that MacDonald committed to building a railway bridge across the Barra Strait when he declared from the front verandah of the hotel "That is where the bridge shall go." The seven span steel Grand Narrows railway bridge was completed in 1890, and the first train crossed the bridge on January 1, 1890, with another notable hotel guest, Governor General Lord Stanley (of the Stanley Cup fame) driving the engine of the train across the new bridge. The hotel served as an important stop-over for the many people who traveled by train through Cape Breton in that era. Well known guests at the hotel included Alexander Graham Bell, Casey Baldwin, Gilbert Grosvenor, Hellen Keller, Sir Charles Tupper and American Presidents, William Howard Taft, Grover Cleveland, and Theodore Roosevelt. The buliding still serves as a hotel and retains its original interior wood trim, doors, staircase and floors. As well, the building still retains its original mechanical systems. The hot water central heating system and hot and cold running water were state of the art in Cape Breton in 1887, as the building boasted being "the only hotel east of Halifax with central heating and hot baths." Water for the hotel was supplied from a spring fed reservoir on the hill behind the hotel and pumped into a tank in the cellar. From there, cold water was pumped up into a tank in the attic and hot water was heated in a boiler and pumped up to a tank in the attic. From there both cold and hot water could be fed by gravity to the rooms upon demand.
The architectural value of the building, as recognised in its municipal designation is in its Second Empire style characteristics. Its symmetrical design, central doorway with transom and sidelights with surrounding trim, two-over-two windows with surrounding trim, clapboard siding, two storied verandah, eave brackets, and mansard roof with dormers all reflect the Second Empire style, here executed in wood. The building is a good example of the Second Empire style and it was uncommon to find a building in this high Victorian style in rural Cape Breton when it was built.
The building still serves seasonally as the Old Grand Narrows Hotel & B&B.
Source: CBRM Heritage Property Files H3 CBRM 320 Esplanade, Sydney
Character-defining elements of the Old Grand Narrows Hotel B&B include:
- location in front of the Boisdale Hills, beside MacDonald's Pond on a prominent location on Derby Point Road overlooking the Barra Strait and Grand Narrows Bridge;
- large scale of the building;
- three and one half stories;
- rubble stone foundation;
- five bay facade;
- all elements of the Second Empire style including, mansard roof with dormers, eave brackets, central doorway with transom and sidelights with surrounding trim, and two-over-two double hung windows with surrounding trim;
- clapboard siding;
- two storey verandah.
Character-defining elements original to the interior of the Old Grand Narrows Hotel include:
- basic structure and layout of center hall plan;
- plaster walls;
- central varnished Spruce staircase with Ashe spindles and Walnut banister rising three stories;
- varnished spruce doors and trim;
- hardwood and softwood floors;
- all remaining original interior mechanical systems including, radiators and mantles, and cold and hot water heating systems, and plumbing fixtures.