The restoration of a former hotel is well under way, bringing with it a reminder of the hotel’s heritage — and stories of its glory days.
Dating back to the 1890s, the three-story establishment at 174 Hurontario St. was originally a frame building known as the Dominion/Dorchester Hotel. Over the years, the building has changed hands and was eventually converted into apartments, but in its glory days, the Dorchester was a respectable inn with a “bumpin” restaurant on the main floor.
“I think its heritage is so cool,” said Chris Millsap, the building’s new owner as of April 1.
Millsap was born and bred in Creemore and became infatuated with the old building many years prior. His wife owns At Home Interiors, an interior design studio next door, and they have had their eye on the heritage building for some time now.
“I knew it was in need of a massive hug,” said Millsap. “So when it went for sale, we jumped on it.”
It was the perfect opportunity for Millsap to combine his passion for heritage with his unique expertise of building restoration.
Millsap has been investing in Collingwood for over 20 years by way of buying houses and fixing them up to rent or resell. Millsap and his wife knew the former hotel, which was now home to 31 apartment units and two commercial tenants, had been neglected for far too long, but they also knew there was a lot of history that they wanted to save.
“I knew it would be a big project, which it is, but it was one I wanted to take on,” said Millsap.
The first step of the restoration process, which began in April, was the careful removal of the stucco-like material to bring back the building’s original brick exterior. In the process of uncovering the building’s façade, Millsap and his team have uncovered several old stories of the hotel in its glory days as well.
“I knew it had heritage and a lot of good stories behind it, and it hasn’t been hard finding the stories,” he laughed. “I could stand out front for an hour and a handful of people would come by and share their own stories from back in the day.”
One woman stopped as she was walking by and admitted that she almost held her wedding at the Dorchester, but it was right as Prohibition was ending and the hotel didn’t yet have its liquor licence.
It is also rumoured that Stompin’ Tom Connors got his start in Collingwood after a year-long residency at the Dorchester. In the 70s, Collingwood apparently had quite the nightlife, with four hotels, including the Dorchester, showcasing live music six nights a week — all of them packed.
The former hotel was also home to the first-ever elevator in Collingwood.
Millsap said once the newly renovated apartment building is complete, they plan to hang photos and other allusions to pay homage to the hotel’s heydays. They are also going to officially rename it The Dorchester.
“It’s fun to bring it back, to see people share in our excitement,” Millsap said. “And obviously people are seeing the change, especially the commercial tenants.”
Ambitiously, Millsap hopes the construction will be complete by the fall, with a goal to have new tenants occupying the units in November.
“I realize I am very aggressive with that, but we’ve only been going since April and we’ve covered a lot of ground,” said Millsap.
He also dreams of converting five or six of the rooms on the main floor into a boutique hotel as a tribute to the Dorchester’s heritage, although permits have not yet been received so nothing is confirmed. The construction crew is currently renovating the apartments inside while they wait for approvals regarding the building’s facade.
If allowed, Millsap wants to replicate the building's two original balconies, which extended from the second and third stories onto Hurontario Street.
While most of the town seems genuinely excited about restoring the former hotel, Millsap has received some backlash regarding the removal of the building’s current tenants. He said the building’s interior was “too far gone” for simple patchwork renovations to suffice.
“Asking the tenants to leave has been the hardest part,” he said. “But I also knew eventually it would need to get done, or it would be torn down altogether. It was either all or nothing, and it was way overdue.”
New flooring and new kitchens have been put in and interior walls were reconstructed to maximize floorspace in the studio and one-bedroom units. Both the plumbing and electrical have been updated throughout the building, as well as the installation of air conditioning. Once the restoration is complete, Millsap is hopeful that it will be a great addition to Collingwood’s downtown.
“I think we are going to create a look people will like,” he said. “My hope when we are done is that it will be rewarding to see the Dorchester be vibrant again.”