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Hotels and Inns in Holland Landing in the 19th Century

Previously on this blog, we discussed travelling by road in early Upper Canada. Due to the seven-hour long stagecoach trip and the poor conditions of the roads at the time, people needed places to eat, drink, and rest after their long journeys. Many hotels sprung up around Ontario during this time.

Since it took the better part of a day to travel up to Holland Landing, one never knew where one needed to stop for the night. Many inns and taverns were established, especially along Yonge Street. One could become very successful as a tavern owner, if you were in a convenient location and were able to provide both food, drink, and entertainment to travellers visiting your establishment.

Holland Landing was at the end of the stagecoach line, and provided links to steamships that would take people up to Lake Simcoe. By 1846 there were three hotels that were located in Holland Landing. The earliest inn there was established in 1821 by Peter Robinson, who was the brother of John Beverley Robinson, a prominent member of the governing aristocracy known as the Family Compact. This hotel was called the Phelps Inn, and became known as a place where more genteel members of society could stay. Sir Richard Bonnycastle, who visited in 1841, urged travellers to "[get] over... to Phelps' Inn on Yonge Street as fast as you can" [1].

Figure 1: Location of the McClure Hotel, on Yonge Street. Detail taken from the 1878 York County Atlas, showing the town plot of Holland Landing.

Another hotel was known as the McClure Hotel, owned by an person of Irish descent named James McClure. Another name for this building was the Marksman's Inn, as seen in advertisements in newspapers and gazetteers. This building was originally built in 1840 from red brick and English brick bond. After a fire occurred in 1855, parts were redone in yellow brick in the Georgian Revival style. James McClure, after whom the building is named, was born in Ireland about 1820, and purchased the property from Arthur McMaster in 1868. McClure was an innkeeper; according to the 1861 census of Canada West, he owned 2 cows, 2 pigs, and 1 carriage “for pleasure”. The livestock was valued at $140 and the carriage at $100. This hotel had two floors: the lower floor contained a dining room, sitting room and parlour as well as a front office; the upper floor had two small overnight rooms facing the street and a ballroom that was used for dancing. The building functioned as a hotel and saloon from 1868 until 1901, when it was purchased and converted into a home by Isaac Dollery. The building has been used for residential purposes ever since. You can still see it today, located at 19374 Yonge Street on the right side, just before you cross Thompson Street on the road to Bradford.

Figure 2: Advertisements for the Royal Hotel and the Marksman's Inn, from Mitchell & Company's General Directory for the city of Toronto and gazetteer for the Counties of York and Peel for 1866.

The third hotel which travellers could patronize was the Royal Hotel, which was across the street from the McClure Hotel. It was owned by John Sheppard, who advertised his hotel in 1866 as having "Good Accommodation for Travellers" (which was the same motto as his rival James McClure). Other Sheppard family members owned the hotel up until the 1890's, after which it was sold to the Sharpe family, who subsequently moved up to Sutton, but continued to own and operate it for many years.

Next week, we will highlight a notable lawyer who lived in Holland Landing, and who was murdered in a local tavern.

[1] McBurney, Margaret & Byers, Mary (1987). "Tavern in the Town: Early Inns and Taverns of Ontario". Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Page 115.

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