History of the Grand Narrows Hotel

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One has only to take in the view of the beautiful Bras d'Or Lake surrounded by mountains in every direction to understand why H.F. MacDougall and Edward A. MacNeil chose this as the location for their business "The Grand Narrows Hotel". Indeed, many others have been inspired to excellence by the breathtaking surroundings. The famous "Baird" Hector MacKenzie wrote of the beauty of Grand Narrows and Iona in many of his songs. Sir John A. MacDonald once stood on the verandah steps and pointing north declared "That is where the new bridge will go." Sir John A. was by no means the only person of great stature who had the opportunity to experience the grandeur of the "Hotel". It's reputation for excellent service and quiet elegance drew people from all over the world to her doorstep. Once inside, these people of great minds, great deeds and great wealth were treated with service found only in the best hotels in the world.

The Hotel was built in 1887 by H.F. MacDougall and E.A. NacNeil who were merchants from the local area. H.F. MacDougall was the local Member of Parliament during the time that John A. MacDonald was Prime Minister and he was instrumental in having the Inter Colonial Rail line, which was stretching from the West Coast to the East Coast of Canada, come through the center of Cape Breton Island and the communities of Grand Narrows and Iona. In order to cross the deep and wide Barra Strait (named after the Isle of Barra in Scotland where most of the settlers of this area were from) a seven span iron bridge would be built and completed in 1890 with the first train crossing on January 1st.

history_hotelThe Hotel served as an important stop-over for the many people who traveled by the newest means of transportation, the "Railcar". The train brought intellectuals and others of wealth and means from all corners of the world to Grand Narrows. One very famous individual, Alexander Graham Bell, had a summer home known as Beinn Breagh (Beautiful Mountain) in Baddeck. Bell was a frequent guest of the hotel staying overnight while waiting to catch the steamboat "The Blue Hill" to Baddeck the following day. Two original Guest Registers dating from the 1880's contain Alexander Graham Bell's signature more often than any. Several others that he was associated with such as Helen Keller, whom he befriended, often traveled with Bell. Local people could recall seeing Ms. Keller and her trusted companion a golden lab, swimming the waters of the Barra Strait.

{mosimage}Cape Bretoners as well as international and national travelers visited the hotel. Further west on the Lake was the village of Marble Mountain. Here a quarry operated for many years. Many a miner as well as mining company executives used the hotel as a stop over on their way to the Sydney area or when they would travel west.

Grand Narrows or "Port of Grand Narrows" as it was known at the time was a thriving community. It had two restaurants, a Post office, Customs office, three stores, two canneries, a black smith, and boat building shops. The addition of the hotel and the coming of the railroad meant more prosperity to an already bustling community.

Grand Narrows Station circa 19??Built with great care by local carpenters the Grand Narrows Hotel was a fifteen bedroom, three story, wooden structure. It was built on a two foot thick stone foundation. Four, four by eight massive stone pillars lend support. The outside walls are of clapboard with the inside walls being plastered. The roof is a combination of the hip roof with mansoeur walls on the third floor, and dormer windows on all sides.

The building boasts of being the first commercial building east of Halifax with central heat. Water was supplied for the heating system as well as for sinks in some of the rooms by means of gravity. There were two tanks, one in the cellar and the other in the attic. Water was taken from the spring fed reservoir on the hill above and pumped into the cellar tank. From there it was pumped up to the attic tank from where it could be fed by gravity to the rooms. Such a system afforded the hotel's guests with luxury not found anywhere else on Cape Breton Island at the time.

On the front of the hotel overlooking the waters of the Bras d'Or Lake were two full-length verandas, one on the main floor and the other on the second. Guests would watch the schooners sail past through the Barra Strait and wait with anticipation the glorious sunset over the hills of Iona. This scene is unchanged and can yet inspire those who will visit over one hundred years later.