Standing stalwart against the wind, rain, and snow on Wolfe Island, the 161-year-old hotel proudly flashes a new maritime colour scheme that looks as though it were plucked from St. John’s Jelly Bean Row. The changes are more than skin deep; with an updated name and a new look, The Hotel on Wolfe Island has been receiving upgrades through the pandemic, transforming into a new farm-to-table restaurant and music venue.
The hotel itself was built as the Wolfe Island Hotel in 1860, and has passed through many owners over the years. It was was once known as The Dawson Hotel, and renamed the General Wolfe Hotel in 1955. With the recent redevelopment, the name has changed once more, and is now simply ‘The Hotel on Wolfe Island.’ Since December 2020, the hotel in the village of Marysville — or ‘The Village,’ as Islanders call it — has been undergoing renovations to nearly every facet of its infrastructure. The lounge and main restaurant are being redone, with hookups for both in-person and streaming live music performances. While refreshing the building section by section, owners Chris Brown and Tom Carpenter are opening the completed sections to visitors and hungry restaurant patrons. The waterfront renovation across from the hotel is also underway in tandem with changes to the hotel through The Wolfe Island Commons, a new island not-for-profit headed by Brown and Carpenter, with board members from across the island.
The nonprofit is taking on several local projects, including developing the Wolfe Island Pier for public use and transforming the parking lot into a site for Wolfe Island’s farmer’s market, which runs in the summer and fall. Brown hopes that these changes will benefit Marysville residents, as well as tourists.
“This is about creating a circular economy for arts and food on the island. We’re bringing back what this used to be in earnest, this used to be a four-star restaurant and had lines of boats docked to come visit,” says Brown.
Brown, a musician and producer, is no stranger to start-ups on the island. In 2017, he started the Wolfe Island Garden Party, an island event centring on agriculture, music, and art. He also owns and operates Wolfe Island Records, his own recording studio located in a converted post office around the corner from the hotel that dates back to the 1800s. The co-founder of the Wolfe Island Commons, Tom Carpenter, is an established writer and editor who contributes to a variety of publications, including Canadian Geographic. Together, they purchased the hotel to establish a centre for community arts, music, and local food, with a focus on Indigenous input in the development.
“We see this as a keystone in an arch of other activities,” says Carpenter. “Owning this allows us to encourage the farmers market. Owning this allows us to redevelop the waterfront… It’s at this level of local economic development that will allow the economy of the island to remain meaningfully agricultural, not just about tourism and land speculation.”
The area across the street from the main building is host to an outdoor seating area that has been redeveloped and open since the summer, complete with its own kitchen and stage. The construction and restaurant have required a new staff, who have been hired from across Ontario and as far away as Lake Louise. A new Chef, Andrew Dillon, who has previously worked at restaurants and bars in Toronto and across Ontario, as well as working as an expedition chef with National Geographic, has created a new rotating menu. While the pandemic has created a fair amount of stress, the crew renovating the hotel continue to find ways to have fun, including hiding Nerf dart launcher toys inconspicuously in newly renovated areas, according to Jake Bury who has been working on the construction.
While development continues, Brown hopes to have the lounge area open by the end of December, complete with a unique centrepiece: a Steinway and Son’s Piano that has graced many New York fine art establishments since 1951.