The Village of South River became home to a series of hotels in and around the turn of the 20th century, none of which remain standing today. Keep in mind that prior to the establishment of Highway 11, the only real way to travel through the area was by train – and all those people would need a place to eat, drink, sleep and be merry.
The Best Eating House On The Line
When the train chugged into the station in South River (which still stands today), all of its passengers would pile off and head into the Old Queens Hotel which was built in 1886 and opened in 1887 by a bachelor by the name of James Prunty.
Advertisements from the time describe the hotel as the headquarters for deer hunters, which had ‘warm rooms, courteous treatment and everything first class.’ They were proud of their food, describing themselves as ‘The best eating house on the line’ and a home for travelers to spend Sunday.
What’s in a name?
While operating the Old Queens Hotel, James Prunty eventually purchased another across the road called the King Edward Hotel which was originally built and operated by competitor, J.B. McCall. At the time that McCall, and then a second owner, Jos Mullens ran the place. It included a bar. Prunty purchased the establishment in 1906, closed the bar and turned it into a dry boarding house as he believed South River only needed one bar.
In 1908, Prunty rented some space to C.W. Howard, who set up South River’s first drug store. But, when the Old Queens Hotel burnt down in 1909, the King Edward was renamed the New Queens Hotel at which point they returned it to a full service hotel with a bar, all managed by T.J. Ryan alongside Prunty’s sister, Miss Eliza.
The famed artist Tom Thomson stayed at the New Queen’s Hotel on occasion and sent several letters on the hotel’s stationary over the years.
The New Queens Hotel was renamed one more time when it was purchased by Thomas and Daisy Percival around 1924. The Percival’s turned it into the Norland Hotel (pictured from overhead in the header of this page), which is what most long term residents in the area remember. Area historians describe the Norland as a bit of a rough ‘fisticuff’ kind of establishment, but according to those whose memories still serve them – it was a fun place to be on a Friday or Saturday night. The Norland Hotel was destroyed by fire.
The Prunty Family
While James Prunty was the main proprietor of South River’s hotels, he didn’t run them on his own. Prunty, a bachelor, was joined by his sister Elizabeth (Miss Eliza), a spinster who was a stewardess of sorts keeping tabs on all of the household needs of the hotels. Historical documents also point to another brother, Terry, who is said to have been responsible for operating what was called the Royal Hotel but the location of the Royal is unknown, and there are no known images of it.
The Temperance Hotel
Ontario Height of Land House (aka Temperance Hotel and The Old Boarding House)
Originally named the ‘Ontario Height of Land House’ and located at the corner of Ottawa Avenue and Broadway Street, this was the first hotel in South River. Originally, it was a log structure (1881) and then it was re-built as a frame structure. It was built by the Holditch family as a private home, post office and a small store. It was also home to the town’s first telegraph. When the railroad came through the area it became the Temperance Hotel. After this it became known as the Old Boarding House. The building was demolished in 1954.
Looking east on Ottawa Ave, South River’s main street buildings are still recognizable from the time when Highway 11 ran right through the village (c. 1950). Norland Hotel is the last building on the left.