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Dalby House, 143 Metcalfe Street, ELORA, Ontario (519) 846-9811
The Dalby House story is a real learning experience,
offering insights into the social, economic, and political histories of the village of Elora.
Block' stands at the centre of our heritage as the historic flat-iron structure stands
Robert Dalby became a hotel owner in 1862 with the purchase of Elora's Royal Hotel (now the older section of the town's Legion Hall). Within eighteen months, Dalby undertook a stagecoach line that ran from Guelph to the doorstep of the Royal Hotel. It was common in that age for hoteliers to manage stage lines that terminated at their inns: additional revenues were generated in securing contracts for parcel handling for the municipality. The thirsty, well-heeled traveller, those who could afford to pay a trip fare of 50 cents (a half-day's wages for the average worker) would be eager for good food and drink following their journey. In 1863, Dalby decided to construct a new hotel in Elora, one befitting the refined tastes of his clientele and serving as the terminus for his stagecoach lines, which by this time extended to Harriston and Glen Allan, as well as Guelph.
Soon after Dalby had decided to build, Andrew Gordon, Elora's fractious and well-known harness-maker, expressed his intention to construct a new building. The two men, who were vocally opposite in politics, background and outlook, collaborated on a common facade for the building, situated on the periphery of the Elora's commercial core at the intersection of Metcalfe and Geddes Streets. Both men believed that this site would eventually be at the heart of the village. W. H. L. LaPenotiere, a surveyor and civil engineer, and Elora's postmaster, was commissioned to design their buildings. LaPenotiere created a three-storey, flat iron structure that took full advantage of the pie-shaped lot. The style was tasteful and plain. A principle decorative feature was LaPenotiere's use of contrasting red and white brick. Dalby and Gordon relied heavily on local tradesmen for the work and construction was completed in the fall of 1865.
Andrew Gordon splurged by having a stone cutter carve "Gordon's Block" into a stone placed on the wall at the peak of the new building - to Dalby's considerable annoyance. Newcomers to the village would come to associate Gordon's name with the entire structure.
Gordon's portion of the building contained his leather shop on the ground floor. Upstairs was a law office for his son, and on the third floor a photography studio for another of Andrew Gordon's sons. The roof at the peak originally contained skylights for the studio.
Dalby's portion of the building contained an office dining room, bar and kitchen on the first floor. On the two upstairs levels were fourteen well appointed bedrooms and three sitting rooms. Hotel bedrooms at that time were quite small; socializing was done in the bar and in the sitting rooms. The roof over the hotel was flat in the middle portion, allowing a promenade deck which afforded an excellent view of the village and surrounding countryside. A wooden sidewalk and porch were added along the front of both portions of the building in 1867. The hotel featured a balcony over the main entry.
Though the Dalby House was the most expensive of Elora's hotels, business was so good that Dalby made an addition on the south end of the building, adding retail space (rented out to a hardware store) and additional second floor bedrooms and third floor meeting hall.
The railway was extended to Elora in 1870, putting a sudden end to the stage business. Elora was no longer a stopover point for people travelling north. The loss of this business was offset by an increase in commercial travellers and salesman coming to Elora. Dalby attempted to retain the reputation of the Dalby House by meeting all trains with a brand new omnibus drawn by a matched team of four grey horses.
Recognizing the economic changes that were taking place in the region, Robert Dalby abandoned his stagecoach business. Robert's younger brother, Frank, who had been handling the day-to-day operations of the hotel since 1867 expressed his desire to leave his position and move to British Columbia. In 1873 Dalby leased out the hotel for a period of five years to James Allan, who had been managing a hotel in Harriston. Dalby turned his attention to building a strong industrial base in Elora.
James Allan proved to be an immediate disaster as a hotel keeper. The Dalby House soon lost its reputation and Allan abandoned both the business and his wife after a year. To salvage the business, Dalby looked down the street to Frank Vickers, manager of the Royal Hotel. He hired Vickers to restore the lustre to the Dalby's tarnished regard. The Vickers family had been in the hotel business in Elora for over twenty years. The Vickers' reputation was based on the culinary skills of Frank's wife, Maria and their daughter, Mary Jane. The Dalby House revived on the strength of the dining room. In 1878, upon the illness of Maria, the Vickers family was forced to relinquish the Dalby to Frank Dalby, newly returned from his B.C. adventure. He remained in charge until his death in 1897.
Few travellers and declining barroom receipts in the face of the temperance movement meant lean times for the Dalby House in the 1880s and 1890s. Andrew Gordon declared bankruptcy in 1880 and he died a couple of years later. His quarters were transformed into a barbershop which remained for over forty years. The hardware store on the south end of the building closed in the 1890s.
After the death of Frank Dalby, the hotel changed hands frequently. Proprietors included F. Gale, Harry Topham, Michael Korman, Aaron Roos, Charles Sachs and Henry Hastings. The hotel was valued at $5,500 in the days when Roos, as owner, changed the name to the Iroquois Hotel. Sachs took over in 1904, undertaking major renovations. Sachs completely rearranged the ground floor, moving the dining room into the former store's premises. Sachs replaced the large windows and store front with doors and windows that matched the rest of the building. The upper floors over the barber shop were converted into additional living quarters. Proper bathrooms were added, with running water supplied by a gas powered pump. Bucking the trend toward electricity, Sachs installed gas lighting.
Sachs sold the hotel to Henry Hastings in 1912. Hastings was killed in 1919 at the wheel of his brand new 12-cylinder National automobile. Later owners were Murray, Bradley, Robert Sachs, and Bolen.
The barroom in the refurbished Iroquois was open for only five years, as the Temperance Act came into force in 1916 as a war measure. Despite the war, the Iroquois remained open and remained the only hotel to survive wartime prohibition.
In 1932, W. J. Bradley agreed to provide a public women's rest room in return for a $100 tax reduction. The reappearance of alcohol in July 1934, when the L.L.B.O. licensed the Iroquois. The infamous barroom regulations made beverage consumption as glum and unattractive as possible. The bar closed at 10 p.m. (and earlier on Saturdays in the hope of driving drinkers to bed early and ensure that they were well rested for the sermon.)
Wilson Veale took over the establishment in 1954 and retained ownership for 32 years, longer than any previous owner. For the first eight years, he was in partnership with his father-in-law, Walter McBain. As Ontario's liquor laws eased, entertainment was introduced to the barroom. The Veales made a number of internal renovations to the premises.
Mindful of the heritage of the historic hotel, Shane and Hugh Curry, the current owners, have changed the name back to Dalby House and have made efforts to restore some of the architectural detailing of the original structure. The Dalby House, now entering into its 133rd year of continuous operation, is the oldest hotel in the County and one of the oldest hotels in the Province of Ontario.