The Majestic Touraine

On the afternoon of February 2, 1952 the residents of Chatham watched in fascination and horror as the Touraine Hotel burned to the ground. Fortunately the fire occurred in the daytime and although the hotel was almost full, there were no injuries.

So ended a life-span of forty-four years, during which the Touraine was one of the most popular hotels in the province. It was noted for its excellent meals and its dining room was famous far and wide.

Situated on the corner of Cunard and Duke Streets where McDonald Hardware is now, the Touraine was an imposing four-storey brick building.

Excavations for the foundation were begun by Peter Archer in 1906. The foundation was made of the first cement used in Chatham. Unfortunately, ashes from the old pulp mill were used instead of gravel and the foundation didn't stand up.

John McDonald, a master builder who built the Chatham Grammar School and put the face on Harkins, took over the project and the result was a building of grandeur.

A contest that lasted four weeks was held in which people were invited to submit suggestions for a name for the hotel. Three hundred ballots were received and 225 different names were suggested. The winner was Charles Robinson of Saint John who won the prize which was a ten-dollar gold piece. It was reported that Robert J. Williams of Brookline, Mass. had also sent in the name "Touraine," but his entry arrived later than Mr. Robinson's.

The Grand Opening

The Official Opening was held on May 5, 1908 at 6 p.m. Tickets were one dollar and the upwards of 200 guests in attendance partook of an elaborate dinner served up in proprietor Peter Archer's best style. McEachern's Orchestra was present and played an excellent program of music during the evening. The local press stated that "the guests thoroughly inspected the new hotel and were charmed with its up-to-date and luxurious appointments. The house is finely furnished throughout and all realized that it fulfills a longfelt want in the town, if it is to cater to the best tourist and commercial trade".

Peter Archer, in a newspaper advertisement in October 1908 stated that this new hotel was the finest in New Brunswick with every room having a long distance telephone and hot water radiator and several with private baths.

Thomas Fitzpatrick was also mentioned in the ad, as being a veteran coachman in charge of the hacks running to all the trains and boats.

About himself, Peter Archer states "the proprietor, having had twelve years experience at the River View, has a thorough knowledge of the business and will neglect nothing that is essential for making the house a comfortable and luxurious home for travellers."

The social notes give an account of a gathering at which the guests of the Riverview Hotel presented Mrs. Peter Archer with a handsome parlor cabinet and rocker for her private parlor in the new Hotel Touraine.

Leased For Many Years

After Peter Archer's time, John McDonald leased the hotel to various proprietors, including James Johnston who ran the Touraine after Canada House burned and Fred Hill, who rented it for a period.

Later on John McDonald's son H. B. McDonald, owned the hotel and Peter MacDonald managed it for him while Mrs. MacDonald was the chef. Daughter Helen and sons Lawson and Frank worked there as well.

Herb and Jack

H. B. McDonald had a son Jack, now the genial proprietor of McDonald Hardware, a family business formerly located on Water Street. In 1927 Jack was in his first year at Acadia University. Just before summer vacation he received a message from his father, "Come home, boy, we're in the hotel business!"

Indeed, from that time on the McDonald men played a large role in the success of the Touraine Hotel and H. B. McDonald's daughter Jean (McDonald) Burchill recalls wonderful dinner parties here during her vacations from boarding school.

In 1931, Jack joined his father in business full-time and his involvement at the hotel was not all administrative. On occasion it was necessary to pinch hit and do various jobs. He tells a story about an incident which occurred at the hotel during the time the whole country was still feeling the effects of the Depression and times were hard.

"One day I was filling in for the bellhop and I assisted an American couple with their bags. My father had just bought a new Buick and as the couple came downstairs for dinner they saw me, the bellhop, get into the Buick and drive off. At the same time, John McKenzie's taxi stopped out front and as it happened, he was driving a Cadillac.

"The man was astounded and said to his wife, `What kind of town is this, where bellhops drive Buicks and the taxis are Cadillacs?'"

Down The Laundry Chute

"So many funny things happened, I could write a book," Jack says. "I'll never forget the time a traveller fell down the laundry chute all the way from the top floor. It was at night and apparently, looking for the bathroom, he opened the wrong door. Luckily he wasn't injured.

"I remember he returned about twenty years later and asked to see where he took the ride down the chute."

The burning of the Hotel Touraine was a sad event in the life of Jack McDonald and a great loss for the Town of Chatham.

It was the end of an era.

(Acknowledgements: Charles Whitty. Jack McDonald, Lew Dickson, Mr. and Mrs. Lawson MacDonald, Jean Burchill.)

(Northumberland News, May 13, 1981)

Copyright © Lois F. Martin, 1985. All rights reserved.