By Donna McMillan
“There is so much life in this building,” say new owners. Phase one of their
revitalization plan is an exterior face-lift and focus on the hotel space, its rooms and main level lobby.
ESTABLISHED in 1840, the historic hotel at the corner of Chapman and Main in Port Dover has seen many changes over the past 180 years. It has proudly boasted such names as Port Dover House, Waddle Hotel, American Hotel, Commercial Hotel, unofficially “The Zoo”, and most recently Angelo’s.
On February 14, Louis Debono accepted an offer from Helene Larochelle and Mike Nimchuk to purchase the iconic building that he had put so much time and energy into maintaining and restoring. The sale closed on April 14.
“It has strong bones,” Mike told the Maple Leaf last week. “We’ve always gravitated to history and quirky personality,” Helene said as she jokingly referred to the hotel purchase as Mike’s 40th birthday present. “It’s got energy we can tap into.”
A few years ago, the couple, who lived and worked in Toronto, was looking for property away from the city. They explored possibilities in the Kawarthas, Muskoka and Prince Edward County.
Unfamiliar with Norfolk County, “Ontario’s Garden”, the couple were thrilled to discover Port Dover; “this amazing place with palm trees on the beach under two hours from Toronto.”
In 2018, Helene and Mike purchased property on St. George Street. They are currently renovating it to offer “The Dover George” – a high end, four room luxury inn to short-term guests year-round.
“We saw a lot of potential in Port Dover,” Helene said. While they have been landlords in Toronto for long-term leases, this is their first foray into hosting shorter stay guests.
They left their professional careers in Toronto behind to escape to Port Dover. “We are working for us now,” Helene said. Helene worked in Art, Design and Marketing while Mike is a Mechanical Engineer. “She has the crazy ideas and he makes it happen,” the couple shared.
The dream with the purchase of Angelo’s is to offer hotel rooms at a better price range than “The Dover George”, Helene said.
The ten small rooms will be stylish, funky and fun. “We saw so much potential here. We jumped in with both feet,” Helene said.
However, there have been some moments of significant panic, she added, with COVID-19 and the hard times the hotel industry is experiencing right now.
“There is so much life in this building. We didn’t want to see it torn down and replaced with something else,” Helene said.
This is the fourth property the couple has purchased that is over 100 years old. This building at 348 Main is a central hub. It deserves more. In looking at the property, a lot of boxes got checked, Helene said.
“While there is a moratorium on, the property is already zoned for hotel, licensed tavern and commercial space and has all the plumbing fixtures it needs. So no change of use or additional water service would be required.”
Helene and Mike have mapped out two phases for the hotel. Phase one will see an exterior face-lift and a focus on the hotel space, its’ rooms and a main level lobby.
From the outside, the building looks like the years have been hard on it, Mike said. But, it has so much promise.
Phase two would focus on the main floor commercial space. “Louis already did a lot of opening up,” Mike said. “He put in structural steel supports throughout the building. Louis tried to do it properly. I have a lot of respect for him.” Louis also provided the couple with lots of plans. This was Louis’ baby for 21 years, they acknowledged.
“It’s oozing with potential,” Helene said. The couple will be looking for partners in the commercial space. “We are open to suggestions,” Helene said.
They would like to see a destination dining opportunity in the hotel. “We are foodies and would love to use the space to offer an opportunity to an adventurous chef willing to create something unique and attention grabbing. We see this as a chance to get Norfolk County more of the widespread attention it deserves ,” Helene said.
Mike shared that their first summer in Port Dover the couple explored many of the little back roads, discovering orchards of apples and cherries and many other local crops. “It reminded me of trips to Europe,” Mike said.
They are confident the market is out there. The partners they find for the commercial space will have to be compatible with their vision.
The demographics in Port Dover are evolving, Helene said, and there are so many opportunities. Mike also added that Norfolk building inspectors and the zoning department have worked well with them.
Port Dover’s Friday 13th saw its’ early beginning in 1981 with a small gathering of Chris Simon’s motorcycle friends at The Commercial Hotel at 348 Main Street. Helene and Mike hope to have their hotel at 348 Main open for Friday 13th in August 2021.
A final name selection has yet to be picked. So, for now, it is 348 Main.
At this location, Helene has been placing ear savers on a board outside for mask wearers to pick up free of charge. So far, 300 have been given out at the hotel location. As well, 200 have been given to Dover Cliffs Long Term Care. Helene has also been making face shields for front line health care workers.
Published in Port Dover Maple Leaf, May 13, 2020