Perth Manor: the End of an Era - theHumm July 2021

Perth Manor: the End of an Era - theHumm July 2021

By Kris Riendeau

Gordon and Linda Craig have owned and run the Perth Manor Boutique Hotel for the past ten years, during which time they have made many contributions to the cultural and musical scene in the Ottawa Valley. From their popular (and delicious) New Year’s Eve celebrations to “Music at the Manor” events and workshops, they have been regular contributors to theHumm’s calendar pages. We were sad to hear that they will be stepping away from the Manor later on this year, so we contacted them to find out more about their plans, and about the past and future of the gracious house on Drummond Street West.

theHumm: The Perth Manor was built back in 1878, so it has seen a whole lot of the Town’s history. Can you describe some of the heritage character of the home that makes it such an icon?

Linda Craig: Where do I start? This building is so tightly connected to the town. It was built by a fellow named Henderson, who purchased the land for The Manor and had the house built for 12,000 pounds. When he passed away, his daughter Jessie Mabel stayed on here and married John Stewart — also very wealthy, and quite political — he was mayor of the town for two terms and a member of parliament for Railways and Canals. Stewart Park, Stewart School, Stewart Street — the Stewarts were quite a prominent family in town!

The Stewarts made many upgrades to the building, including adding the back half of the Manor for the servants. They had an upstairs maid, a downstairs maid, a cook (one of whom I met — she just turned 95 last fall), a butler, a nurse for Jessie’s mother, a chauffeur and a nice lady who came once a week to polish the silver. They also had two gardeners who lived in town and came in to look after the property.

When Mr. Stewart passed away, Jessie Mabel designed and dedicated Stewart Park in her husband’s memory. She gave the land for the park to the town with the proviso that there was never to be any commerce in the park, or admission charged to use the park — this is why the Stewart Park Music Festival and other events in the park are free of charge to this day.

What was it about the Perth Manor that first drew your eye and made you think “hey — we should run an inn!”?

It was all by chance really. Gordon had wanted a restaurant for years and I had put my feet firmly in concrete and said “no way!” We stumbled across the Manor when we were visiting friends with a cottage on Pike Lake. The next thing I knew we had an appointment to look at it and were meeting with our real estate agent to put our house in Kingston on the market!

The timing was right for us, as our daughter Tyanna was changing schools, I was at the top of what I was doing career-wise and ready for a change, and Gordon was nearing retirement from Queen’s University School of Music. The property was an opportunity for me to change career paths and for Gordon to stretch his restaurateur wings — with the added bonus that I didn’t have to own a restaurant!

You both come from a musical background and have done a wonderful job of integrating music into the life of the Manor. What were some highlights for you over the past decade?

Yes, Gordon and I both play/played with the Kingston Symphony — Gordon recently retired, and he taught in the Music department at Queen’s for over 40 years, so we have a lot of musical contacts. We started a chamber music series here, we have done jazz nights that have been a lot of fun, but I think the most fun we had was with our musical dinners. We would pick a country or city, Gordon would create a six-course meal inspired by the location, and we would bring in a musical guest to play between courses.

We have featured some really amazing artists. Bruce Kelly (baritone) and Michel Szczesniak (piano) played for our Evening in Paris dinner; harpist Sharlene Wallace has played here a few times and was a huge success at our Tribute to Ireland dinner; we had Canadian Fiddle Hall of Famer Kelly Trottier for our Canada 150th celebration, and my daughter step-danced with her! These events really stand out — they allowed us to combine our two loves: music and food. Add in some wine and we’re all set! And Gordon would often sit in or make cameo appearances with his clarinet. These dinners came to a halt because of Covid, but with a little creative thinking last summer we started workshop weeks for harp, fiddle and cello which we could run according to safety protocols. They were very special during a time when people really needed shared, in-person experiences. They could play music together safely, socialize on the terrace, had historical tours with our beloved town crier (and Queen’s Music grad) Brent McLaren, and Gordon cooked a fancy meal for them — it was very special.

It makes me kind of wistful to think that this gracious building will no longer be accessible to the public, as it is being purchased as a private residence. How are you encouraging people to experience the grand Manor one last time?

I share that wistful feeling. I would like to have as many people as possible through here over the summer because it makes me sad that people will lose the opportunity to really experience a taste of what it was like to live in a slower, grander, more elegant time. So much of The Manor has maintained its original footprint over the years — you really do instantly step back in time. It’s a very special feeling. Not to mention the stunning gardens — two city lots of garden to wander is quite beautiful this time of year. To encourage people to take advantage of this last opportunity, we have two promotions going on. Coincidentally it is our tenth anniversary here, so we are offering a 10% discount to guests returning to have one last visit at the Manor. And for new guests — people just discovering us or those who always wanted to stay but just never got around to it — we are offering a multi-night booking special: stay two or more nights and receive a $20 discount the second night onwards. To take advantage of these offers, bookings have to be made directly with us either by calling 264-0050 x1 or visiting our website , where guests can fill out a secure reservation form when they click the Book a Room button.

What are your own plans for the future?

Well, if you ask Gordon, he is looking to move to Costa Rica. I told him to send a postcard! We do love the Perth area though, so we are looking to stay fairly close. We are hoping to build on a little piece of land in the process of being severed — hopefully that goes smoothly (famous last words, I know). The plan is for Gordon to finally be completely retired from the half-dozen careers he was juggling, and for me to be a bit freer to roam where family needs me. Who knows, maybe I’ll pick up a low-stress, part-time job somewhere!

I have really enjoyed my time here at The Manor, but I also feel ready to move on. What I have discovered as our closing date draws closer and I think about doing things “for the last time” — like when I’m checking guests in and telling them about the history they are walking into — I realize that the stories I’m telling are at risk of being lost. I think my first project will be to compile all of my stories, newspaper clippings, pictures, etc. that I have accumulated into some semblance of order and put them into a self-published book. My goal is to complete this and print enough copies to give one to each of the Manor’s owners to have as a keepsake of all of our time here. Our chapter here is done, but there is still at least one more chapter to come — hopefully future owners will publish Volume 2!


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