COLUMN: Sarnia had eye on a grand hotel – until the stock market crashed

This architectural sketch of a nine-storey downtown hotel that was never built appeared in the Sarnia Citizen in June, 1929. Courtesy of the Lambton County Archives, Wyoming. Document Collection, 6O.

Phil Egan

While researching Sarnia’s old inns and hotels recently I came across plans for a great hotel that never got off the ground.

It was 1929 – a year that dashed plans all across North America when the stock market collapsed in October. Over four days the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost $30 billion, the equivalent of $396 billion today. It was the precursor to the Great Depression.

But until October the mood across the continent and in business was buoyant, and Sarnia was no exception.

I stumbled across the story at Lambton County Archives. An old hotel file revealed a copy of The Sarnia Citizen, published “from time to time in the interests of Sarnia” by the Sarnia Development Company, Limited.

The Citizen grandly announced a nine-storey hotel to be built in downtown Sarnia. The 112-room property, following “months of negotiations,” was to be managed by the owners of the Hotel London for a period of 15 years. Long gone, the old Hotel London on Dundas Street was London’s biggest hotel in the 1920s.

The new hotel would cost $545,000 to build and tower over every other structure in Sarnia, becoming the most dramatic feature on the city’s skyline. Travellers on the hotel’s highest floors would command a stunning view of the river, and a large electric sign on the roof would pronounce the hotel to traffic on the river and in Port Huron.

The main floor reception area featured a coffee shop and offices for the Chamber of Commerce. The second floor had a banquet hall, washrooms and private meeting rooms, as well as a lounge. Each of the seven accommodation floors would have 16 bedrooms, renting for as low as $2.50 a day to $5 a day.

The optimistic occupancy rates were estimated at 95% during the peak summer season and 70% the balance of the year. The developers estimated annual revenue at $77,000 from room rentals, $3,000 from the sale of cigars, newspapers and sundry items, and $8,000 in coffee shop profits.

“We’ve talked a lot. Let’s Act Now!” concluded the special issue of The Citizen, which was designed to excite residents and attract investors.

A mere four months later the market collapsed, wreaking havoc on plans affecting business and industry for decades. Sarnia’s nine-storey hotel was among the casualties.