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

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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.

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