Up the Gatineau! Selected Articles

Through The Hoopskirt Door

Volume 13, page 5

Patrick M. O. Evans

One of the oldest buildings in Old Chelsea, Quebec, is that which became known as Dean's Hotel. When it was built is not clear but it was certainly on the site in 1875. The original structure was of squared logs, but down through the years there have been changes and additions which have altered the character of the building according to the type of services which have, from time to time, been offered.

Dean's Hotel (or House) was one of four which were operated in Old Chelsea. The others were Dunn's, McSweeney’s and Whittaker's. The four inns may not have been run as hotels all at the same time. In fact Dean's was a private residence more than once. John Grimes owned it in one of these periods. The term “hotel” may be too grand to describe these overnight stopping places for men and teams drawing timber in early days. The amount of accommodation provided depended upon the size of the buildings, and Dean‘s was not large.

The Hoopskirt Door
The Hoopskirt Door. Photo courtesy of John Gordon. (GVHS 21/1)

In addition to the provision of beds and meals there was usually a tavern installed which offered liquid refreshment, except during "dry" areas when no licences were granted.

The first mention of Dean's Hotel in the town records was on Sept. 6, 1875 when the Council accepted the offer by Ed. Dean of a site next to the hotel where the Council was holding its meetings at the time) for the construction of a Town Hall - or more correctly, a Municipal Hall. The hall was built shortly after this date and the Council moved from Dean's Hotel into its new office and meeting place.

Some of the changes to the old hotel have included moving the staircase of the building’s centre to the eastern end, with an extra door being added to give access to the staircase which had been moved. Partitions or walls inside were erected, moved and removed according to the needs of the times. At some period the place was sheathed in brick, complete with a new brick chimney. Later the bricks were painted white as was a new verandah installed across the front. Many of the changes were initiated by Billy Trudeau and others who followed him.

In later years the edifice served as a snack bar and restaurant and at one time it housed the post office. It was renovated recently by the Dompierres who operate the Parkway General Store next door and, at the time, owned Dean's.

The old hotel was acquired in 1986 by John Gordon of the Gordon Construction Company, who saw in it a potential asset as a restaurant. Gordon, with machinery, material and know-how at his disposal undertook a major overhaul. The white paint was removed and the brick walls were repainted where required. The old verandah was replaced by a new one which embodied a flat sitting-out deck upstairs. The area where the Municipal Hall had stood for so many years, prior to its removal in early 1980's, was turned into a good sized patio constructed around a surviving portion of the old hall's basement. Here one may dine out-of-doors.

The inside of the building was completely gutted to make way for a decor involving a return to furnishings of bygone years. A liquor bar was constructed from portions of old doors, and an old-fashioned walk-in freezer, radio, sewing machine and an ancient ice box are featured, as well as hand framed photographs of contemporary neighbouring buildings in the village. A sign outside announces that here is the Chelseas Restaurant.

And this is where we came in - if one is permitted a pun - THRUGH THE HOOPSKIRT DOOR. Little did John Gordon know what he had found when he bought a second-hand door to be installed in his new possesion as its front door. A hoopskirt door is actually two doors, hung one at each side of the opening. However instead of the doors being of equal dimensions, one is twice the width of the other. Ordinary mortals were served nicely by the wider door; the other section opened out for ladies of fashion whose passage might otherwise prove awkward or even downright embarrassing should their costume become disarranged in the struggle to force unwieldy hoops through a narrow opening.

Having safely navigated the door, been greeted and seated, one picks up the menu which offers such gastronomical delights as Ed Dean's Hotel Sandwich, Dunn’s Daily Fare, John McSweeney‘s Favourite, The Town Hall Triple, Meech Lake Munch and much much more. Chelseas Restaurant is "wet" or "dry" according to one’s preference.

"Meet you at the Hoopskirt Door"

List of articles - Volume 13