The Spencerville Mill Foundation has produced an excellent guide to a walking tour of Spencerville. Many town buildings have an interesting history. I found the background behind two former hotels of particular note. The building above, now a private home, was once the Victoria Hotel. The guide offers this entry about the Victoria Hotel:
Originally constructed by David Spencer in 1837 the Victoria Hotel provided accommodation, food and drink to travelers. The hotel boasted an upstairs ballroom and a secret passageway to a store of liquor in defiance of the 1878 Temperance Act. In the late 1800s it became a private home and the ballroom was converted into seven bedrooms. The home has changed hands several times and undergone many interior renovations to modernize and enhance the oldest stone building in the village.
Secret passageway! Cool! The temperance movement in Upper Canada began in the first half of the 19th-century. By 1851, the region had a large membership in the Sons of Temperance organization. On June 21, 1854, there was a public excursion on the new Prescott-Bytown (Ottawa) railroad from Prescott to Spencerville by the Sons of Temperance. This archival report of the outing and other details of the local temperance movement was reprinted in the Prescott Journal.
The following is from a report in the Prescott Telegraph: “At 9 am many Prescott and Ogdensburg people left Prescott on a train hauled by the Oxford, of which R.C. Graves was conductor and John Lufkin engineer. The ladies had busied themselves the previous day with the result that the Oxford was almost hidden under wreaths of flowers. On the forward part of the engine was a particularly handsome wreath with the words ‘Ladies’ Interest’.
“In the centre and directly above it was a pair of antlers, highly ornamental and surmounted by a crown. The Union Jack, Stars and Stripes, Temperance banners and bunting floated from the different cars. After a run of about 30 minutes Spencerville was reached… At five o’clock (after a day of celebration under the Sons of Temperance banners) the whistle of the Oxford sounded for the return trip, and Prescott was reached in satisfactory time.”
The Canada Temperance Act of 1878 gave local governments the right to prohibit the retail sales of alcohol. It wasn’t until World War I that the temperance movement reached its peak. In 1915 and 1916, all provinces of Canada except Quebec banned the retail sale of alcohol (Quebec banned the sale of distilled liquor briefly from 1919). Most provincial legislation was abandoned during the 1920s. As prohibition continued in the U.S. into the 1930s, Canadian liquor interests found a large, illegal market for their product.
Prohibition must have been a sticky issue in the region as the town of Prescott was home to the J. P. Wiser distillery, which contributed significantly to the town’s economic well-being. In fact, in 1858-59, there were 4 distilleries in Prescott, as well as beer brewers.
Just down the street from the Victoria Hotel was the Exchange Hotel, of which the guide notes:
In the mid 1800s the Exchange Hotel and Stagehouse for Bytown (Ottawa) and Prescott was considered a comfortable house with livery service. Ten years later, under new ownership, it was renamed The Temperance Hotel. Prior to the 1960s, the post office was located here.
Presumably, the Exchange Hotel offered alternative accomodations to those sympathetic to prohibition who might not have wished to stay at the Victoria Hotel. The old Exchange Hotel building is pictured below.