Sometimes when you’re not looking for history, it will find you and become part of your life.
This happened to Tom Trussler, originally from Kirkland Lake and more recently a resident of Connaught. Several years back, Trussler bought a property primarily for its location. But now, his home is constantly unveiling its colourful past.
Trussler bought the old Connaught hotel, known fondly to the locals as the Tiltin’ Hilton as its failing foundation made the building look like it was ready to fall over.
He came across the property while out for a drive and was immediately intrigued.
“It’s a nice road to travel on here, along (Frederick House Lake),” he explained. “I just happened to see a for sale sign on it. I didn’t even know it was a hotel when I bought it. It just looks like a house from the road. I just liked the location.”
Since then, neighbours have been filling in details about the long-time area fun spot.
“Being a carpenter, you are always looking for the opportunity to get a place and fix it up,” Trussler said. “I always wanted a place by the water. This is beautiful here. I like being close to a little village too.
“The people here are really friendly and encouraging too. They’ve been stopping and talking to me about all the different escapades they’ve had in the hotel.”
He enjoys the tales from Connaught’s past and being in a building that holds so many memories.
“People started stopping by when they saw me outside and working around,” he said. “They would tell me how they used to get a haircut downstairs, or how they would fish on the dock in front there.
“And a lot of people have had a drink of something in here,” he laughed.
It was built by Leo Racicot in the 1920s. Going through back issues of The Porcupine Advance, it shows the building was used as a hotel, pool room, café and rooming house. It was rebuilt at least once.
According to the Oct. 25, 1922, edition of The Advance, it was destroyed by fire.
“Fire starting in Mr. Leo Racicot’s pool room this (Thursday) morning at about four o’clock, destroyed the pool room and contents, including pool tables, stocks of tobacco, etc. The restaurant and room house adjoining, just recently erected by Mr. Racicot, also took fire and burned to the ground. In both cases, buildings and contents were completely destroyed. The restaurant and rooming house owned by Mr. Racicot was leased by a (man) who was conducting business. The total loss for Mr. Racicot will be about $3,000, only part of which is covered by insurance.”
It wasn’t the only time flames licked the walls of the hotel. Another blaze was reported in the Jan. 30, 1930 edition of The Advance. Local residents risked their lives to save the building.
“Fire broke out in the café and room house owned by Leo Racicot at Connaught. The fire was noticed by a neighbour who notified Mr. Racicot and soon there was a very determined effort underway to save the café and rooming house. A gang of men took up the work of a volunteer fire brigade and though lacking any but the most ordinary equipment for fire-fighting they put up a good battle. By hanging water-soaked blankets on the buildings and by the liberal use of snow, the spread of the fire was able to save the house and the pool room, but the café was destroyed by the fire.”
Trussler’s renovations have revealed many makeovers for the interior.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “This building is all built with rough lumber and sheeted with rough lumber on the outside and sheeting with rough lumber on the inside. I don’t think there was any insulation originally at all. At one point they blew insulation in, with little holes they drilled from the outside.
“Then they had some building paper on the inside and several layers of wallpaper on top of that. This place has gone through so many renovations through the years, there were three different layers of drywall. I had to tear it all out. I built another wall inside, so it’s a double-walled house now, and it’s really well insulated.”
He even found a little piece of history hidden within those walls.
“The original owner, Mr. Racicot, I found a little matchbox in the wall cavity with his name on it,” Trussler said, adding he gave it to the Connaught and District Historical Society Pioneer Museum.
While the barroom was the scene of lots of good times, the old hotel has seen its fair share of excitement as well. Consider the front-page story headlined “Charge Knifing During Beverage Room Fracas … police alleged cut end of the bartender’s finger during the afternoon in the hotel with a homemade knife” from the May 25, 1939 edition of The Advance.
“Police investigation revealed that (the bartender) put (the suspect) out of the hotel beverage room early yesterday afternoon when he grew rowdy. When he attempted to come back into the hotel, (the bartender) put out a hand to again reject him. The suspect is believed to have drawn a knife and with it slashed at the bartender’s hand, severing the end of one of his fingers on the right hand.”
The suspect then ran off but was apprehended. The knife was recovered from some nearby bushes.
But most stories Trussler hears about the hotel feature good memories from a simpler time. He enjoys his time at his new home, even if it took a great effort to get the building level again.
“I’ve owned the property for five or six years now. I’ve been working away on it,” he said. “This is nothing like it was when I got here. That (repairing the tilt) was a lot of work, but I got it done.”
But he says it is all worthwhile.
“I like its location. It’s like you’re on a ship, when you look out the window there is water.”
During his renovations, Trussler employs a similar work ethic of those who settled the Connaught area. Yet, he still manages to enjoy life and have fun there.
The old Tiltin’ Hilton is in good hands.