CAPE BRETON, N.S.: The owner of a historic hotel in Cape Breton where famous thinkers and politicians slept is waiting patiently for someone to buy the building and restore it to its status as a busy landmark.
Elaine MacNeil and her husband Terry bought the Grand Narrows Hotel in Cape Breton in 1998 and have been operating the once-prominent hotel as a bed and breakfast on the eastern shore of the Barra Strait.
She said in an interview Saturday that the home has been on the market for about two years, with an asking price of $780,000, but to date the couple hasn’t received an offer that was high enough to accept.
Built in 1887, the hotel was constructed to coincide with the expansion of the Intercolonial Railway, which ran near the shores of Bras d’Or Lake and ended in Sydney.
In its heyday, MacNeil said the hotel served as an important resting point for travellers and it attracted famous visitors, including former U.S. presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Grover Cleveland and William Howard Taft.
“The development of the steel industry was taking place, the coal industry was booming. Cape Breton and eastern Nova Scotia were the heart of Canada; that’s where the wealth was,” said MacNeil.
One of the hotel’s famous guests was scientist and inventor Alexander Graham Bell, who owned an estate near Baddeck and frequently used the hotel as a stopover during his travels.
MacNeil says hotel registers from the 1890s show Bell stayed there several times a year during the time he lived in Cape Breton.
MacNeil’s personal history with the building stretches back to 1956, when her father bought it to use as a summer home.
“After school closed at the end of spring, we would pack up the station wagon and head to Grand Narrows. That was the highlight of the whole year,” she said.
After 20 years of working to maintain the building, the couple say they’re ready to sell it and enjoy their retirement.
“We want to spend more time looking after each other, and we have grandchildren,” said MacNeil.
“We think it’s time.”