About a 5km drive from the town centre of Mattawa, Ontario, and tucked between the lush forest landscape and the Mattawa and Ottawa Rivers is Moosehead Estate and Retreat, a family run bed and breakfast steeped in history and oozing with vintage charm.
Originally built in the early 1900s by Noah and Henry Timmins (of which Timmins, Ontario gets its name), Moosehead has had a long and interesting history with some prestigious names attached to its deed. At the time, the Timmins brothers wanted a summer cottage where they could entertain family and friends, close important business deals and enjoy the stunning waterfront view of Lake Champlain. It is believed that the iron ore industry in Canada was born in this house and in 1903, the brothers literally struck gold.
During their four decades of ownership, the brothers welcomed some notable guests, including the Eaton Family (of which the Eaton Centre in Toronto is named after), Mae West and Gypsy Rose Lee.
In the 1940s, ownership changed hands a number of times, including being owned for a brief time by Senator Donat Raymond, owner of the Montreal Canadians Hockey Club. As legend goes, Raymond actually won the house in a game of poker.
In the 1970’s, another member of the hockey elite purchased the house and would become the second longest owners after the Timmins brothers (29 years). William A.H. MacBrien, Chairman of the Board and shareholder of Maple Leafs Garden, bought the home in 1971 and it’s believed that throughout his ownership Moosehead Lodge, as it was called at the time, became a Maple Leafs hangout.
The current owners, Melanie and Marc, purchased the home in 2006 and spent two years completely gutting and renovating the property. All that remains of the original home, besides the foundation and framing, is the dining room table and fourteen chairs. During their ownership, they’ve hosted some notable guests including musical artists Don Petty, Tom Cochran and Sass Jordan.
I spent two nights at Moosehead Estate and Retreat while I was in Mattawa learning to ride an ATV for the first time. Melanie warmly greeted our group and told us to choose whichever room we’d like. Not caring which room I got (they’re all amazing), I dropped my things down in one of the available rooms and set out to explore the rest of the house.
Even though Melanie and Mark completely renovated the property, they still retained the look and feel of a well lived-in home. The floorboards creaked underfoot, the painted wood was cracked in some places, and the door hinges showed signs of rusting, all adding to the character and charm of the house.
As a self-professed antique collector, the home has become a showpiece for Melanie, with antiques carefully and thoughtfully arranged throughout the home. Each room has been uniquely decorated and feels like there’s a story to be told about it. In fact, the entire home feels like it’s been lifted from a 1920s set novel.
The minute you walk through the front door you immediately feel right at home, a true testament to Melanie and Marc’s achievements. Not more than two hours after we had arrived I was relaxing on one of the screened in porches, sinking in between the cushions of a sofa. With only the sounds of the wind rustling the leaves and the water lapping on the shore, I couldn’t help but think how much I was dreading having to leave this place in two days.
Another one of Melanie’s passions is cooking, and my stomach was thankful for it. We were treated to 4-course dinners and a full spread of breakfast fare, all handmade by Melanie (including the bread that had me reaching for seconds). She uses only the freshest ingredients, some of which are picked from her very own garden. I even commented during our first breakfast how much better the coffee even tasted, to which Melanie attributed it to the water in the area. Yes, I had second helpings of the coffee too.
Moosehead Estate and Retreat is open year-round with fall and winter being their busiest seasons as ATV riders and snowmobilers kick back and relax after their daily adventures. The home includes 9 bedrooms, 7 shared bathrooms, a living room, TV room, and 3 screened in porches. Most of their business is exclusive, so book in advance, and caters to dinner parties, special events, business retreats (there is a conference room on the top level of the house), weddings and even a simple weekend get-away from the city, something this particular writer looks forward to again in the future.
Update 2015: Melanie and Marc have since sold Moosehead Estate and Retreat. It is no longer being run as a B & B.
Special thanks to Ontario Tourism for making this visit possible.