A devastating fire has levelled the main lodge of an historic, much-loved inn on Cape Breton’s Bras d’Or Lakes, even as it spared a unique chapel bankrolled by a Toronto hockey legend.
“It’s a devastating fire for the community,” said Councillor Bruce Morrison, who said he got a call at about 3 a.m. notifying him of a “big fire” at the Inverary Resort.
“For me, it’s tough – it’s one of those icons in our community that has been enjoyed by generations of residents in Baddeck.”
The rustic retreat that has been a “cornerstone of the community” since it was built in the late 19th century by a Cape Breton man dubbed “Millionaire” MacNeil.
Plumes of white smoke were still wafting above the charred wreck of the three-storey building that housed the dining room, lobby, pub and several units attached to it in an addition.
A tiny brown chapel that was donated to the owners by legendary Toronto Maple Leafs owner Conn Smythe was not damaged in the fire, according to Cape Breton musician Keith Mullins, who entertains at the Inverary a few nights every week.
It’s believed all of the guests and staff got out without injury.
Diana Weeks, a reporter for Ontario’s CHCH TV, was staying at the resort and tweeted about her escape.
“Our hotel in Baddeck, N.S., is on fire and we’re all outside in our pjs. Good news is, it appears everyone got out safely,” Weeks tweeted overnight.
“So so sad. Just grateful we got out in time and grabbed our valuables... Such a beautiful historic building.”
Images and video on social media showed flames consuming the building, which glowed orange in the darkness. One video shows the whole building collapsing in on itself as flames poured out of the windows.
Mullins said people had been singing and enjoying themselves late Wednesday: “Everything was amazing. We had a great time and everyone was singing.”
He said he was devastated when he woke to hear the news.
Mullins said he had not heard what the owners plan to do, but believes they could remain in operation, because there are other guest rooms on the property.
“There are five or six large buildings. There’s another restaurant. There’s another kitchen in the conference centre. I don’t know exactly what their plans are but I do know that we all want to keep it going,” he said.
According to the inn’s website, Smythe stayed at the Inverary in the early 1980s when he was in poor health, spending much of his time there in his room. The owner reportedly told Smythe that they were hoping to build a chapel when money allowed.
“Someday, you’ll have your chapel,” Smythe apparently told the owners.
Sometime later, Smythe died in Toronto and a family member contacted the inn’s owners to say that Smythe wanted to give them a chapel.
The resort hosts a church service each week, although not in the chapel.
Pastor Philip MacCormack said the 40-member congregation of the Baddeck Baptist Church doesn’t have its own building, and holds services each week in the inn’s convention centre.
They are praying for the owner and staff of the inn, he said.
“The owners have been very good to us,” he said.
Morrison said the loss of the main building is a big blow to Baddeck, which sees hundreds of tourists trickle into the area every summer, swelling the full-time population of about 800 residents to about 2,500.
“It’s a very difficult time for an event such as this to happen right at the start of our tourist season,” said Morrison, who is also the warden of Victoria County. “Baddeck is a very busy tourist destination.”
It could also affect about 100 people who work at the sprawling four-hectare shoreline resort, he said.
Several fire departments in the area answered the call. RCMP said they are working with the Nova Scotia Office of the Fire Marshal to determine the cause of the fire.
The resort’s website says the original home was built by MacNeil “to show off the fortune he made in Boston.” Materials for the house, barn and wagon house were imported from the American city and became a showpiece for the Cape Breton community.
Brothers Chad and Jamie Fownes bought the property after the Second World War and opened the Inverary Inn at the end of their military service, the website says.