A decaying millionaire's country mansion brought back to life as a luxury boutique hotel and restaurant in Gatineau Park welcomed its first group of guests Saturday night in convincing and classy style.
Yes, there was room at the inn for members of the Ottawa chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), a collection of like-minded business owners focused on business growth, personal development and community engagement. The 11-room hotel was booked up that night by the EO members, who mingled over cocktails before gathering in the dining room for dinner.
“I am not a natural-born entrepreneur but meeting and talking with other entrepreneurs has given me the confidence to do things that I would never have done, like starting a new company,” Mark Wardrop, owner of Copperstone Kitchens and Renovations, told OBJ.social at the party. EO Ottawa was also a support mechanism for Wardrop when he decided to sell one of his companies, Ottawa Windows and Doors, and merge another two, in the home renovation market.
“I rub shoulders with these people and think, 'They’re no smarter than me. If they can do what they’re doing then I can certainly do what I'm doing,'" said Wardrop, who previously worked 18 years in the high-tech industry.
The guests added old-fashioned glamour to the gathering by dressing up in attire from the early 1930s. That’s when the heritage house was first built. Some guests opted for dainty gloves, pillbox hats and ladylike dresses while others went the more fun flapper and gangster route.
The historic O'Brien House, with its cedar-shingled roof, log siding and granite foundations, was commissioned by Ambrose O’Brien, an industrialist and sports entrepreneur from Renfrew. He was the original owner of the Montréal Canadiens and co-founder of the hockey organization that preceded the NHL.
The overall ambience inside O’Brien was inviting and relaxing. Visitors were seen cozying up to the original stone fireplace, admiring the Canadian artwork on display from the National Capital Commission’s Crown Collection, and learning about the historic artifacts showcased within the hotel. Even though the night was nippy, it was worth wandering outside to the large deck to catch a sunset view of Meech Lake.
Nobody could be happier about welcoming the organization to O’Brien than co-owner Robert Milling. He is also a member of the EO discussion network for business people. Its president is his partner Eva Cooper, who owns the women’s clothing store Delilah in the Glebe.
“We all walk the same mile – we’re all entrepreneurs – so it’s nice that you are the first ones here,” Milling told his peers.
He also co-owns and is founder of O'Brien's sister property, the Wakefield Mill Hotel & Spa located about 15 minutes by car or two hours of cross-country skiing (don't be intimidated; it's mostly downhill). The Wakefield Mill is the only other hotel located in Gatineau Park, a 361-square kilometre nature park used by hikers, campers, cyclists, mountain bikers, skiers, swimmers, paddlers and snowshoers, and just minutes away from Ottawa.
Milling is hoping the hotel draws the outdoorsy crowd, particularly nordic skiers and cyclists visiting the region. The hotel is very close to Chelsea's popular Nordik-Spa, which has plans to add its own hotel.
O’Brien is currently open three days a week but, come May, will increase to five. The hotel is starting to book up with weddings and is available for corporate groups wanting to book the hotel, exclusively.
Plans are underway to build two modern tree houses, perched on top of the escarpment, as well as a Carriage House for business meetings.
Guests heard how the O’Brien project began more than four years ago and involved extensive renovations. Said Milling: "There wasn’t a square inch that wasn’t touched."
“It’s done, and we love it,” Milling said of the restored property. “It has exceeded every expectation. This place is, I suspect, nicer than it ever was.”
The National Capital Commission’s board of directors had approved the property's use as a hotel. The lease is for five years with the option of a 20-year renewal.