Opinion: Rideau resorts wrestling rough waters

Ownership changes, renovations latest chapter at Opinicon and Hotel Kenney

The Opinicon Hotel– a Rideau Canal landmark at Chaffey’s Lock near Westport – will stay closed this year for the first time in its long and colourful history.

One of the owners told OBJ the closure is temporary, following a death in the family that has operated the hotel since 1921. The co-owner said the family plans to reopen the hotel next year after refurbishing it.

The decision not to open the Opinicon this year appears to have no connection with a crisis that has been facing all businesses that depend on the Rideau Canal for much of their trade. That crisis abated recently when the Harper government imposed a three-year freeze on a plan for draconian increases in canal user fees.

The Opinicon, located roughly an hour and a half southwest of downtown Ottawa, usually opens from May until October.

The hotel is owned by Cindy Simpson and her sister, Karen Cross. Their mother, Opinicon owner/operator Janice Jarrett Cross, died in February 2012.

At the time in May this year when the Opinicon usually opens for the season, there was nothing on the hotel’s website to indicate that it would stay closed this year. And the hotel’s answering machine merely told callers to leave a message.

OBJ was unable to reach the hotel’s other co-owner, Karen Cross.

A news release issued by Cindy Simpson said:

“After careful consideration, the family has decided not to open the Opinicon Hotel for the 2013 season. Following the death of Janice Jarrett Cross in 2012, the hotel will remain closed for this season to undergo maintenance and repairs and to allow the family time to consider plans for the future. This has not been an easy decision. The Opinicon has been operated by the same family since 1921. We thank our guests who have returned to the Opinicon for many years, and look forward to greeting you in 2014.”

The Opinicon and the Hotel Kenney at nearby Jones Falls are relics of the glory days early in the last century when masses of people flocked to the Rideau waterway and the Thousand Islands for summer fishing and boating vacations.

The hotel “has evolved into one of eastern Ontario’s oldest and most respected resorts. It has been owned and operated by the same family since 1921 and, while retaining its grandeur, has been updated to offer every convenience, restful accommodation and unsurpassed cuisine,” a history of the Opinicon on its website said.

For the past 90 years, the Opinicon has competed with the Hotel Kenney, a few minutes’ drive away, for the business of those seeking a comfortable, restful vacation in idyllic surroundings on the Rideau waterway.

Generations of the Kenney family owned the Hotel Kenney, which opened in 1877, until just a few years ago.

When no Kenney family member wanted to take over, the hotel was threatened with demolition for czondominium development until an American agreed to buy and maintain it as a hotel. Franklin Folts, from Massachusetts, says he fell in love with the area as a young man when visiting Jones Falls with his father to stay at the Hotel Kenney.

“This small country hotel is still blessed with a big heart after 137 years of continuous operation which, on occasion, has bordered on a struggle for survival. We have not only managed to survive but to thrive in what is a very sincere passion to preserve the simple beauty and integrity of Jones Falls,” Mr. Folts said in the hotel’s latest newsletter.

These are difficult times for owners of gracious retreats like Hotel Kenney and the Opinicon.

Let’s hope they can both survive, and that the federal government can help by ensuring that the Rideau Canal is adequately funded in the future.