My mother charged up the stairs of the old hotel where my father was nearly shot in the head. This was surprising, given her bad feet and questionable balance, but she clearly sensed she was about to get out in front of a story.
The day started out innocently enough. I was angling for a marriage proposal from a man I’d fallen hard for and was bringing him back to my childhood, I suppose to show him how delightful I’d been as a tot.
My wink and nudge took the form of Evermore Weddings and Events, a place not even a mile down the road from where Mom was raised, in a house that holds many of my happiest memories as a youngster.
The stone house on the Evermore property is a provincial landmark as the birthplace of James Naismith, who is credited with the invention of modern basketball. He wrote the original rulebook and was the inaugural coach of what is now the powerhouse University of Kansas men’s basketball program. Ironically, Naismith is the only coach in the history of the program to have a losing record (55-60) but his tutelage gave rise to a formidable coaching tree that extends to this day. My son just finished his freshman year at school in Kansas, so I’ve learned this is all a very big deal.
The barn and yard, the setting for nuptials and celebrations, is glorious, with a beautiful ridge for a backdrop. We were lucky to visit with the co-owner, who showed us around and told us of the path to restoring the place. He mentioned he and his partners were also working on reviving the Mississippi Hotel–named for a tributary of the Ottawa River and no relation to the American legend–in nearby Carleton Place, my father’s hometown.
Founded in 1892, the long-vacant hotel had become known as The Grand Old Lady among locals. The team decided to honor the building’s history by renaming it The Grand Hotel.
Fully renovated in 2016, it now boasts 16 guest rooms and a full-scale event space, a fine dining restaurant, The Carleton Room, as well as the era-appropriate Smith and Barrel Pub. Thanks to our tip, we were lucky enough to catch a tour pre-opening, a bit of a news scoop in the Ottawa Valley for my folks.
Dad didn’t remember the hotel as quite so fancy. Back in the early eighties, he was a police officer working undercover on drug trafficking cases. At that point, the hotel was in serious disrepair and was frequented by a range of bad actors. Dad had been policing elsewhere in Ontario, but somehow a trail led he and his law enforcement partner back to his old stomping grounds.
He’d gone in under the auspices of making a drug buy, and things took a bad turn.
We mounted the stairs behind Mom, who was already off to the see the plush bridal suite (she’s heard the story I’m about to tell so many times she could tell it word for word) and Dad looked around. Where did it happen, I asked. He pointed a feet few across the threshold.
Dad had gone in under the auspices of making a drug buy, and things took a bad turn. There was a gun to his temple.
The setting was notable: his own father had met his maker in the very same building.
It was June of 1967, and my grandfather had been working in the hotel for a time and had been outside most of the warm afternoon. He settled in at the bar and ordered a beer. He finished it, then fell off his barstool, dead. He was 68 years old.
So when Dad’s, partner, Jim, quickly put the business end of his government-issued pistol to the head of the potential perp, there were doubts about the outcome.
“All I could think at the time was, ‘how is he helping me?'” Dad laughed. “And what are all the little old ladies in town going to say when they found out I got shot in a drug deal at The Mississippi Hotel?”
As is clear, Jim’s gambit succeeded and arrests were made.
Our tour complete, we repaired to the comfortable pub for a beverage.
That day, we enjoyed the gift given to the community by reviving such a storied building, which now attracts wedding-goers and revelers who presumably are on the right side of the law.
In the end, my gambit worked too. Teddy and I married a couple of years later in Fort Worth, our adopted and beloved home.
It was June in Texas, so in an abundance of caution we planned both our ceremony and reception indoors. We chose the members’ room at the Fort Worth Club, a place with a story all its own. And I am very happy to report both of my parents were in attendance.
The Grand Hotel, 7 Bridge Street, Carleton Place, Ontario, +1 613.492.1566, thegrandhotelcp.ca
Evermore Weddings and Events, 4960 County Road 29, Almonte, Ontario, + 1. 613. 552. 1424, evermoreweddingsandevents.ca