Houses of the Gatineau Hills

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the February 27, 2008 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Owners of historic hotel 'just taking care' of the Chelsea treasure

by Rachel Dares

For Kathy Sandford, one of the best things about living in the former Dunn Hotel is sitting on the porch in the summertime and "watching Chelsea go by." Since it's right next to the ice cream parlour at Old Chelsea and Scott Rds, friends will often buy a scoop and come over for a visit.

"If you want to feel like you're part of a community, move in beside an ice cream store. Everybody loves ice cream," said Sandford, who made a home in the historic hotel along with her husband, John Burns, in 2000.

Houses of the Gatineau Hills
The front of the house closely resembles photographs of the original house, which burned down in 1900 and was replaced within a few months. Rachel Dares photo.

While sitting on her porch, Sandford has spotted more than just the unique blend of Chelsea residents. She also caught sight of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former prime minister Jean Chretien on separate occasions heading into Gatineau Park.

But another of Sandford's favourite features is that stepping onto the side porch suddenly brings her into a quiet haven surrounded only by pine trees, where she can escape the busy sights and sounds of Old Chelsea Rd.

Sandford and Burns are adding a new chapter in the Dunn Hotel's story, which dates back to the mid-nineteenth century when it was first built. For several years, Burns showcased his fine furniture in their gallery and store, and the house has been used for garden art exhibitions and five well-known erotica art shows over the past seven years.

"It was packed last year. We had guys doing the full monty coming down the stairs," said Sandford with a laugh.

Houses of the Gatineau Hills
A colourful living room for Sandford, her husband, John Burns, and their five-year-old son, Jake. Rachel Dares photo.

Only small changes were needed when they moved in, such as a new kitchen floor, more insulation and a new furnace to cut down on heating costs. Since the house had to be moved back a few metres in 1962 because of plans to widen the road, the foundation is still fairly new, said Sandford.

"Everybody knows our house. It's a famous house," she said.

According to Touring the Two Chelseas, a book produced by the Historical Society of the Gatineau, the original house was built as a private home by Josiah Chamberlin.

After an addition was added on in 1875, the home turned into the Dunn Hotel owned by a former Gatineau River log driver, John Dunn.

The house burned down in 1900 but was replaced within a few months by Henry and Billy Fleury in almost the exact style of the original. This is the same house Sandford calls home more than a century later.

The Dunn family housed lumbermen in two large dormitories and made big business when it became the only establishment licensed to sell liquor in town. They also ran a store and post office, before closing down in 1920.

The building was used for private apartments until it was renovated and turned into a bed and breakfast in 1989, when it was named after the owners' daughter, Dawn. The Dawn Hotel stayed there until Sandford and Burns bought it in 2000.

Houses of the Gatineau Hills
A new kitchen floor was one of the only changes Kathy Sandford made when she moved into the former Dunn Hotel in 2000. Rachel Dares photo.

Sandford calls it "destiny" that she unexpectedly came across the house when she wasn't even looking to move. She'd been living in Ottawa writing scripts for children's television, and Burns was making and restoring furniture in Val-des-Monts.

They got an unexpected call from one of Burns' old clients, who was a real estate agent. Sandford recalls him saying, "Are you ready to see your future?"

"We were really taken, especially when we saw the whole yard," said Sandford. Their backyard is home to a creek, waterfall and the historic Protestant Burying Ground. The graveyard holds the oldest marked grave in the capital region, belonging to Thomas Wright, who died in 1801 after founding Hull with his younger brother, Philemon, the year before.

The couple turned the house into a two-bedroom with an office so Sandford could continue working from home, along with two rental apartments at the back.

Not only does Sandford love her house, but she calls Chelsea a "gem" and says she's happy to be in a place that has lots of history, but is also quite modern and full of forward-thinking people.

"I don't really feel like we own this house. I feel the house belongs partly to the community. We're just taking care or it for now," she said.

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