Valley Lives - Ed Newton
The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the December 08, 2004 issue. Reprinted with permission.
'All the big wigs' came to Wakefield Inn
by Ian Lordon
Wakefield's Ed Newton, a prominent hotelier who saw the Wakefield Inn through fire, the end of local temperance, and into the beginning of the feminist era, died Nov. 30 of peritonitis at the age of 84.
Newton was owner of the Wakefield Inn on Riverside Dr. throughout the heyday of the hotel which was legendary for its hospitality, fine food and drink, and its often famous, well-heeled guests.
"There's such a richness of history there," said Fae Newton, who along with Gene Newton were mourning the loss of their father last week. "I remember one newspaper said 'the Wakefield Inn was on a par with Studio 54 in New York City' for all the famous people that came through there."
Indeed actors, musicians, sports legends, politicians, ballerinas, and business leaders all called at the Inn in the decades that followed Newton's purchase of the establishment in 1948, the year he married his wife Gert.
Both Newtons hailed from Lac-Ste.-Marie where Ed grew up lumbering. His father owned and ran a sawmill in the area and Newton learned the business from stump to lumber. It's also where he acquired his love of outdoor pursuits - qualities that served him well in the hospitality business.
"He wasn't a flowery person. He was straightforward, a man's man. He loved hunting and fishing," Fae said. "He also loved his beer. He drank beer every day right to the end."
It was Newton's appreciation for ale that eventually led to the end of temperance in Wakefield. A 'dry town' until Newton bought what was then the Manor House from Wilf Harris, the successor of the Lindsay sisters, Newton brought the issue to a referendum which was defeated by nine votes. But after two years of serving beverages to thirsty patrons as an outlaw, a second vote reversed the result by the same margin and Wakefield Inn became the first bar in the village.
"In between those two votes he did a bit of bootlegging," Fae said. "Once the liquor licence came in the Inn really started to grow."
Business boomed until 1955 when fire destroyed the old Manor House to be replaced by the Inn which adorns Riverside Dr. today. It was a fire that Fae and brother Gene narrowly escaped.
"It burned down when I was five years old, but I remember it like it was yesterday," Fae said. "We were stuck in our rooms and my mother came back in for us. We almost died, it was really scary." Luminaries from Ottawa regularly made the trip north to Wakefield for outdoor pursuits like skiing, hunting, and fishing or simply an escape. Weddings were commonplace, along with memorable events like the opening of the outdoor pool a few years later.
"Jean Beliveau was the big star who came to open it," Fae said. "All the bigwigs from Ottawa were there."
By the 70s the times to change and women were finally allowed in the tavern.
"The tavern was for men only," she said. "It didn't bother me, I didn't want to go in there anyway. It was always full of these old guys."
For many years the Newtons lived in the back of the hotel and later occupied the house next to the Inn. Twice Ed sold the business only to take it back when the new owners failed. Not until 1984 did he relinquish it for good when it was sold to Jim Sisttie.
Newton also served the community with the Knights of Columbus, as Justice of the Peace, and as president of the Gatineau Hills Hotel Association. Through it all he never lost his love of hospitality, even organizing the menu at the retirement home in Masham where he lived his final two years.
"He started a coffee club," Fae said. "He was on the residents' committee for food, and he helped organize gourmet meals."
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