The North American Hotel, as the Collins Hotel was first known, was built in 1841 by Bernard (Barney) Collins and quickly became one of the most prestigious hotels in Dundas. It was one of the biggest landmarks in Dundas at the time and its reputation spoke for itself – Bernard Collins had no need to advertise his hotel in local newspapers since it was already that popular. Combining elements of Georgian, neo-classical, and Second Empire architectural styles, the Collins Hotel was also a magnificent sight to see.
It was the central hub for a number of social activities, meeting points, and banquets. There were countless distinguished dinner parties and family gatherings with reservations always required in advance. Interestingly, the Collins Hotel also operated as the official headquarters for the Conservative Party and held at least one meeting leading to the town’s incorporation. It was even a popular spot for farmers who were travelling with their produce for shipment via the Desjardins Canal. The Desjardins Canal was a means of shipping goods in the mid to late 1800s and that meant that more people travelled to Dundas. As a result, hotels grew fairly quickly to try and accommodate these travellers.
When Bernard Collins died in 1880, ownership of the hotel went to his three sons: Frank, Charles, and Edward. Yet it was Frank who assumed responsibility of operations until his own death in 1913. From there, Fred Howe became the proprietor until 1916 when the hotel was then passed to James Howe. James Howe owned the Collins Hotel from 1916-1927, Albert Haley owned it from 1927-1935, and then it was sold to Edgar J. Lowry. For many years, the Collins Hotel was considered one of the oldest continuously operated hotels in all of Ontario.
On December 20, 1958, a horrific fire heavily damaged the historic building. Despite this, in 1994 the Collins Hotel was granted historical designation by the Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee (LACAC). They designated the original front façade including the ground floor window and door openings, the second floor door and windows, the balcony and columns, and the mansard roof and dormers.
The Collins Hotel was one of the first fifty buildings to be part of Dundas’ Plaquing Programme, which was created to honour and publicize the best of Dundas heritage. It included all the various types of historic buildings that aided in the thriving, self-sufficiency of the town in the 19th century. The Collins Hotel is considered one of Ontario’s earliest hotels and remains an important part of Dundas history.
Thanks to the students of McMaster University Department of History for their assistance with this project.