Ralph Morden, whose father was executed for being a British agent during the American Revolution, was granted land at this site by the Crown in 1798. This property, officially known as Lot 15, was in turn purchased by wealthy lawyer George Rolph in 1822.
William McDonnell, an enterprising former pedlar and hotel manager, bought the land sometime before 1836 and erected this building. In its day it was lauded as “the finest hotel west of York”. Some locals, however, complained that the hotel was too far outside the town centre of business on Main Street. They dubbed the hotel “McDonnell’s Folly”.
McDonnell operated the Elgin House until 1867. In 1875 it was sold to R.T. Wilson. In 1915 it was purchased by John Pennington, owner of the Valley City Seating Company.
By 1885, space in the old hotel was converted to commercial use. Over time tenants included the Mechanics’ Institute, photographer W.W. Forsythe, the Bell Telephone Co., the Public Library and the Post Office. The Hamilton & Dundas Street Railway was another tenant, whose waiting room was located at the rear of the building. One day in 1879, the train’s brakes were not set and it crashed through the back of the building.
Built in 1837, this 40-room hotel had a Flemish bond brick façade and rough stone sides. Originally there were three storeys with a large mansard roofline over a series of square-headed upper windows. A fourth storey was added in 1875. Four wide stone steps led to the door on King Street.
Beside the door was an arched recess leading through the building to allow horses and carriages access to the stables at the rear. Atop this arch can still be seen Wm. McDonnell 1837.
The Elgin House opened with a grand banquet on November 30, 1837. Guests included radical reformers Dr. John Rolph and William Lyon Mackenzie, who had been a merchant in Dundas. Only days later the two men were fugitives, with rewards on their heads for their involvement and participation in the failed Upper Canada Rebellion.