Nova Scotia

Floatplane charter eyed for historic hotel that's hosted U.S. presidents

The 132-year-old Grand Narrows Hotel was on the market for about three years. The new owner, David Strang, has high hopes for the historic Cape Breton property.

New owner of Cape Breton's Grand Narrows Hotel fascinated by site's history

The three-storey Grand Narrows Hotel was built in 1887. (Emily Latimer/CBC)

A Cape Breton hotel that once hosted Alexander Graham Bell and U.S. presidents has a new owner, who is drawn to its history.

In a century-old safe in the parlour of the Grand Narrows Hotel, David Strang can scan historic papers, documents and ledgers that date back to the 1800s.

In two ledgers are the names of famous thinkers and politicians. 

"Names in here include Theodore Roosevelt, Howard Taft, Grover Cleveland," Strang said. "Those were the three U.S. presidents who were known to have stayed here."

David Strang, owner of the Grand Narrows Hotel, flips through the pages of a hotel ledger. (Emily Latimer/CBC)

Strang, who is originally from Sydney, N.S., but now lives in Calgary, purchased the 132-year-old hotel in July. The 6,490 square-foot hotel sits on the eastern shore of the Barra Strait.

"That was the whole appeal of the place to begin with, the historical value to it," Strang said.

Strang's 11-year-old son, Maxwell, thinks the old hotel is cool, too. 

"Walking upstairs, it feels like you're walking all over history," Maxwell said.

An old safe holds historic documents in the parlour of the Grand Narrows Hotel. (Emily Latimer/CBC)

Built in 1887, the hotel was constructed to coincide with the expansion of the Intercolonial Railway. 

The hotel was on the market for more than three years. According to ViewPoint Realty, it was purchased for $700,000. 

Strang said he will continue to build on the previous owner's work, doing renovations and finishing touches. There will be nine full-sized guest rooms.

Sights set high

A pilot by trade, Strang said a long-term goal is to operate a floatplane charter company out of the hotel. "We'll be able to incorporate the aircraft into the hotel and provide excursions and charters."

Strang's 1952 De Havilland Beaver seaplane is floating in front of the hotel in the Bras d'Or Lake.

The Grand Narrows Hotel hotel ledger documents visits from Alexander Graham Bell, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. (Emily Latimer/CBC)

"We were out this morning on a little tour," he said. "We toured around Cape North and we landed over in Lake Ainslie. And we stopped in at Sydney airport and picked up some fuel there. And then came back and we land right out in front of the hotel here. And just pull right up on the beach," he said. 

Last summer, Strang was visiting the island with a friend when he stopped into the hotel out of curiosity.

He was given a tour by the previous owner. The hotel stuck in his mind and over time he realized he wanted to purchase it.

Strang, who lives in Calgary with his wife and two sons, hopes to return to Cape Breton upon retirement. 

Strang's 1952 DeHavilland Beaver seaplane is floating in front of the hotel Grand Narrows Hotel. (Submitted by David Strang)

Connie McElman, who is originally from Sydney, and husband Dan McFaull wandered up the steps of the hotel, looking for accommodations for next summer. 

McElman's mother died earlier this year. The couple wants to book the historic property and invite their family for a memorial service. 

David Strang and his family. (Emily Latimer/CBC)

"We want to bring her ashes to Cape Breton because she spent so much of her life in Cape Breton. We're trying to get the family together," McElman said. 

McFaull said he hopes the historical relevance will help to attract family members to visit Cape Breton. 

"Looking into these old registry books it's amazing to see Sir Charles Tupper and Alexander Graham Bell," McFaull said. 

"Of course, I'm going to sleep in Alexander Graham Bell's bed and then I'll go off and invent something."