A season salvaged at Bonnie Doone

Hotel management sends message of thanks to all those who helped preserve and restore the beachfront landmark

Heading into their 52nd year as a beachfront inn, The management of Bonnie Donne Manor-on-the-Beach are thankful that a small March 29 fire contained to one room didn’t destroy their entire business.
Although small, the fire led to two months of restoration; luckily, the inn was able to open before the summer season’s onslaught. General manager Kristie McIndoe explains what happened and the fallout.

As told to Casey Lessard
Photos by Casey Lessard

Mom and dad started 52 years ago with five closet sized rooms, one shared bath but no tub or shower. Everybody washed their hair and bathed in the lake 52 years ago. There were no locks on the doors; every door had the little hook and eye job, so you could lock yourself in, but you couldn’t lock your stuff in when you left the room. Life was pretty simple.
By the sixth year, they winterized it and we moved up here permanently. They slowly acquired the property around it. They lived in the business for 32 years, and eventually built their own home on one of the cottage properties.

The fateful morning
In a typical year, we get a drain snaked from the top of the manor to the sewers. It’s a typical thing that Andy O’Brien (of Grand Bend Sanitation) comes and does. We had set it up for a month earlier because, although we usually do it at the end of April, Dave saw Andy at the Tim Horton’s and said, let’s do it.
They were here the next morning, and they were digging a hole to send the camera down. Dave had turned on the hydro just prior to that, and Andy handed him the cord to plug the camera in. Dave went inside and smelled smoke. He came out and asked Andy if he smelled smoke, too.
Dave tried to go upstairs, but he couldn’t because the smoke was that intense. They figure it had been 10 or 15 minutes, tops. Dave called the fire department. The firefighters were so happy to save the building because in most cases, they just can’t get there in time or no one was around to see it start.
The fire was contained to one room. They threw everything out the window and got the fire out.
We called the insurance company who called in the restorers, WinMar. Literally within an hour-and-a-half, we were underway with restoration. We had vanloads of people here.
They say they have a 48-hour window to get the soot off so it doesn’t etch. Even with all the doors shut, there was soot in every room upstairs. Because it was cold, the hot fire led to condensation of soot. It was dripping down the walls and looked like someone brought in a hose and sprayed it down with tar.

A new experience
I’d never experienced a fire, and I had no understanding of devastation that was involved. I give WinMar so much credit. Everyone involved was so empathetic and knew their jobs inside out. They seem to understand that everything starts from scratch and you build on that.
They understood that we are a family business that has a regular clientele and we didn’t want to disappoint them because of the many months we had prepared to get open. The insurance company cooperated with us on that, and gave us a six-day workweek instead of five.
The month of May was gone. There was no office, no area for us to receive people. The building was turned back over to us June 1. Our season starts May 1, so we were a month behind. It took another two-and-a-half weeks to get the rooms rentable again.
We didn’t have an area where patrons could approach us, so it was frustrating because no one could approach us other than by phone. Our biggest concern was that you build on the regulars with newcomers. Because they weren’t able to come and look around, for example if they come to the beach or for a drive and notice us, and we give them a tour, we lost that opportunity.

Preserving the business
Not a lot has changed here. We replaced our TVs with flat screen TVs, and any flat goods had to be replaced, like beds, linens, fridges and carpeting. But your perspective changes. You don’t worry about the little stuff so much. We’re very happy that we didn’t have to turn all our people away. It would be a horrible thing not to see our regulars again. We were very fortunate. The fire was going to happen, but if we hadn’t planned to clean that drain a month early, I’d be pulling my hair out right now.
This week, we have people in their 18th year of visiting, and Shirley has come here 30 years. That’s what makes it all worthwhile, when those people come back and you get to see what has happened in their lives. That’s really why we’re here.