Monthly Archives: January 2016

Layers of Hotel London’s past

Hotel London, corner of Dundas & Wellington c 1940. Library & Archives Canada.

Hotel London opened in 1927, at the southeast corner of Dundas and Wellington Streets and was demolished in 1972. In its place now stands TD towers. The site of conventions, dances and concerts; the eight story red-brick building housed businesses and restaurants on the main floor, as well as radio station CJOE during the late 1960s which later became CJBK. The hotel was often called “The Grand Old Lady,” hostess to the city.

Over the last few years, I became well acquainted with its history through my work as the editor on a book about Hotel London with author Vanessa Brown and the London and Middlesex Historical Society. The stories about the hotel quickly captured my attention. Each photo provided a window into the past, giving me a sense of what it would have been like to experience the hotel during its golden years. As someone who takes a hands on approach to history, I was even swept up in collecting the odd bit of hotel memorabilia.

George M. Reid

During the course of this project I was excited to learn about a connection between the hotel’s biggest champion, George Reid, and the company that I work for, London Life. Reid was a board trustee for the company and was instrumental in the plan to build the hotel in the 1920s.

When I contacted the corporate archives department for help, I was simply hoping to locate a photo of George Reid, but I couldn’t help but ask whether the company had any records of events held at the hotel. Luckily I wasn’t disappointed. Not only was archivist Don Spanner able to provide a rare photo of Reid, but he also dug up images that gave new insight into the company’s connection to Hotel London.  Early photos of London Life employee events showed that some were in fact held at the hotel.

I was interested to learn that the company’s annual Christmas party in London, now called the “Snowflake Serenade”, was previously called the “Snow Swirl”. During the 1950s the dinner and dance were held at Hotel London, likely in the Crystal Ballroom. Employees brought partners to the event and made a full night of the festivities. Some groups rented entertainment suites in the hotel’s upper floors which were designed for for this purpose. The suites were set up with a bar and seating area, providing party goers with a place to host before or after dinner drinks. They often used these rooms as a place to get ready, freshen up or simply escape the crowd during the event. The photos from the archives provide a glimpse of what those rooms were like and the social culture of these dances.

See envelope "Snow Swirl" in Box 00122061

See envelope "Snow Swirl" in Box 00122061

Other photos that were uncovered in the archives show insurance salesmen from the 1950s. This time the images were likely from one of the company’s conferences or sales meetings. These photos are interesting because they show angles of the ballroom not seen in photos from public archives. They also show some very classic images of men in suits, hair in a side part, drinking what might be scotch whisky, smoking cigars and cigarettes (indoors!). The archivist shared how he thought of Mad Men when he had seen these photos and I couldn’t have agreed more.

See envelope "D.V. Dinner" in Box 00122060 for negative.

These rare photos show just how important it is to get creative when researching and consider alternate sources. Sometimes you may just confirm research you already have. Then again, you could get lucky and uncover unexpected gems like these. The Hotel London story is an important part of London’s heritage.  Details like this allow us to throw back the curtains on these windows into the past. They provide an opportunity to learn more about the social history of such an influential place that would be otherwise lost to the layers of time.

Photos with special permission for this page, courtesy of London Life Corporate Archives.

SnowSwirl6fix

See envelope "Snow Swirl" in Box 00122061

SnowSwirl2

DV Dinner001

DV Dinner002

DV Dinner005

DV Dinner009

See envelope "D.V. Dinner" in Box 00122060 for negative.

Sincere appreciation goes to the company which provided generous recognition with a Volunteer Grant. It provided some bonus funding towards the book project for my work through the London and Middlesex Historical Society.

Here's me at work - I'm on TV! The story made national corporate news.

Here’s me at work – I’m on TV! The story made national corporate news.

 

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Hello from the other side…

One never knows where life is going to take you, but if you’re up for the challenge, the journey is nearly always as important as the destination.

Somehow, the last few years have sped by and now I find myself looking back from the other side wondering how the heck I got here, but then patting myself on the back for all I’ve accomplished along the way.

It’s been a wild ride. Sometimes it’s been a wind through your hair, off into the sunset kind of ride… and other times it’s been a hold on for dear life, I have no control, kind of ride! Perhaps with a few exceptions though, I don’t think I’d change much, even if I had the chance.

Roxanne146_JessicaLutzPhotography

At my old home, saying some final goodbyes. Thank you to talented Jessica Lutz Photography for helping develop this conceptual shoot. Surprisingly, yet coincidental, Jessica and I are not related, although after only a few short meetings as nearby neighbors, I’ve often felt like maybe we should have been related in some way!

In less than 3 years I changed my job at my workplace, managed and edited historical publications for the London and Middlesex Historical Society and Eldon House museum, as well as served in various volunteer capacities on boards for those organizations (while leaving one board after a 2 year term to allow time for a special project). All of which were valuable and rewarding experiences which I feel very lucky to have had and I’ll continue my involvement in the future because this is the stuff I’m really passionate about. During that time I also made the difficult decision to sell my beloved first home, moved houses (not exactly in that order), helped family members through significant transitions and health issues, adjusted to the long distance move of my cherished sister, witnessed the marrying and burying of valued people in my life, as well as dealt with an elusive health issue which still plagues me to this day (while annoying it’s at least under control and isn’t an uncommon issue).

I list these events not as a laundry list of complaints, but to provide context on the tug-of-war effect of the last few years.  Most of the time I was pulled towards the positive side of the rope, but also had what felt like more than my fair share of the other side, which left me feeling exhausted and overwhelmed on a regular basis. Anxiety and insomnia were often the result. No surprise there I’m sure. I know I’m not the first to experience a few high intensity years. However, having experienced a number of these types of cycles throughout my life already, (which I won’t go into here, however trust me, those previous challenges were much more significant than most listed above), my normally patient and calm attitude feels as though it has been tested more thoroughly in the past three years than ever before.

With that said, the achievements along the way were incredibly rewarding and I’m proud of the work produced during that time. Through my local history involvement, which is one of the ways I give back to my community, I was excited to be a part of so many unique opportunities to preserve and celebrate Canadian history, specifically for Southwestern Ontario. I also feel extremely lucky to have the support of family, friends and co-workers and am glad that I was also able to be there to support others. I only wish that there had been more hours in the day for me to do more.

Here’s some tips on what I learned along the way:

  • Trust your instincts: That gut feeling when you know something is right, wrong or needs more consideration-trust it.
  • Believe in yourself: Confidence is crucial to creativity, so give yourself credit. Unless someone walked up and handed you what you currently have on a silver platter, you got where you are for a reason and achieved your goals as a result.
  • Take risks: Sometimes, even when you think you’re at your maximum, that one other thing comes along that you just can’t resist…don’t let fate stand in the way of grabbing onto an opportunity and going for it. Life isn’t always convenient, and while we seem to already know that too well when it comes to negative things, we seem to forget that when positive things come up too. With that said, be aware of the scope when you take risks and the number of things on your plate…that’s where things get tricky!
  • Take a breath: It’s just as important to be proactive as it is to take action, and in addition, we’re only human and need to recharge on a regular basis. Watch for the signs that you need to hit the pause button, and take a break or time to think things through. Even if you stay up until 4 a.m. on a regular basis, whilst still going about your regular schedule, there are rarely enough hours in the day if your list is already overflowing. There will often be more to do or something new to add to the pile. Prioritizing is key, and asking yourself ‘does this really need to be done today?’ is a good way to force yourself to re-evaluate, even if you think you’re being realistic about what you can accomplish in one day. Sometimes you have to remember to make time to wind down, so you can relax and refresh (and hopefully get some sleep!).
  • Keep your eye on the original goal: Try not to get caught up in the details. That’s hard to do when you’re detail oriented or when something snowballs beyond your control, but you’ll thank yourself later for simplifying when and where you can. Others will benefit from it as well.
  • Learn to say “when” (otherwise known as “no”): Life happens, but sometimes too much at once. While it’s important to take risks and live your life, it’s just as important to reflect on the balance and quality of your life, and learn when to say no, even if ambitious parts of you are saying “Yes of course!” Sometimes there’s an opportunity to leave the door open a crack, so that the opportunity might come back around again to you at a more convenient time, but you’ll thank yourself later if you really can’t take on anything more. So don’t be afraid to decline, say no firmly if needed, but with grace of course. This skill gets better with practice!

 

So what now?

Rest, lots and lots of rest. And some personal catch-up.

Rest. Reflect. Re-connect.

Then in time, the work on other smaller pending projects will slowly get started, and in the more immediate future, I’ll also be looking forward to working on the Eldon House ghost story where research and writing will pick back up where we left off. Wenman’s been patiently waiting in my parlour, drinking tea and eating most of my scone supply. If only I had been able to convince him to dust while we’re at work, but he seemed more interested in catching up on Downton Abbey and various historical military movies. I can’t say I blame him!

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