A Revived Roadside Motel Is Putting the Ottawa Valley on the Map
In 2019, Joel Greaves, a marketing exec from Toronto, and his wife, Devon Vaillancourt, who owns a concierge service for luxury homeowners, decided to leave corporate life behind to become motel revivalists. After a year of looking in the more established parts of Ontario cottage country, they got hooked by a property in Calabogie, Ont., in the relatively-hipster-free Ottawa Valley. Here, they thought, they could become pioneers of the next local-tourism hotspot. They pooled their own savings, investment dollars from Balsam Venture Capital and a loan from a business development council to pay $695,000 for a 1970s-era motel—previously part of Jocko’s Beach Resort.
The couple recruited Keri MacLellan and Andrea Pierre, from the design firm Westgrove, who gutted the property’s 11 rooms, installing a white-on-neutrals cottagey vibe. Meanwhile, the owners got to work on partnerships with nearby businesses. They brought in Oh-el-la café, which opened in 2020, to provide breakfast catering for guests, and a rotation of local food trucks to supply lunch and dinner options on weekends. They stocked the lobby bottle shop with craft picks from Ontario breweries and wineries.
Somewhere Inn Calabogie officially opened in September—the latest in a national trend of booked-to-infinity motels catering to a young, nostalgic cohort. There’s Cali-casual Penny’s Motel near Georgian Bay, the pink-hued June Motel in Prince Edward County and Sauble Beach (the subject of Netflix’s Motel Makeover), the chic and nautical Lighthouse in Bridgewater, N.S., modern chalet-themed Lamphouse in Canmore, Alta., and pop-arty motor lodge Hotel Zed, which has three locations in B.C.
Calabogie is firmly up-and-coming. It’s the epicenter of the Ottawa Valley, full of potential for a year-round resort business, with rafting, fishing and hiking in the summer, and snowmobiling and skiing in the winter. “There’s a groundswell of young entrepreneurs starting cafés, adventure outfitters and craft breweries here,” says Greaves. “It’s been really cool to be part of that.” Plus, he says, the model of partnering with local artisans and businesses is scalable. “We’d love to take the concept to other communities in Ontario and beyond in the future.”
- Modern touch
Keri MacLellan and Andrea Pierre of the design firm Westgrove upgraded the Inn’s 11 rooms with hardwood floors and propane stove fireplaces. The Scandi-cabin vibe is complemented with contemporary, sculptural light fixtures, mosaic-tiled bathrooms, and white pine-paneled walls.
- Safe haven
Opening a motel during a pandemic meant finding ways to minimize face time between staff and guests. In addition to contactless check-in, the owners introduced a text messaging system that lets guests request room service or off-site dinner reservations.
- VIP guests
Dogs are welcomed at Somewhere Inn with the gift of a canine bandana and they get an unlimited supply of treats during their stay. “For many people, getting away from it all and spending quality time with those who matter most includes their dogs,” says Greaves.