The Queen's new clothes: How the debaucherous Queen's Hotel evolved into the beloved and benevolent Arlington
Published in Country Roads Magazine, Summer 2015
There's a hint of amusement in Vivian Bloom's voice as she recounts spying on the bar patrons of the Queen's Hotel. It was the 1960's, and her family lived on the main drag of Maynooth, right next door to the historic building, known these days as The Arlington. From the window of her childhood bedroom, she could look right into the 'gentlemen's lounge,' which was generally full of miners and loggers on a Friday night. They would emerge from the bush, pockets full of unspent wages, ready for a night of hard drinking and partying. Invariably a liquor-fueled fight would break out, sometimes leading to a full-on-barroom-brawl that would eventually spill into the parking lot.
“We'd stay up late watching the fights through my window,” says Bloom. “Then, on Saturday morning we'd be down in the parking lot collecting all the loose change that had fallen from the men's pockets.”
There's no shortage of stories. The Queen's Hotel was a hard place, known for its ruckus and debauchery. It wasn't terribly popular with the Maynooth rate payers during its hay-day in the 50's and 60's; until bylaws changed in the mid 1970's, it was one of the few places alcohol could be procured in North Hastings, and therefore drew a crowd that some found unsavory. According to a few sources, wayward parents would leave their children locked in cars for hours while they drank inside. At one point, the hotel was apparently an unofficial brothel. Bloom remembers her parents telling her to hit the floor one day during hunting season, to avoid stray bullets during an especially heated altercation next door. The hotel was known for its fights and rowdiness, even after new management took over and changed its name to the Arlington Hotel.
Historic photos courtesy of Vivian Bloom
“I was scared of the Arlington back in the 80s,” admits artist and musician Wayne Elliot. “Even by then it was still a pretty rough place.”
But you wouldn't know it now. These days, the Arlington is celebrated throughout North Hastings as a lively community-hub. While the building's facade has remained mostly unchanged since it was constructed in the mid to late 1800's (and then rebuilt after a huge fire took out most of the downtown core in 1907), the interior has been cleaned up dramatically. Moreover, the spirit of the Arlington has evolved from rowdy to welcoming.
Situated across the street from the Hastings Highlands Centre --which features a public library, gym, and the municipal chambers in which Bloom (now all grown up) holds the office of mayor-- the Arlington is a symbol of inclusivity. It is a refuge for artists, venue for eclectic entertainers, and a clean, friendly hostel for international travelers on their way to Algonquin Park. The three-storied building can accommodate up to 30 guests in its 9 rooms for let, and has a space adjacent to the main floor pub that can be rented out for special events. There's a full commercial kitchen on the main floor, a smaller eat-in kitchen upstairs for guests, and a common room.
Photos courtesy of the Arlington
Over the years, the Arlington has gradually evolved into a welcoming environment to all ethnicities, abilities, sexual identities and orientations, religions, cultures, and sub-cultures. It's a place where deer hunters and drag queens collide. In recent years it has hosted a plethora of community events, including film workshops, awards ceremonies, movie launches, pool tournaments, Maynooth Pride, open mic nights, a literary festival and much more. The rooms upstairs are often booked by film crews or ice climbing clubs, and the stage downstairs has been graced with some big talent, including Fred Eaglesmith, Astrid Young, Jane Bunnett and Maqueque.
“Mary Gauthier is playing here on June 12,” beams the Arlington's current owner, Bernie Munich. “It's just phenomenal that she's coming here!” Munich, who grew up in Toronto was a fan of the Arlington long before he took it over from the previous owners.
“I was always trying to find a way out of the city. If there was a ride coming up to Maynooth, I was on it,” explains the multilinguist, who speaks English, German and French, and is also fluent in American Sign Language. In 2012 he came into some money and realized he had a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a huge change. He showed up at the Arlington, unannounced, with a bid to buy it.
“I had always wanted to own my own bar,” says Munich. “And the Arlington attracts such a great mix of people! I'm doing my best to create a safe and inclusive environment for everybody, and am always open to hearing how I can continually improve on that.” Munich says gender equality is one his top priorities when booking talent.
Bernie, and his happy clientele
“The entire music industry is very androcentric. It's easy to take everyone who comes in a venue like this and then realize later that you've had nothing but men on the stage for three months,” he explains. Munich says by being cognizant of this pitfall he can avoid it. So far it's working. He's been lining up great talent, and the community has definitely taken notice.
“The pub is more of a nightclub or entertainment venue than a bar,” says Munich. “It's only open on weekends and for special events.” Still, when it is open it draws a big and loyal crowd. Annual parties, such as the sagittarius party and cabin fever have been embraced by the community, and the slogan 'see you at the Arlington' has become synonymous with Maynooth culture.
It doesn't just stop there though. Munich says he has some big hopes for the future, including building a community radio station on premises. He also enjoys having resident artists, and has plans for increasing opportunities for spring and fall writer and artist residencies.
“If you'd told me back in the 80's what the Arlington would be today, I'm not sure I would have believed you,” admits Elliot, who is currently one of several rotating artists in residence, including musicians, painters and poets.
Artists in residence, photos by Michelle Annette Tremblay
William, another resident artist, joins our discussion. He doesn't give me his last name, but is eager to share his experiences and play with my camera. He has a warmth and playfulness that breaks down all barriers.
“I asked Bernie about putting in a little garden,” William says, as he fondles his long white braid. “Follow me, look at this.” He sprites across the parking lot, beckoning me to follow. First he takes me on a tour of the old barn on site, pointing out an area that a local woodworker is currently using, and talking about plans to build a loft in the rafters that can accommodate additional overnight guests. Then he leads me to a lovingly worked plot of land just behind the barn. Perennial herbs are just starting to lift their heads from the spring soil.
On his way inside to paint the Arlington logo in the lobby, another resident artist, Ren Lonechild, stops to chat a bit about his experiences as a young First Nations artist, and how different his life in Maynooth has been from other areas across the country. He enjoys the communal and supportive environment, as well as meeting travellers from all over the world, and chatting with them in the hostel's communal kitchen and impressively high-tech living room on the third floor.
We end up lounging on the back patio for an hour or more with a few other resident artists and various other people who casually drop by. We're sitting pretty much exactly where young Bloom and the other children used to collect change that had spilled from brawlers pockets. But there's no conflict here today. Birds sing. Someone repairs a bike. Tobacco is exchanged. A quiet poet sits on the fire escape above, not joining in the conversation but listening, listening for a long time. There's a thoughtful discussion about how hard it can be for people on the fringes of society, such as artists, those with chronic wanderlust, any member of a marginalized or minority population and so on, to find a place that really feels comfortable, like home.
“The Arlington is a place of possibilities,” says William, with a crinkled smile. “It's a place of hope.”
To book a room at the Arlington, or check out the entertainment lineup, visit www.TheArlington.ca