Our Building’s History

The following was a press release in the Bolton Enterprise and Caledon Citizen in Jan. 1997:

Dr. Richard Ehrlich recently purchased the former Elm Tree Hotel building in Palgrave, Ontario. The building was constructed in the late 1800s when the railroad ran through Palgrave. The train was only a dollar-a-ride from Toronto in 1930, so it was a popular tourist destination. There was a grist mill by the village pond and a sawmill just downstream, both of which created local jobs. Palgrave, with a population of only 100 people, was considered to be rather remote in those days. In a 1931 newspaper ad, the Elm Tree Hotel boasted that it was “Palgrave’s Old-Established and Leading Hotel, The Home of the Commercial Traveler and Tourist”, not to mention that it had “Perfect Sanitation”. In the same newspaper, a neighbouring hotel advertised its “excellent facilities for hunting, fishing and tourist parties” and reassured guests that “guides are supplied on request” - if they cared to venture into the wilderness outside of town.

One side effect of having the railroad in town was a lot of drunkenness on pay nights. As a result, around the turn of the century, Albion Township (as it was then known) went dry - and stayed that way until the 1970s. According to longtime Palgrave residents, the hotel’s owner, Billy Irwin, would sneak up from the basement carrying liquor and look carefully around the staircase before dashing across the hall with the alcohol. That hall still leads to a small room whose door has a little (14") inlaid door, perfect for stealthily handing out bottles during Prohibition. Ironically, Mr. Irwin was also the township clerk at the same time that he carried on his bootlegging operation!

The great Canadian painter David Milne, a contemporary of the Group of Seven, lived just around the corner for several years in the 1930s. The Elm Tree Hotel appears in at least one of his paintings, Kitchen Chimney, which is owned by the National Gallery of Canada. Around 1950, Nelson Tatton purchased and renovated the hotel building, and several generations of his family lived there until 1997.

Over the years, the downstairs portion of the building has housed a barber, a massage therapist, a hairdresser, an ice cream shop, an early Trivial Pursuit office, a clothing store, town council meetings - and more. People used to obtain their marriage licences there when Billy Irwin was township clerk, and a number of old applications were recently discovered in the basement. (These will be turned over to the Town of Caledon, as they are legally considered to be “vital statistics”.) The building’s detached garage was Palgrave’s original fire hall, and sits on top of a large cistern which contained the water for fighting fires.

Dr. Ehrlich recently converted half of the lower floor into a dental office. Working with Mike Urbanski, a contractor from Beeton specializing in historic properties, much of the original wood has been beautifully restored. Wainscotting over a century old was taken down carefully one piece at a time, refinished, and reinstalled. Doors and their frames were removed, refinished, and hung back up on elaborate old hinges. In the waiting room area, beside a cozy fireplace, the original hardwood floor has been restored to gleaming perfection. The dental office was specially designed to preserve the large wooden doors and cabinetry from the original hotel dining room. Outside, the building has been given a facelift with a new porch, shutters and gingerbread.

Artist Tim Webb has painted a mural in the children’s area of the waiting room, depicting a forest scene from the Palgrave area. Mr. Webb, who grew up in Keswick, has over 60 pieces of art displayed internationally in public and private establishments.

Dr. Richard Ehrlich has been practising in the Caledon area since 1986, specializing in preventive, health-oriented, high-tech dentistry. He also teaches dental students part-time at the University of Toronto. He is known in the community for his environmental work, and is often seen bouncing through the forest on his custom-built recumbent bicycle. Dr. Ehrlich initiated and continues to direct the Town of Caledon battery recycling program. He was awarded the Caledon Environmentalist of the Year award in 1998. His home-built, energy conserving, pedal-powered lawnmower has been featured on CBC National Radio and Television, and earned him the (dubious) honour as one of the CBC “As It Happens” Inventors of the Year in 1994.