The Vendome Hotel, a fine example of Queen Ann Style was built in Sarnia, Ontario. The work commenced in August 1892. Mr. Charles A. Hand, was the instigator, who before building the Vendome had been the proprietor of the St. Clair House. The grand hotel was constructed on a piece of property owned by Hand at the corner of Front and Cromwell Streets.
Work was completed by the end of the same year. The design was that of T. J. Rutley an architect from Chatham, Ontario. The Gothic towers and slate roofs, common to the Queen Ann style created a stately look for the new hotel. Fancy rot iron railings that graced the balconies served not only as decoration, but also presented a security function. A night at the Vendome in the early part of the 20th century was between $1.50 and $2.00 per night, at that time considered an upscale hotel.
Mr. Hand died not long after the construction of the hotel and his widow sold a stake in it to William James Ryder, my great-uncle.
By 1911 Billy Ryder was the owner and Mrs. Hand was listed as a partner. Billy died a few years later, December 11th, 1914. According to the newspapers he was well regarded in his community. He had been involved in many of the community sports over the years he was at the hotel and was a member of the
Masons. One interesting note in his obituary was that “A special train over the Grand Trunk railway brought some seventy-five citizens of that place to attend the last sad rites.” This in itself shows just how popular Billy was.
After his death, Mrs Hand claimed full ownership of the hotel. Billy’s family filed court documents March 26th, 1915, to indicate there was a lawsuit pending. Fortunately a settlement was reached before the suit hit trial.
It would seem that Mr. Ryder did have a will, dated August 31st, 1901. This will would have been made around the time he became an owner of the hotel. No one knows what his relationship with Mrs. Hand was but when he died in1914, through letters of probate, a judge granted Mrs. Laura C. Hand (widow of
the original owner and a partner of Billy) as sole beneficiary of the said estate.
All of Billy’s family, contested this judgement, lead by their brother Fred. Upon presenting the will documented by their deceased brother and declaring them sole heirs and next of kin, (Mr. Ryder never married), they had a pretty good case. Why they settled for what they did is not known, but I imagine the hotel would have been worth a tidy sum in 1915.
The settlement was made by June of 1915 and a total of $1300 was paid to the family as settlement. Today this sum would not have been worth fighting for.
After Billy’s death, the prestige of “The Vendome” would slip and there would be some rather scandalous activity that would take place there as well as other downtown hotels around the province. Unfortunately border towns are often more susceptible to transient population and higher crime rates.
Over the years the hotel had its ups and downs and in 1953 suffered substantial damage from a tornado that passes through the Sarnia.
Much later, pictures of the hotel also saw its aging demise and in August of 1979, seventy-seven years after its construction, the hotel was torn down to make room for a much needed parking lot, according to the Sarnia newspaper.
More about William James "Billy" Ryder