In my now completed itinerary of Oscar Wilde’s lecture tour of across North America in 1882, you will find logged more than one hundred hotels or houses where Oscar stayed while lecturing, along with illustrations of all the different lecture theatres, music halls, or opera houses where he spoke.
A commonality emerges among most of these venues, and it is exemplified in the phrase most often repeated in the chronicle: Destroyed by Fire—a common occurrence for many public buildings during an era of open hearths, gas lighting, indoor smoking, and a general lack of fire-resistant materials.
Some of the buildings Oscar visited suffered this fate more than once, but none were burned down more times than the Dafoe House in Belleville Ontario.
There had been a Dafoe House at the north-east corner of Bridge and Pinnacle Streets, in Belleville, Ontario (now 211 Pinnacle Street) as far back as 1840s.
The original hostelry had a short life: completed in 1847 it burned down in 1855. Undeterred, the owners rebuilt the Dafoe, this one remaining erect long enough for Oscar to take up residence in 1882, before also burning down—this second hotel was destroyed by fire on October 4, 1886.
After this repeat catastrophe, the land was sold to a Henry Corby, who apparently took more care building a hotel back up on the site: it was nine years before it reopened as Hotel Quinte on February 28, 1895. This magnificent edifice burned down on January 5, 1907.
There’s something of the can-do about Canadians. Just over a year later on February 27, 1908 the builders seemed to have got it right. The new Hotel Quinte reopened and became Belleville’s grandest place to stay. The Quinte served as host to prime ministers and international dignitaries, and remained a stately downtown presence through two world wars and a century of change.
Surely now this legacy of Oscar’s built environment would no longer continue to succumb to the flames?
However, in the early hours of December 20, 2012, the seemingly inevitable happened. During renovations at the Hotel Quinte the curse struck again and once more the building was gutted by fire and had to be subsequently demolished.
So what now for the corner of Pinnacle and Bridge Streets?
There is planned a $50 million six-storey, 110 condominium, project development to be known as The Pinnacle, but as of June 2020, according to the Belleville Intelligencer, there is no word on when construction will begin.
Encouragingly, perhaps, the place does exist as an artist’s impression, and the signs do say “coming soon”—although these days soon is a relative term.
So until development happens on the site this cautionary tale is offered to those who may read the condos web site (part of the Downtown District online presence) which informs us on its Buy or Lease a Property page:
With its rich history, dating back to 1816, many properties in downtown Belleville have a story to tell. Part of the excitement of owning a building downtown is exploring those stories…
Presumably for the superstitious among prospective purchasers they don’t recommend this one.
© John Cooper, 2020