Sleepover at Keefer Mansion Inn, Niagara Region

by Ilona Kauremszky

Special to The Globe & Mail Weekend Travel Section February 3, 2007

Thorold - The skyline of Niagara Falls is riddled with mega-box hotels. But a short drive from the famous brink in the heart of Niagara sits the regal Keefer Mansion Inn.

The elegant exterior emits an Old World charm that harkens back to a simpler time when moms once baked apple pies, children played catch, and men retired to the parlour for a good cigar. That’s no surprise.

Perched atop the dramatic Niagara escarpment in the sleepy hamlet of Thorold, the region’s newest heritage inn was the former homestead to Canada’s earliest engineering dynasty, the Keefer’s. Patriarch George, the father of 20 children, was the president of the country’s biggest engineering operation of the day, the Welland Canal Company. One son oversaw the construction of the federal parliament buildings and engineered the first longest suspension bridge in the world, and a grandson pushed the CPR through the Fraser Canyon.

Constructed in 1886, the three-storey Queen Anne-style mansion was at the time known as the largest house built between Toronto and Rochester. But the lavish Grand Dame almost didn’t survive the 21st century.

In an unprecedented move five years ago the tiny town’s former mayor saved the day when she led the town’s gusty council to purchase the then derelict structure, saving it from the wrecker’s ball. With help from a group of fire-in-the-belly heritage activists they restored the historic mansion which opened last spring.

The city-owned inn remains one of the not-to-be-missed jewels of Niagara wine country.

This is where former Canadian talk show hosts and TV sex therapists come to unwind. Dini Petty and Sue Johansson have come to mellow out here like the fruity Chardonnay wine from the region. Business travellers and those who prefer intimate surrounds over the big hotel chains can enjoy the charm of this refurbished property.

The handsome home boasts ten spacious rooms which are named after prominent Keefer family members. The décor blends an Old World style with modern amenities. Twelve foot ceilings, thick sound proof walls, original Harris Water radiator system and a fireplace in nearly every room highlight the rich interiors. Classic mahogany furniture is set against vivid shades of wine, champagne and wheat that compliment the carpets, wall treatment and bed covers.

The largest suite named after George has a high four poster canopy king-sized bed and access is gained by a requisite foot stool. As you mount the sky high mattress for a long slumber you might feel like Hans Christian Andersen’s princess in the classic “The Princess and the Pea” but without the pea. For additional members in your group, there’s even a versatile pull-out couch in the suite’s living room.

Each room comes with a view of either the barges plying the Welland Canal seen in the distance or of the well-kept grounds overlooking quiet St. David’s Street.

Each suite has a different design but all suites are equipped with a plasma television and high-speed Internet access. The spacious four-piece bathroom ensuites have rain shower heads along with natural-rich bath products from Davies Gate. Book lovers will love the book nooks around every corner where stacked shelves and plush leather chairs await.

The staff operate this quaint inn like a well run ship ensuring all the small details are met. If you’re interested in the Keefer family history, the staff will gladly take you on a house tour. There’s even a scrapbook of articles and photos detailing the restoration process available to flip through at your leisure.

Food & Drink
Local produce and stellar Niagara vintages reign supreme here. Recently the inn’s VQA wine list was awarded the Gold Award of Excellence from the Wine Council of Ontario and features 12 Niagara wineries including Icewine and 14 other varieties. Executive Chef Bruce Worden formerly with the Vintage Inns of Oban Inn fame tosses ingredients like Arctic Char, salmon, roast duck and lamb into his seasonal menu.

The property has two restaurants open daily for lunch and dinner. The larger aptly named Parlour seats 32, and is styled in warm citrus tones and toffee-stained mahogany furniture. The smaller dubbed Keefer is situated in the original family dining room and contains classic Chippendale furniture amid soft butter tones and rich elegant window treatments. Adjacent to the Keefer, there is a masculine bar and fireplace which beckons a fireside chat while sipping on a single malt scotch.

Things to do:

You are literally in the heart of Niagara’s best offerings. Use this escape hatch as a launch pad for road trips to Niagara on the Lake which is a 20-minute drive, or to Niagara Falls, a 15-minute drive.

In NOTL, canoodle with your significant other in a romantic sleigh ride through the historic town or shop at the upscale boutiques.

Afterwards, nip away to one of the many wineries open for wine tasting and purchases. In wine country, the IceWine Festival is in full swing January 19 through 28, 2007. For more details visit Niagara Wine Festival.

Now through January 18, the seventh annual AngelFest is a winter extravaganza where local craft shops, galleries, boutiques and restaurants dust off their welcome mats and open their doors to the winter season. For details, visit angeltrail.

If absolute seclusion and a serenity-now moment is what you crave then book a spa treatment in either the property’s newly opened Petit Spa sanctuary or opt for an in-room massage where the elixirs can include chocolate and citrus wraps or exotic ylang ylang oils. Consider the body treatment a New Year’s gift to yourself.

Hotel Vitals
The Keefer Mansion Inn, 14 St. Davids St. West, Thorold, ON L2V 2K9; tel: 905-680-9581; Keefer Mansion Inn

Rates & Rooms
Rates range from $149 to $199 per night which includes breakfast and a $25 book credit.

Bottom Line
Unlike the luxe five-star brands invading the area, the Keefer Mansion Inn radiates Gilded Age opulence and is a refreshing tonic.


photo courtesy: Keefer Mansion Inn

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