Mulmur’s Stanton Hotel
The Stanton Hotel is the only stage coach hotel remaining in Mulmur, and one of a tiny few still standing in the Headwaters region.
The Colourful Constable and his Remarkable Hotel
Constable and entrepreneur Win Hand, described as “tall enough to pick the caps off telegraph poles,” became a legend in his own time. This controversial character’s legacy to these hills still stands in Mulmur’s Stanton Hotel, but it too may disappear.
Orangeville’s weekly Police Court in the 1870s had to be the best show in town. There were the usual nefarious types of course, almost always facing charges of drunkenness or brawling. Often both. Some of them were so “usual” they even had courtroom nicknames. Two well-known regulars, for example, a pair of “Joes,” Joe Agnew and Joe Coolihan, were distinguished as “The Orangeville Bruiser” and “The Donnybrook Rooster.”
A number of different magistrates presided on the bench, but a spectator favourite was Fisher Munro, whose habit of drifting off to sleep between, or during, cases was a subject for pool betting. Police Chief Wilkins, who filled the role of court officer, was wont to summon the various accused with phrases such as, “Come forward, you blackguard!” – making clear just where he stood on the principle that justice is blind.
And looming high above all the proceedings was Constable Win Hand. At six feet, five-and-a-half inches tall, he was impossible to ignore, not just because of his unusual height and his very long arms, but because he was often the arresting officer. Except for those cases, not at all rare, in which he was the accused!
A rough and ready style
Newspaper accounts and court records suggest Win Hand’s philosophy of law enforcement did not lean to patient negotiation or citizens’ rights. Whether his dubious fame as a brawler was well earned or the result of bad luck is unclear, but somehow his arrests were rarely easy ones.
In April 1878, for example, he was sent to Ballycroy to bring in Messrs. Bloomer and McMaster, two hotelkeepers determined to resist Orangeville justice. Win himself had been a well-known hotelkeeper – much more on that later – but that didn’t secure him any favours from this pair. They set a couple of savage dogs on him, then jumped him from ambush and fought so hard that Win had to retreat. The arrest was completed only after he returned with a posse gathered up in Orangeville and Mono Mills.
A year earlier, in May of 1877, Win had collared a hobo near the railway station, normally an easy task because these worthies often welcomed a dry bed and a few meals at municipal expense. But this one fought so savagely that Win received a bloody nose and needed the help of five citizens to drag the offender to jail. Just days later Win’s uniform was torn and his arm broken as he served a warrant on one M. Leeson. Typical of cases involving Win, the allotment of blame was debatable. The slugfest arose only after Leeson, reasonably enough, insisted on seeing the warrant, a step in the process that Win felt was entirely superfluous.
Altogether, 1877 was not a great year for Win. In addition to being on the receiving end of some rough blows, he was also convicted for delivering them. He was fined four dollars plus costs for assaulting a citizen at the Orangeville Fair. According to the Orangeville Sun, when the decision was delivered from the bench, the “swarthy” chief “raised himself on tip-toe, and with his face beaming with Irish humour, whispered, ‘Bedad, Win, but ye held a loosin’ hand.’”
Not long after that, Win was twice more brought to court and convicted of abusing his role as the town’s bailiff (a co-appointment he held with constable). It seems that while discharging the prescribed duties of debt collection and court-directed property seizure, he had a habit of extorting an additional “fee” from the offenders.
In a letter to the editor of the Northern Advance, dated January 9, 1868, the writer – who signed himself “Pro Bono Publico” (on behalf of the people) – stated that he went to a council meeting in Mulmur Township to see for himself if these meetings were as wild and raucous as reported. He found the rumours to be true for the meeting ended in a mighty brawl involving three brothers: Deputy Reeve Win Hand, Reeve Thomas Hand and Councillor William Hand.
Right : There are no known photos of Win Hand, but this image of his brother Thomas, older than Win by 10 years, appeared in the Shelburne Free Press in 1892. Thomas was a Mulmur councillor for three years and reeve for seven. Their father William was one of the township’s first settlers and served as a councillor for six years.
Were Win and Orangeville a “wild west” combination?
Although Win’s rambunctious arrest stories, along with his size and style, always made great news copy, Orangeville was actually generally peaceable, perhaps even more so in Win’s absence. Case in point: In early June 1878, Win left town for a few weeks. That same month, council suspended Chief Wilkins for refusing to do road repairs. Without any police service, Orangeville was theoretically vulnerable to a crime spree. Yet records show the sole disruption of community harmony was more pigs than usual wandering and wallowing on Broadway.
But the town seemed to feel more delight than censure with regard to Win’s escapades. Although the Orangeville Sun almost always described him as “ever ready to take part in a row or ruction,” when he returned that June to take up his constabulary duties, the paper literally gushed a “welcome back.”
Later that year, when he left town for good and moved to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, there was genuine regret in Orangeville at the loss of its unusual policeman. That regret turned to anguish when news came he had been killed (in a fight, of course), then just as quickly to relief when the story turned out to be false.
Many years later, an article on the front page of the Sault’s Evening News indicates there was a softer side to the man. In January 1910, the paper paid tribute to his 50 years of “married tranquility” (to Catherine Bradley of Mulmur, with whom he had nine children). It quotes Win as saying that in those five decades he “never had a row with the woman of his choice.”
Even in Michigan though, Win’s legend continued to build. In Sault Ste. Marie (where he lived until his death in 1913), he immediately became a policeman again. Apparently the change in venue did nothing to modify his constabulary style. Over the next many years, the Evening News was filled with enthusiastic reportage of his rough and tumble arrests and, as in Orangeville, convictions for assault.
There was something else that didn’t change. Win Hand knew how to make a buck. In addition to his policeman’s salary he earned a stipend as a fire warden, ran the city’s dog pound, and earned money on the side as an auctioneer and proprietor of a cigar store. The only thing he did not transplant from Dufferin to the Sault was his considerable experience as a builder, developer, renovator/flipper, and manager of hotels. And herein lies what is arguably Win Hand’s most interesting contribution to Dufferin County: hotels. He was involved in a number of them in Orangeville and beyond, but the one that stands out is the hotel he built in Stanton.
Win’s Hotel Legacy
In January 1871, two men were arrested at Orangeville’s Royal Hotel by Constable Hand – who also happened to be the hotel’s owner. That coincidence did not raise an eyebrow in the community. In addition to his high profile as a policeman, Win was already both well established and well regarded as a hotelman. Over just a few years in the 1870s, while employed as the town’s constable, he had bought, operated and sold not just the Royal, but the Dominion House and the Marksman, as well as the Prince of Wales in nearby Primrose.
His first hotel, however, the one that launched this side of his colourful career, was in the village of Stanton in Mulmur Township. In 1863, with the help of his family, he constructed the building that still stands today on Airport Road. And although the tales about this lanky constable with the extremely long arms contribute much colour to local history, the Stanton Hotel is Win Hand’s most important legacy.
In 1863, when the hotel was completed, Win was just 23 years old. Although Mulmur already had eight licensed establishments for a population of mere hundreds, Win was granted a liquor licence, called a “shop licence,” for his new building.
(It probably helped that the Hand family was prominent in the township. In about 1837, Win’s father, William, was one of the first settlers and later served as a township councillor for six years. Win’s older brother, Thomas, a councillor for three years and reeve for seven, held office in 1863 when Win applied.)
The new Stanton Hotel was no ordinary enterprise. Its size and potential is evident in the fact that Win’s shop licence (takeout only) was upgraded to a tavern licence (full- service inn) the very next year. Yet Win did not stay in Stanton for long. Although the hamlet was growing and stagecoach traffic increasing as the northern part of the township opened up, he soon leased out the operation. By 1870, he had made his move to Orangeville.
He sold the Stanton hotel outright in 1873 and got out of the hotel business in Orangeville at about the same time. It turned out to be a shrewd move. By the early 1880s hotels across these hills, indeed across Canada, disappeared en masse as Prohibition took hold.
The Stanton Hotel was licensed for the last time in 1876. By 1880, Mulmur assessment rolls show the building was occupied by carpenters. However, unlike the vast majority of Ontario hotels built in the 19th century, and all the 19th-century hotel buildings in Mulmur, the former Stanton Hotel still stands.
And because it does, and because it represents a history and heritage unique in Ontario, the controversial spirit of Win Hand remains in these hills. Under the mantra of “progress and traffic safety,” authorities have determined the Stanton Hotel should come down, while heritage supporters are equally determined it must be preserved.
Somewhere, Win Hand must be smiling at all the brouhaha.
What’s so special about the Stanton Hotel?
In spite of its current drab appearance, the old Stanton Hotel is a heritage jewel, an architectural rarity that boasts a range of unique features. But it’s under threat of demolition.
Unfortunately for the hotel, it stands very close to the road, obstructing traffic sightlines on the northwest corner of Airport Road and Mulmur’s 5 Sideroad. Neglect and cheap cladding make the place look so weary it all but disappears in the landscape.
So what makes it so special? To begin with, the hotel is pure Georgian, a design typically built when Ontario was still called Upper Canada. It is a “bank building,” built into a hill, with a separate entrance at the basement level where the tavern was located, and another on the first floor, an uncommon construction for buildings of its period.
Although the finely coursed stonework is, in its current condition, the most noticeable exterior feature of the hotel, it also has neo-classical details, rare in pre-Confederation Ontario. Among these is the large 10-foot-tall, first-floor entranceway with its pilasters, detailed cornice, sidelights and transom. (The entranceway was recently removed for restoration.)
The hewn pine frame partly visible inside is entirely of mortise and tenon construction, built without nails. Interior features include a central staircase rising from an expansive lobby area where patrons were greeted and encouraged to warm themselves by the Rumford fireplace.
At this writing, Dufferin County owns the building and Mulmur Township has stayed the wrecker’s ball by declaring an “intention to designate” it as a heritage building. And there is some discussion about moving it to another site. Though only a first step, the “intention” is by itself a progressive move in Dufferin County where, despite its rich heritage, there has been a curiously limited approach to heritage building preservation. The Town of Mono, for example, currently has nine “designated” buildings. Next door, the former Township of Caledon has 47. Throughout the Town of Caledon, which has a population only slightly larger than Dufferin’s, there are more than 100 designated structures.
In the 19th century, dozens of hotels dotted these hills. They were both community gathering places and stopping places where travellers and new settlers who came by stage coach, wagon, horse or foot were provided with food, drink and accommodation. The Stanton Hotel is the only one remaining in Mulmur, and one of a tiny few still standing in the Headwaters region. Its demolition would mark the loss of a remarkable chapter in the county’s history.