Approaching Charlottetown from Northumberland Strait one can see a very long way up the North River. Framed between Blockhouse Point and Seatrout Point the river recedes into the distance, past Duchess Point, and Lewis Point and finally past Pleasant Point near the North River Bridge. The view looking south from Pleasant Point is a striking one with the Strait appearing in the distance embraced by the points of land at the harbour mouth. Small wonder then, that it became the site of a summer hotel.
The Beach Grove Inn may not have had all of the allure of the North Shore beach-front hotels but it was close to Charlottetown and easily accessible from the railway station or steamer wharf by taxi or private auto. The hotel was built in 1921 by R.H. Sterns, well-known as a hotelier in the community. He had come to Charlottetown in 1901 and purchased a livery business and in 1903 took over the Victoria Hotel, formerly the Hotel Davies. He sold the hotel in 1919 after threatening to tear it down if he did not get his price. This resulted in a joint stock company being formed by leading local businessmen which took over the Victoria as well as the nearby Queen Hotel to ensure that Charlottetown had at least some quality accommodation to offer visitors.
The opening of the sixty room hotel in mid-July attracted eight hundred people who danced to the music of Professor Dixon’s Orchestra and the evening was proclaimed as the public social event of the season. Mr. Sterns’ hotel boasted all modern conveniences and pastimes, including a dining room presided over by a chef formerly employed by the Chateau Laurier, The hotel, identified as both the “Beech Grove Inn” and the “Beach Grove Inn” in publicity, had tennis courts and gardens and salt water bathing on the beach facing the magnificent view. The property also included a farm and the Sterns residence which had been built in the mid-1800s.
In 1922 Sterns, who had continued to operate a farm where he bred trotting horses, decided to put a golf course on the property and had a major auction sale on-site where the breeding stock and farm and racing equipment such as sulkies was dispersed. Two years later a new golf club was formed to lease the nine-hole course but it is not clear how long it operated.
Of all the attractions, it was the ball room which was to feature most highly in the recollections of Islanders. Although regular dances were held weekly at the Inn from the time it first opened, the twenty-year association with the Gyro Club made a lasting impression. The Gyro Club was a men’s friendship club with some similarities with the Rotary Club. The Charlottetown chapter had been formed in 1929 and was an outgrowth of the local Young Men’s Commercial Club. The Gyro Club dances were the signature activity at Beach Grove, even when it was no longer operating as a tourist facility.
Because Beach Grove was near Upton Farm it offered a pleasant place for a meal after the horse races at Upton track. In 1934 the recently-formed Charlottetown fox hunting club had a drag hunt through the Upton and Beach Grove properties.
Through the ’20s and ’30s the Beach Grove Inn was a successful seasonal operation. It seemed no conference or important visitation was complete without a motor trip to Beach Grove for luncheon or a dinner. The Gyro dances attracted from three to five hundred dancers and spectators at a time when there were fewer competing social opportunities. The round of activities was uninterrupted by the death of R.H. Sterns in January of 1935. He and a Miss Douse, a clerk at the Hotel, had been motoring on the bushed ice road on North River late at night when he made a wrong turn and ended up near York Point. He collapsed and Miss Douse struggled across the ice to Brighton to seek help but Sterns did not regain consciousness and he died in hospital.
The hotel (“so well-known that any elaborate description is not necessary”) was offered for sale in June of 1936 and continued operations until the outbreak of WW II. The property was leased by the Department of National Defence and in October 1939 the 2nd and 8th medium battery of the Royal Canadian Artillery moved into the premises. The hotel accommodated the orderly officers and men while the 11 officers, a batman, a cook and two waiters were housed in the Sterns house. Formerly operating as a summer hotel, the Inn required the installation of heating throughout for year-round operation. In 1940 a great deal of construction took place at Beach Grove; five large new buildings housed space for instruction, storerooms, a 15 bed hospital and an 85 x 95 foot drill hall with a 125 foot indoor rifle range attached. At the same time a new road was constructed to access the facility. The former lane with a bridge across Ellen’s Creek had been a private road leading to the Lewis, Burke and Tweedie properties on May Point and the Inn had been accessed by a public road from the highway to the north of the Inn.
In September 1940 the installation became No. 62 Canadian Army Basic Training Centre which prepared recruits with preliminary training before they were shipped out to more specialized regimental training facilities. No. 62 C.A.(B) T.C. had more than eighty staff under the commend of Lt. Colonel F.I. Andrew. Hundreds of Islanders as well as recruits from elsewhere had their first taste of army life at Beach Grove. Army use of the base ceased in 1944 as the war wound down and the property was purchased by the provincial government in 1947. The hotel became the residence for inmates of the provincial infirmary which had been overcrowded since the asylum at Falconwood had burned down in 1931. Outbuildings met other provincial needs. For example the property housed a detention home for delinquents beginning in 1951. All buildings on the site have since been demolished and a new senior citizens home built on the site. Only a few traces, such as the ornamental trees bordering the gardens and tennis courts, remain of the resort which once graced Pleasant Point.
Thanks Harry, very interesting.
I enjoyed this, Harry, and remember Mum telling me about the wonderful dances she attended at Beach Grove. My dad was a member of the Gyro Club but I wasn’t aware of their association with Beach Grove. What a fascinating history the inn had.