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“Riverlicious”and the Grenville Brewery

Since 2004 my family and I have been visiting our secret garden cottage retreat, on the shores of the Thousand Islands Region near Prescott, Ontario. Nestled next to the mighty St. Lawrence River, our cozy cottage walls with pine coiffure is our very own magical place, filled with peace and tranquility, the kind that transforms you when you completely surrender to its hypnotic charm. For our Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter celebrations, this is where it all seemed an appropriate paradise for us to get together to share the holidays.

Our cottage’s red brick exterior is old and weathered, though warmly inviting, bursting with riverside stories of the past and capturing our imaginations with commanding reverence for its longevity. These bricks that come from so long ago, speak to days when Prescott was a strategic hub for trade, and the Industrialists were in the throes of building Upper Canada.

Long before our paradise became a recreational riverfront, in 1869 an industrialist by the name of John McCarthy chose this perfect setting on the St. Lawrence River to establish a red brick brewery with his partner James Quinn. There, next to the grand St. Lawrence River was a bountiful abundance of cool natural spring water for masterful beer crafting. These perfect conditions came together with John McCarthy’s extensive experience in the distillery business. Producing 7,000 barrels of beer a year, he managed to grow the brewery into Upper Canada’s largest brewery. Furthermore, the natural foundation of a bedrock floor allowed for the brewery ideal conditions to house storage vaults on a bedrock floor basement. This contributed to the genius of making some of Canada’s finest beer- no wonder our secret garden cottage retreat is such a happy place!

Stand on this river’s edge and lose yourself in the gentleness of its waters… look closely into the rhythmic waves and you will see the remnants of the Grenville Brewery loading dock just feet away. Divers today still find old bottles and bricks from the Brewery, ghostly reminders that his place was where Prescott’s historic forwarding trade was busy with barley and hops for John McCarthy’s brew. Most of the barely used by the brewery came to Prescott from the west aboard schooners that each carried about 2500 hundred bushels. Imagine the vivacity!

One summer morning in 1902 legend has it that an exciting rescue was in order on the Grenville Brewery dock. First in line for business of the day was Mr. George Willard of River Road West with his horse and wagon. Legend has it when he was approaching the dock for his load, he turned his horse too short near the water’s edge, and his horse and cart completely spilled into the river, dragging everything and Mr. Willard with it. Next in line for business, a young Nelson Annable saw this and heroically jumped in the river to save the man and his wares. Nelson Annable swam into the 7-foot deep waters and freed Mr. Willard from being pinned under his overturned wagon below. Nelson brought Willard to safety, was quick to recover, dove in again and this time saved the horse from drowning by releasing his ties so he could swim to safety. Forwarding trade was dangerous business!

Holidays and weekends our riverside cottage became to us our “Riverlicious”, an affectionate description that speaks to its heavenly, magical, serenity. Riverlicious really could be an appropriate description for all of the Thousand Islands-Great Waterway region. All who live and visit the river seaway genuinely love it, it is the longest freshwater shipping channel in the world! Ian Coristine, who is our own revered world famous photographer captures this local adoration in his recent e-book AP “One in a Thousand”. Here Ian passionately unveils tales of his capture by the Thousand Islands Great Waterway which so unexpectedly led to his award winning photography and bestselling books. Ask anyone who lives even for a day with our river and they will tell you about how they fell captivated by its charms!

The river’s Grenville Brewery has been through many incarnations and transformations. It was destroyed by fire August 18, 1918, and ultimately closed in 1929. Nonetheless, it must be that the great Canadian Brewery atmosphere is what lends itself to a happy ending. The alluring red bricks of John McCarthy’s dream were re-built into cottages by Edgar Lindsay and his family in 1934. For many years after that, like my family, many visited those red brick cottages, over many generations.

In the 1940’s some of the Grenville brick cottages were modified into motel efficiencies, and a new motel wing was built.

In 1986, local resident Paul Dewar purchased what was by this time, a very tired motel property that had served its visitors well. The “Isle of Rest Motel” needed a rest!

Paul is an accomplished carpenter and entrepreneur, and so began his labour of love. Not too long after that his love affair embraced another, and Paul soon became Paul and Pat Dewar of “Dewar’s Inn on the River”. They have spent the past sixteen years and over $900,000 rebuilding and restoring, re-vamping and re-vitalizing the Grenville Brewery accommodations property.

Today, it is the paradise I visit with my family as do many others. Expect to see lusciously landscaped gardens, a sanctuary by the river, decorated with historic cottages filled with antiques and themed style, as well as excellent motel rooms and efficiency units. Currently they are a busy and prosperous motel and cottage waterfront resort in Eastern Ontario.

Now it is time for Paul and Pat to find someone to take it over and enjoy it for all it has to offer. They are retiring, and wish to see their Inn on the River continue to be looked after with the same love and attention they have poured into it.  Therefore the Inn is now officially for sale.

Paul and Pat Dewar have enthusiastically brought Dewar’s Inn on the River to new places that John McCarthy would be pleased to know, and I think, all in all, he would propose his magnificent great waterway beer was Riverlicious too!

Photo Credits: Margrit Keeler, Carol McCarthy, Collections Canada.

Reference: Morrises History of Prescott 1800-2000.

By Michelle Caron

Michelle Caron is a tourism product development consultant. She moved to the Thousand Islands region in 1989.  When Michelle and her husband Lou lived in Toronto, they convened for all family holidays at Dewar’s Inn.  She is passionate about the Thousand Islands region and both have dedicated careers in tourism. They were so enamored with the river, they were married on a boat just next to Boldt Castle (where they had their first date) and then hosted a family wedding picnic on Heart Island.  They  now live on the Canadian mainland with a view of Chimney Island.

In 2005 when Paul Malo created Thousand Islands Life.Com he did so with a hope that much of the "past" would be appreciated.  He wrote at that time: "In the interest of finding appreciative stewards of historic properties, Thousand Islands Life presents some real estate of exceptional importance when offered for sale.”  Dewar’s Inn on the River is  one of those properties.  Be sure to visit our Properties page to see other historic properties all in need of new stewards.

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