I’ve been traveling for the past month, staying in a different hotel or B&B almost every night. And while I’ve slept in places from homey to stylish, I can’t say that too many of these lodgings were “fun.”
Here’s the scoop:
Art-filled Public Spaces
The lobby and hallways of this restored 19th-century brick building, with a modern addition, are filled with art and playful modern artifacts, from giant toy soldiers rescued from FAO Swartz to original paintings by one of the hotel’s owners. There’s a giant red apple by the reception desk, lamps wearing pink shag wigs, and a life-sized multi-color bull by the door to the parking lot.
And that’s before you even get to the guest rooms.
Guest Rooms and Amenities
The 45 rooms at the Retro Suites are all different, and each has a theme. I stayed in the Urban Studio, a massive loft-like space with exposed brick walls that would be that at home in New York’s TriBeCa. The room had a king bed, sofa, chaise longue, large work desk, and kitchenette with fridge, microwave, coffeemaker, bar sink, and even dishes and silverware.
The bathroom had both a spacious walk-in shower and a deep soaker tub. I could have moved in for an extended time and been very comfortable.
But my room was sedate compared to some of the other units. The “Game Time” suite, designed for sports fans, is outfitted in sports regalia, with a signed photo by Canadian hockey greats on the wall.
In the “Library” suite, books fill the dark wood shelves, and old maps hang on the walls. For motorcycle buffs, the “Easy Rider” suite has a vintage bike, circa 1900, suspended from the ceiling. And the “Log Cabin” suite is a Canadian North Woods fantasy of pine walls, a log bedframe, and a light fixture designed like antlers.
How did this fun high-style hotel end up on the main street of this southwestern Ontario town?
According to hotel manager Tina Childs, owner Rob Myers is a Chatham native and wanted to inject new life into his hometown’s downtown. His main business, dealing in exotic cars, was drawing high-end clients to the region, and there was nowhere suitable for his customers to stay — until he opened his own hotel.
Myers is also an active collector of everything from motorcycles to all sorts of kitsch, much of which has now found a home in the Retro Suites. His wife, artist Cathy Van Raay-Myers, is responsible for many of the paintings displayed in the hotel.
Chatham is within weekending distance of both Toronto (185 miles to the northeast) and Detroit (50 miles to the west), and if you’re interested in history, the region is worth exploring.
The Chatham area played an important role in Canada’s Black history, beginning in the first half of the 19th century when free blacks, intellectuals, and formerly enslaved people who came north from the US on the Underground Railroad settled in the area. The Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society operates a small museum that introduces some of this history.
North of Chatham in the village of Dresden, the Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site tells the story of Reverend Josiah Henson (1796-1883), who helped establish the Dawn Settlement. Henson was a former slave, and the community he founded drew many formerly enslaved people who followed the Underground Railroad to Canada. Henson may have been a model for the main character in writer Harriet Beecher Stowe’s now-classic novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Many historians believe that Stowe incorporated concepts from Reverend Henson’s memoirs into her work.
Southwest of Chatham, the Buxton National Historic Site and Museum brings to life the story of another area community. In the 1860s, the Buxton Settlement was the largest Black settlement in Canada, and the community ran one of North America’s first integrated schools. Its one-room schoolhouse, still on the property, housed students from 1861 until 1968.
Of course, you don’t have to be interested in history to stay at Chatham’s Retro Suites Hotel, which would make a fun weekend getaway. Double room rates range from CAD$139-249 and include wi-fi, parking, and a breakfast coupon good for either an egg, bacon, and cheese breakfast sandwich or a continental option with a pastry, yogurt, and a piece of fruit. You can also make a reservation through Expedia or other booking sites.
Also included are passes to the GoodLife Fitness facility across the street and to a local yoga studio.
And at this fun art-filled Ontario boutique hotel, there’s no extra charge for the smiles.