Our Story

This was one of the last forays into steam locomotion, which was  undertaken by Brooks Steam Motors between 1923 and 1929. Brooks Steam Motor Ltd. was  created out of the Detroit Steam Motors Corporation and spearheaded by the American  financier, Oland J. Brooks. In 1923, after demonstrating a prototype car at the Toronto  Exhibition that same year, an agreement was reached with Stratford and an old threshing  factory was purchased.  

Mr. Brooks had big dreams for his factory, including the manufacturing of three different  vehicle models; however, only one car type was ever produced. One of the unique  characteristics of the Brooks Steamer was its fabric body, which was constructed using Meritas  brand cloth (a composite material formed from wire netting, two layers of wadding, canvas and  an outer layer of two-ply artificial leather), manufactured in nearby Wakefield, Ontario.  

By the 1920s, gasoline cars were building momentum as they started more quickly and were  able to move faster. The Brooks Steamer tried to find its market with women. One pamphlet  read: “Women motorists, who invariably grasp the wheel as rigidly as the arm of a dentist's  chair, now relax and take it easy when they drive a Brooks steamer.” But this campaign was  unsuccessful. Despite expectations of employing hundreds, by 1925, the factory had a mere 90  employees.  

The company attempted to expand in other directions. In 1924, an English representative was  appointed, and plans were made to export the cars to Britain. One model was displayed at the  October 1924, Olympia, London automobile show, but at £996 it was priced out of the market.  

In late 1926, it was announced that Brooks would open a factory in Buffalo, New York, in order  to build steam buses. In the summer of 1927, a prototype bus was constructed by the Buffalo  Body Company. At the time, the main bus show in the United States was held at the annual  convention of the trolley car association, the American Electric Railway Association. The steam powered bus was displayed at the October 1927 show in Cleveland, Ohio. It was the first time a  steam-driven vehicle had been shown there but was seen more as a novelty vehicle than the  future of public transportation.  

Despite attempts at innovation, by 1929, the shareholders decided that the company was no  longer viable, and the Stratford factory was liquidated. By 1931, the company had disbanded,  and is now folded into the history of The Bruce Hotel. 

On March 13th, 2010 at 6:52 a.m. I summited Mt. Kilimanjaro. It is a cliché to compare a big life experience to climbing a mountain, but clichés are clichés for a reason. 

It is true the creation of the hotel has been as physically and emotionally demanding as Kili was.  It is true that even thorough preparation can only get you so far on either a mountain or a  construction site. Those are pretty obvious comparisons, but there are a few others that are less obvious.  

The Summit Isn't The Hardest Part  

When you are climbing a mountain, everyone thinks about the summit. When you are building  a hotel, everyone thinks about the opening. Those photo ops are quickly forgotten when the  reality of the next phase sets in. For me, the most difficult phase of Kili was the initial descent.  Already exhausted from the summit push which began at midnight, I faced another ten hours of  hiking to reach camp. It was steep. It was treacherous. I got more bumps and bruises in those  ten hours then in all the ascent.  

I have no illusions that the first few weeks in operation at the hotel will be any different. When  the champagne flutes are all put away, we will be facing a steep trek that allows very little room  for error.  

Other People Can't Make You Succeed  

On the mountain, I was surrounded by a great team to support me and I was buoyed by all the  friends and family at home who were rooting me on. No one, though, could get me to the top if  I wasn’t willing to fight for it. I realized that in a misty rock-strewn valley. I realized that in every  agonizing step of the final summit push. When the weight of that sunk in, so did this  overwhelming feeling of solitude.  

Thousands of miles and a couple of years later, I flashed back to that cold, dark mountaintop. I  was standing in a condo in downtown Toronto surrounded by tile samples and paint chips, but  the feeling was exactly the same. There are dozens of people working on this project and  dozens more rooting for its success. Its creation, though, was only going to happen if I fought  for it.  

And I did. And I do. Every moment of every day.  

Bravery Is Overrated  

On occasion, someone will talk about how brave they think I am, and I will smile and bite my tongue. There are a few reasons I don’t like that word. First, it tends to indicate an element of  danger. Certainly, there is some level of risk to many of the things I do, but every tiny detail has  been thought through before I begin the journey. I don't like to fail, so I never take on a 

challenge I don't think I can succeed at. I also don't like the word because it infers that you have  to have one unique character trait to live your dreams. It isn't about bravery.  

Vision. Determination. Sacrifice.  

Those are the three things that got me to the top of a mountain. Those are the three things that are getting a hotel built.  

What makes the difference between a nice hotel and an exceptional one? It comes down to the details. At Touchstone Manor, I used the motto “The Difference is in the Details.” My staff and I  would laugh at what geeks we were, but it was those details that the guests would remember.  The glasses or hat placed just so. The quirky bookmarks to save their place. Detail in service and detail in design. 

At The Bruce Hotel I have taken this to a whole new level and the best place to see examples of it are in the bathrooms in the guest rooms.  

All twenty-five feature a unique mosaic band that runs around the tub and through the shower one foot high and twenty-seven feet long. With 841 mosaic tiles a square foot, each bathroom needed 22,707 ten-millimetre tiles and roughly 30 hours of work just to create. I personally hand placed over 660,000 tiny tiles. In case you want to try this at home, here is how it was done...  

First, a picture was taken and manipulated into a band 29 pixels high by 409 pixels wide. Then the picture was uploaded into a cross-stitch program. Each pixel represented a stitch, or in this case, a tile. The pattern was printed with symbols representing each colour tile.  

Following the pattern, the 10mm tiles were placed face up in a grid 29 tiles wide by 29 tiles high. When a grid was done, a clear vinyl adhesive sheet was smoothed over it to keep the tiles in place. They were labeled, turned out of the grid, placed on a board, shrink wrapped and then boxed.  

The boxes were then handed over to the tile setters who handled the installation. The end result is a beautiful example of the level of detail that can be found throughout the hotel.  

Anyone in marketing can tell you the importance of a name. It is the first thing you know about  a business and often helps to define it. Everything from meaning to ease of pronunciation has  to be considered.  

At the first property I owned the name was inherited, and since it fit so well, I kept it. The  Butternut Tree was a yellow Victorian B&B with, you guessed it, a butternut tree in the  backyard. It looked like a little doll house. Pretty but modest, it was exactly the image of the  house the name conjured up.  

Touchstone Manor was a natural choice for my second property. The house is a Georgian  Revival, definitely worthy of "Manor". There are three reasons behind Touchstone; it is clad in  stone, there is the Shakespearean connection (Touchstone is a character in As You Like It), and I  liked that a touchstone is another word for a benchmark.  

It took me months to find the perfect name for the hotel even though it was right in front of me  all along.  

For those that don't know me, The Bruce will probably bring to mind the Ontario wilderness of  the Bruce Peninsula. Cedar trees and limestone. Black bears and white-tailed deer.  

While I like those associations, The Bruce Hotel is actually named after my dad. He died in the  summer of 2010 when a liver transplant came too late. He was there for the first two properties  and at the beginning of the epic journey to the third. He won't be physically there for the  opening, and yet he will be everywhere.  

For a little insight into who he was, here is my eulogy (July 2010). 

This is not what he wanted. He didn’t want a fuss. He didn’t want lots of people to fawn all over  him. But that is the essence of who he was. Humble. He always underestimated the impact that  he had on people.... on this world. 

He had to take pills for his colitis before each meal. He hid them away like a squirrel storing  nuts. They are turning up in pockets and drawers and the centre consoles of the cars. For weeks,  months, years we will continue to find them, and they will remind us of him. I think his work, his  generosity is very similar. Over the weeks, months, years we will meet people and see things  that will remind us of his legacy.  

There is Bruce the businessman, philanthropist, mentor. But there was so much more to the  man...  

He liked to draw happy faces on birthday cards and they always had ears. Sometimes  glasses, and sometimes hair... but always ears. 

He was a voracious reader but hated library books. He often yelled at the TV during sporting  events. A curse word which I won’t repeat here but rhymes with sit.  

He never ever fell asleep on the sofa but often “rested his eyes”.  

He was obsessed with gas prices. Even if we were travelling and without a car to fill up, he would  point out the good deals.  

At Christmas he would hide one of his presents and when everyone else was done he would taunt  us “I’ve still got a present.” Preferring order to chaos he would make sure the paper was thrown  out as each present was unwrapped and often got the vacuum out part way through.  His favorite word was outrageous- especially in reference to government and taxes. (The HST  came into effect the day before he died - it is a good thing he didn’t see the HST on the funeral  expenses... outrageous.)  

He thought taxi charges were outrageous and gave my mom and I a lecture for taking a $7 cab  ride to the hospital on the morning of his surgery. You know, on the afternoon he died in my rush  to get to the hospital I threw a $20 at the driver for that same $7 fare and didn’t wait for the  change. I am actually surprised he didn’t wake up just to tell me off.  

He could cook two things... so if you went to have dinner at my parents you probably either had  the salmon baked on a bed of potatoes or the dijon roasted beef tenderloin.  

He loved a gourmet meal but was equally happy with a quarter white with fries. Or chocolate  Turtles that had been kept in the fridge. Or an apple fritter.  

Over the course of his career, he had met presidents and heads of state- they didn’t faze him...  but he would get giddy if he met a sports star or an actor.  

For the last eight years he was my date for Stratford Festival opening week where he would  complain constantly about having to wear a tuxedo. This year he was too sick to go. It was  tough to be there without him. Every show had a line that hit me, but two in particular stand  out.  

In ‘As You Like it’ Rosalind is told “Thou art thy father’s daughter.” I am. I am my father’s  daughter. And nothing could make me prouder.  

On the Friday night, Jaques Brel opened. And there is a song...  

Ne me quitte pas. 

Ne me quitte pas. 

Ne me quitte pas. 

I love you. 

I miss you.

We use first-party and third-party cookies for analytical purposes and to show you advertising related to your preferences, based on your browsing habits and profile. You can configure or block cookies by clicking on “Cookies settings”. You can also accept all cookies by clicking on “Accept all cookies”. For more information, please consult our Cookie Policy.

Cookies Settings:

Cookies and other similar technologies are an essential part of how our Platform works. The main goal of cookies is to make your browsing experience easier and more efficient and to improve our services and the Platform itself. Likewise, we use cookies to show you targeted advertising when you visit third-party websites and apps. Here, you will find all the information on the cookies we use. Furthermore, you will be able to activate and/or deactivate them according to your preferences, except for any cookies that are strictly necessary for the functioning of the Platform. Keep in mind that blocking certain cookies may affect your experience on the Platform, as well as its functioning. By clicking “Confirm preferences”, the cookies selection you have made will be saved. If you have not selected any options, clicking this button will be the same as blocking all cookies. For more information, please consult our Cookie Policy.

Cookies Settings
Accept all Cookies