The Red Rock Inn: Discover the Quirky, Fascinating History of this Lake Superior Hotel

From WWII PoW camp to bustling local bar and library this Northern Ontario institution is full of stories waiting to be discovered.

The township of Red Rock, Ontario, hidden in the valley of the Nor’Westor Mountains and at the top of Lake Superior, is much more than meets the eye. You wouldn’t know it at first glance, but this historic waterfront community—just south of Nipigon and 1.5 hours northeast of Thunder Bay—is home to a history that runs deep in the soil and also in the hearts of its residents whose families have been living here for generations. I had the pleasure of visiting one of the township's most iconic buildings—a place where you can lose yourself in the many stories etched into the walls, rooms, and hallways of the Red Rock Inn

Built as a mill town in 1937, the evolution of Red Rock has a fair share of incredible tales that, unfortunately, not many people know about. Even I, a local from Nipigon, barely knew anything of Red Rock’s history despite living so nearby. While researching the Red Rock Inn I discovered a history full of perseverance and strength, not only in its landscape, but in its community as well.

Don Evans, a local who grew up in Red Rock and manager of this historic Inn, was kind enough to take me on a tour through the building. With passion and excitement, he explained the history, stories, and memories the Red Rock Inn has held over the many years it’s been alive. Thanks to him, and information from the Red Rock Historical Society, I have the pleasure of sharing with you the history of this beautiful building and the pride it has given the community. 

The Red Rock Inn: A Brief History

Red Rock Inn

The Red Rock Inn was built in 1937 by a paper mill company of the name Lake Sulphite Pulp and Paper Mill. The inn, built in Neo-Georgian style architecture and situated right in the front and center of the town, was to be the hub of this up-and-coming community. However, disaster struck when the Lake Sulphite Pulp and Paper Mill went bankrupt in 1939, halting the construction of the inn, and leaving the town somewhat abandoned. You’d think that the evolution of the inn stopped there, but it seems that it, much like the town, is hard of giving up.

Soldiers from Red Rock PoW Camp

In that same year, the mill went into receivership and its property was purchased by the government. As a result of this, during World War II, the British government had prisoners that needed a place to go, therefore, Red Rock was established as a prisoner of war camp named “Camp R,” from 1940-41. The Inn’s convenient location overlooked the camp (where the town's marina sits today), which made it the ideal headquarters and mess hall for the Canadian Veterans Guard.

Red Rock Inn

In October 1941, however, as a result of unsuitable sanitary conditions in the camp, the prisoners were sent elsewhere. Soon after, the mill, town, and Inn were purchased by another paper mill company by the name of Brompton Pulp and Paper Co. The change in ownership started to give life back to Red Rock and the Inn once again. It was still an Inn for anyone looking for lodging, of course, but as the town grew, so did the Inn. Slowly, it started to become more of a recreation center for the residents of Red Rock, as well as a place local businesses could to flourish.

Red Rock Inn

The inn housed many local businesses during this time—a bank, pharmacy, dentist, library, local bar, and even school. Not only that, but the large kitchen and dining areas also served the community as a mess hall for mill employees and construction workers, serving up to 2,000 people each meal. Truly, this place was one where the people of Red Rock could get together and create stories and memories for years to come. But, enough about the backstory. Come with me as we walk through the hallways and into the past by way of this historic building.

The Red Rock Inn Today

Red Rock Inn
The foyer is packed with local memorabilia and lots of Hardy Boys!

I met Don right at the front door as I emerged into the foyer. With each step further into this age-old structure, I could almost hear the faded voices of the people that have passed through within every creak of the floorboard. I looked around at the original mahogany wooden paneling that lined the walls of the entrance in admiration, which was when Don had told me this building has “been around for quite some time.”

I noticed a bookshelf sitting in the foyer that had artifacts and photos of both the Inn and the people of Red Rock and was drawn to it right away. As I studied the antiques, he explained to me that each one was donated by local residents, even some from Don himself, to showcase and celebrate the many families that kept this town alive. Here you'll find family photos, old books, and even an original letterman jacket from the NipRock High football team from the 1960s. Of course, there were so many more to be seen, you just have to come here and see them all for yourself!

The Basement – The Local Bar

Red Rock Inn

Right from the foyer, we turned down a stairwell that led into the basement where the local bar used to be. Don explained to me that barely any changes were made from the 1970s, except for the tables and chairs that he brought in himself. There were pool tables and foosball tables that had come with the Inn when he took over as manager. They are the same ones locals played back in this beloved watering hole’s prime.

Old cigarette vending machines from the 1950s lined the wall, which I’ll admit, I had never seen before. I thought they were so cool, I asked Don if they were donated by locals too, and he responded by saying absolutely. He looked around the room very fondly, like he was admiring a memory, and I asked him, "Was it busy, back in the day?"

"Oh, very," Don responded. "Some of the guys had their names on the back of the stools!" He chuckled shaking his head.

Red Rock Inn

Upon further research, I discovered the basement wasn't only a bar back in the day, but it was also the local library for quite some time. Yes, that’s right. The hustling and bustling bar was right next to the library where people came to read in quiet and gain some peace of mind. That being said, after a few years the library moved its home to the main floor, and I think we can all imagine why!

Though the bar isn’t licensed anymore, it is a must-see at the Red Rock Inn. It will transport you back in time to what this town's local watering hole was like as you play on the same pool tables as the people did, in the same place they came to be together and take a load off. With the help of artifacts donated right from the homes of the locals themselves, you will be filled with the magic of nostalgia that the Red Rock Inn has held with time and care.

The Upper Floors

Red Rock Inn

After the tour of the basement, we headed upstairs to the main floor where the event rooms are. These main rooms, lined with mahogany wood, still shining despite the years it’s been through are where the galas, dances, and events were held. Not only that, but this is also where the soldiers, mill workers, and construction workers came to eat, talk, laugh, and relax while chowing down on a good meal. Today local bands utilize this space once a week to entertain both visitors and community members.

Red Rock Inn

Up the stairwell and onto the second floor is where the guest rooms are located. As he brought me into one of the rooms, there were two beds that lay underneath an old ceiling fan, and in front of a small seating area. As I looked around, Don explained to me that though these rooms are refurbished, they are an exact replica of what the rooms would have looked like in the 1930s and 1940s. Being in this room felt like I was transported to years past, and I’m sure resting your head on these pillows would be like drifting off to sleep in a place that is like a real-life bedtime story.

Red Rock Inn

Up one more set of stairs is the inn’s third floor which is famously known for being one of Red Rock's first schools. Retaining its original school layout, this section of the building offers rooms for accommodation, some of which were formerly utilized as classrooms. Though this floor is now converted to guest rooms, remnants of the school remain, as the original communal bathrooms are still there for you to look around!

modern picture of red rock inn

Visit the Red Rock Inn

Being brought through the Red Rock Inn has truly opened my eyes to Red Rock’s incredible past, and thanks to it, I felt like I was walking around with all of the people who had brought this place to life. At the end of my tour, I mentioned to Don how staying here would be like sleeping in a museum, to which he responded, "It’s like a walk back in time, and that’s what I wanted to create.”

There are rooms to stay in on the main floor and both upper floors, and it is open all year round. For bookings, ratings, and more information you can call the Inn at (807) 252-8759. 

Red Rock Inn lake view

I highly recommend coming to experience the Red Rock Inn to see and learn about this extraordinary town and the people who live here. And, if your curiosity demands it, you can head right across the street towards the marina where you can learn more details about the Red Rock Inn’s history, and also the town's history, at the incredible Red Rock Interpretive Centre.

So, ready for your blast from the past? 

Red Rock Inn 
145 White Boulevard
Red Rock, ON P0T 2P0
Canada

About Josie Cormier

Josie Cormier grew up in Nipigon, Northern Ontario, and is part of the Red Rock Indian Band. She is passionate about sharing the love she has for her home with everyone she meets. You can always find her looking for new adventures by kayaking, hiking, and exploring the beautiful area she's lucky to call home. Josie is currently a student at York University in Toronto and hopes to start a career as a writer. 

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