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CHARLES SYMMES (1799-1868) AND THE SYMMES INN, AYLMER

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Charles Symmes. (Photo - Aylmer Heritage Association)In January 1819, Charles Symmes, aged 20 and living in Massachusetts, wrote to his uncle, Philemon Wright, asking for work. He was hired and arrived a few months later to work as a clerk and bookkeeper. Two years later, he was sent to manage Chaudière Farm, in what is now known as the Aylmer sector of Gatineau.Symmes entered into partnership with Wright, by which he would lease and farm some of the Wright property and manage a tavern and store. He also purchased a section of land from his uncle. In 1824, Symmes returned to Massachusetts to marry Hannah Ricker.

Charles Symmes managed the small community for his uncle until a bitter disagreement arose between them. Both men had sought approval for their communities to be proclaimed the “government village” with the Court House and other government buildings located therein. In 1825, the Surveyor General selected “Symmes Landing” as the government village and relations between the men were severely strained. In 1828, Symmes was forced to make the final payment to Philemon Wright.In 1830, Symmes had his land surveyed into building lots and put up for sale. Streets were laid out and several were named after members of the Symmes family: Tiberius, Thomas and Charles (now Symmes).

In 1831, Symmes built a handsome hotel on the riverfront to lodge travellers staying overnight before boarding the boat for the next Symmes’ Inn from Main Street. Engraving by William H. Bartlett, 1842. (Source - Aylmer Heritage Association)portion of their journey. The following year, he gained an interest in the steamboat industry that was springing up in the town and a partnership in the first steamboat to ply this section of the Ottawa River, the Lady Colborne. Over his lifetime, Charles Symmes donated the land for the Anglican, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic churches. He served as Mayor of Aylmer from 1855 to 1862.Charles and Hannah Symmes had ten children. Charles died in 1868 and is buried in Bellevue Cemetery.

SYMMES INN
Constructed in 1831 by Charles Symmes, the Symmes Inn played a vital part in the early settlement of the region and a major embarkation point for travellers moving westward to open up and settle the country.

Symmes Inn Museum. (Photo - Matthew Farfan)

Arriving in Hull by boat from Montreal, weary travellers came by stagecoach along the Aylmer Road. They broke their overnight journey in Aylmer, staying at the British Hotel or the Symmes Inn before leaving the next morning on the 6 a.m. steamboat from Symmes Landing.At the end of the 19th century, the Symmes Inn was converted into apartments by the Ritchie Brothers, sawmill owners. In the 1930s and 40s, it served as the popular Aylmer Aquatic Club – not as a place for water sports, but as a nightclub and dance hall.

The building fell into disrepair in the 1950s and 60s, serving for a few years as Roy’s Flea Market, until a fire left only its shell. A decade later, Symmes Inn was declared a historic site and, in 1979, with provincial and federal government funding, it was restored to its original glory. The Inn served as a restaurant for several years and, later, as the Cultural Centre for old Aylmer.With its elegant verandahs and dormer windows, the Symmes Inn continues to spark curiosity and admiration for its splendid architecture and setting. For those who live in the Aylmer sector, the attractive stone building is an ongoing reminder of the town’s roots.In 2002, Gatineau Municipal Council declared the Symmes Inn the “Heritage Gem of Gatineau.” Today, this handsome building is the home of the regional history museum of the Outaouais – the Symmes Inn Museum.