Nestled in the hill leading to the MacLaren Cemetery, with its all-glass front wall, contemporary design and a long checklist of green features, the new Eco River Lodge looks nothing like its physical neighbour, the historic Wakefield Mill.
But for Mill owners Bob Milling and Lynn Berthiaume, their $3 million Mill expansion is the “yin” to the “yang” in the hotel and spa.
“It had to be completely different from the Mill,” said Milling, during the new hotel’s official opening Sept. 18. More than 500 people crowded the Mill grounds to tour the 10,000-square-foot River Lodge.
“Anybody who’s anybody” was there, you might say, including local artists, business owners, MRC des Collines mayors, Gatineau MNA Stephanie Vallee and Pontiac MP Mathieu Ravignat, who also helped celebrate Mill’s 10-year anniversary as a hotel and spa.
Wakefield musicians Phil Jenkins and Louis Rompre played on the front lawn as business-casually-dressed guests sipped drinks and shook hands.
Featuring geothermal heating, passive solar design and a green roof to house honey bee hives, the Eco River Lodge is set to become the first LEED-certified hotel in the National Capital Region. Standing for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design,” a building must follow strict environmental guidelines to obtain the internationally renowned certification.
Although its specs scream contemporary design, it’s not a jarring contrast to the historic 1840s grist mill across the river. “I wanted it to be subtle and I wanted it to fit in,” said Milling.
At the same time, he wanted a modern design to juxtapose the Mill, rather than contrive a building that matched its historic forebear. “I wanted it to be authentic and stand on its own merit.”
The two buildings are meant to complement, not compete. Eco River Lodge faces south to the La Peche River, while the Mill looks north, over the waterfalls.
Inside the new lodge, one finds the 13 rooms more contemporary than country inn. Warm whites and rustic reds soften modern showers and sinks.
The two buildings aren’t entirely dissimilar. Light and dark wood in the new lodge mimic similar wood textures in the Wakefield Mill, points out Christian Rheault, the project architect with Hull-based firm Lapalme Architecte. Most of the wood is from Wakefield-based Bizier.
“The intention was that the building really becomes a part of the land,” Rheault said. “It doesn’t jump at you.”
During the event, the Mill’s new electric car charger fueled its first car. It was no quick fill-up for the Chevy Volt, belonging to Richard Fortin, of Wakefield land surveying company Fortin & Robertson. It can take up to eight hours to charge an electric car.
“This is a good set-up for a hotel,” said Reni Legros, a sales representative from Eaton, the electric charger’s manufacturer. Guests can charge up overnight. As for those electric car drivers who are just stopping, one asks. “It’s an adjustment,” Legros says.
A computer on the dashboard shows how much charging time is left, like the battery symbol on a cell phone.
Once topped up, the car can travel up to 120 kilometres. In the case of the Chevy Volt, it has a back-up gas tank, in case the driver can’t reach a rare electric charging station in time.
Milling has not set a price for charge-up yet, but Reni says it’ll likely cost less than $10.
MILLER’S HOUSE SPA
Irvine Young stood on the front porch of one of Wakefield’s oldest homes, the Miller’s House, during the event.
Facing the Mill and the MacLaren house, the 1840s-era building now has a fresh slab of red paint and is fully equipped for a group spa. A pool, hot tub and fire pit sit outside, while manicures, pedicures, massages and facials are available inside.
For Irvine, the change is bittersweet.
He lived in the house from when he was just months-old in 1942 until he sold it to the Mill in 2008 for an undisclosed amount. He says he never would have expected his childhood home to be converted into a spa.
“They’ve sure done a wonderful job,” he said. “I’m really glad.”
HAPPY MILL BIRTHDAY
The Eco River Lodge grand opening coincided with the Mill’s 10-year anniversary as a hotel and spa.
Milling and Berthiaume joined the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” and said the event coincided with Mill chef Romain Riva’s birthday.
Since the Wakefield Mill opened in 2001, the grounds have undergone three major renovations – the MacLaren House in 2003 (now the home of Milling and Berthiaume), a spa addition in 2005 and the Heron Room Restaurant in 2010.
“Many didn’t think this dream would come true,” La Peche Mayor Robert Bussiere told the crowd. “It really takes people to believe in a dream to make it come true.”
For more information, visit wakefieldmill.ca.