Travel Ontario: A Visit to the Historic Benmiller Inn
After our visit to Blyth we made a stop in the quaint village of Benmiller, a small hamlet not far from the Lake Huron coastline. It is the location of the famous Benmiller Inn and Spa, a historic country inn located in a former woollen mill that was built in 1861. I met innkeeper Kevin Reid who showed me through the property. Starting in the main entrance and reception area, Kevin explained that the woollen mill was in operation until 1965, when it was closed and stood empty for 5 years. It was purchased in 1970 for conversion into a country inn.
The original owner was a gentleman named Ben Miller and one of the most interesting facts is that, in 1870, his son Jonathan was the largest man in Canada, weighing 475 pounds. Walking through the cozy lounge and bar area we arrived in the large dining room of the property whose cream, red and dark brown colour scheme creates a warm and pleasant atmosphere. An adjacent dining room faces out to the pond and to Sharpe’s Creek, a small river that was named after a runaway slave who escaped to Canada in the 1820s and settled in the area. Outside the main dining room spanning the brook is a huge brown pipe that was installed in 1911 to feed water into a turbine to generate electricity. History is never far away at the Benmiller Inn.
Then Kevin took me to the patio outside that can hold about 80 people and is a popular destination for wedding parties. Looking at the attractive dormers on the roof of the inn, he explained that the 3rd floor was added in the 1970s together with the dormers. The garden of the inn is absolutely lovely, despite a major tornado that came through here on August 21, 2011 and within minutes, caused $700,000 in damages.
Kevin explained that in the mid afternoon, heavy rain and hail had driven all the guests and staff inside, when a tornado ripped through the property and destroyed 300 trees in the process. Although the woollen mill was mostly unscathed, the tornado caused a lot of glass damage and broken doors on two other guest buildings on the property. As a result, only the main inn is open for business right now while reconstruction work continues on the two other buildings which will hopefully be finished within about five months. Fortunately not a single person was injured during the tornado. I could see some of the tornado damage next to Sharpe’s Creek where trees had been uprooted and were still waiting to be removed.
After visiting one of the classic, rustic style rooms in the main inn, we walked about 10 minutes on the property to the Gledhill House, also located beside a pond next to the Maitland River. The Gledhill House was the former residence of the original owners of a gristmill that still stands next to the house. The former grist mill now holds guest rooms, the pool and the spa of the Benmiller Inn, while the Gledhill House holds 18 guest rooms and two conference rooms. Due to tornado damage , the Gledhill House and the Grist Mill are currently closed, although the pool was scheduled to reopen on October 14 after extensive repairs.
We saw three guest rooms in Gledhill House, all very spacious with large bathrooms, king size beds and private balconies that look out over the pond and the adjacent forest. Bedroom 75 is one of the most popular rooms at the inn, as it has a cathedral ceiling and is bathed in natural sunlight.
Kevin also explained the wrought-iron decorative metal headboard which represents the symbol of the Benmiller Inn. The original owner of the inn, Peter Ivey, had purchased some decorative metal railing when the historic Customs House was torn down in London, Ontario in 1970. The stylized symbol actually represents two opposing C’s for “Customs House” and this emblem now has become the logo of the Benmiller Inn.
Now it was time to head back to the main inn for lunch. Kevin had to say goodbye as he had another meeting to attend. My friend and I sat down to enjoy a nice lunch with a beautiful view over Sharpe’s Creek. Soon we received a Chef’s Reuben Sandwich with house cured corned beef, marble rye, Gruyere, sauerkraut and hand cut Yukon fries and Gluten Free Fusilli Primavera with summer vegetables, rice noodles, olive oil and reggiano parmesan.
I had enjoyed an interesting tour of the Benmiller Inn, but after our colourful lunch we had to move on to our next destination: Goderich.