Story and photos by Ted Simpson –
They say that the more things change, the more they stay the same. And if that is true anywhere, it’s surely true in Westboro, where the winds of change blow strong, leaving little behind in their wake. There are few things that remain, born in a time before condos, juice bars and craft beer. One of those things is the Richmond Plaza Motel. Built in the late 1950s it remains virtually identical to this day, save for a few coats of paint, (it’s actually being painted as this story is being written). It’s the kind of building that inspires different feelings: mostly awe that it remains standing, perhaps disgust with the establishment’s sordid past, and of course, curiosity. So let’s indulge and take a look inside the Richmond Plaza Motel.
Expecting a gang of drunkards throwing fisticuffs? It wouldn’t be an unreasonable or uncommon expectation, but that’s not what happens here. What does happen, is we discover a comfy, little motel in a perfect location, with a rough past that management seems to be trying hard to leave behind.
The Richmond Plaza was built in the summer of 1958, and was originally contracted by George and Alice Cooper. At a whopping cost of $125,000, the motel opened July 6 with 21 rooms. The Ottawa Citizen described the building as having, “an ultra-modern appearance.”
The motel was almost never built; a result of a dispute between the City and the developer, Assaly Construction Ltd. At the time of building, the Ottawa sewer system didn’t extend as far as Westboro. The developer had planned to skirt this problem by running the entire motel off a septic tank. The City was having none of that, fortunately. Eventually the West Nepean Collector Sewer extension project was approved and the Richmond Plaza (and the rest of Westboro) got their sewer.
Fun fact about George Cooper: he also built Ottawa’s very first motel in 1951 at the corner of Carling and Roseview. He named the motel after his wife and called it Alice’s Wonderland.
1984 was a rough year for the Richmond Plaza Motel. On May 29 at 10:45 p.m. a 25-year-old man walked into the front office covered in blood. He had been shot in the stomach two hours earlier in Hull, and he eventually settled on the Richmond Plaza as a place to stop and call for help.
On December 11, a group of a dozen men were playing poker in a motel room, when around midnight, two armed robbers burst through the door. The masked invaders took $5,000 in cash, though apparently that wasn’t enough, as they also stole the men’s pants. When motel manager Claude Leclair was asked what became of the pantless victims he answered: “I don’t know. I just wonder what they told their wives.”
At some point, the motel fell into a state of disrepair. There isn’t much info to be found but web reviews hint at some problems:
“This is the worst place to stay in Ottawa without a doubt.” – onemangang1000 on Trip Advisor, 2004
“My advice, if you can afford it, spend an extra 20 bucks and go someplace else.” – bitride on Trip Advisor, 2006
“Sleep in a phone booth rather than this dump.” – Never7 on Trip Advisor, 2009
In 2014, new management took pity on the poor old place and started the process of pulling it back from the brink.
“We found the premises unacceptable when we took over. The Motel is under new management since the summer of 2014. Since then we have full-time maintenance and housekeeping personnel, and Front Desk services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” – New Management
And it shows. Being there now, you wouldn’t imagine any of those old horror stories coming true. The rooms are comfortable (even during a heat wave), and the noise was moderate with the sun up and very low after dark. What more can you want from a cheap motel? [story continues below photos]
A reporter’s personal observations:
- It’s affordable. You can book a single sized room for as little as $70, and a fair-sized double for about $85.
- The bathroom is surprising, in a good way. The tiling may be straight out of the 70’s, but everything was clean, the plumbing worked fine and the sink is easily large enough to bathe a tiny dog and/or baby. The motel is pet friendly too.
- It’s easy to stock up on perishable supplies if you’re staying awhile. There was a FULL. SIZED. FRIDGE. With a freezer.
- No alarm clock is needed, thanks to condo construction next door. Noise commences at 7:00 a.m.
- The walls defy logic. The walls are made from cement blocks, yet some sound still manages to seep through. The windows do not open. What’s up with that?
- There’s no Bible. There is an old movie trope that says all motels must have a bible in the bedside drawer. This apparently holds no truth, although there was a severely weathered copy of the Yellow Pages with mysterious telephone numbers scrawled on the covers.