“Instead of my mom cooking Christmas dinner, my dad used to take his mom and stepdad and my mom’s mom and all his kids and my mom and we’d go to the Genosh to have Christmas dinner,” said John Henry, the mayor of Oshawa. “It goes back to a memory that I have over 40 years.”
Hotel Genosha was Oshawa’s first and only luxury hotel. It was built in 1929 in Oshawa’s downtown core as it was becoming known as “Canada’s Motor City.”
It was advertised as, “One of the finest hotels in Central Ontario.”
The name Genosha was made by combining the words “General Motors” and “Oshawa”.
During the 1930s, Hotel Genosha was a common place for social events and weddings in Oshawa. Jennifer Weymark, archivist for the Oshawa Museum said, “It was the major hub for business people travelling in and out of Oshawa.”
“It was where the upper management of General Motors met,” said Weymark. “When the Genosh was built it was, high end, high class, it was where the wealthy wanted to go.”
Genosha’s most prestigious visitor was Queen Elizabeth, wife of King George VI in 1939.
Henry, who has been the mayor of Oshawa for almost 8 years, says the people who visited the Genosha play a big role in the history. Henry says Canada’s military involvement in the Second World War makes him wonder, “who might have stayed there and who might not have stayed there?”
When Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond novel trained at Camp-X in 1942, the camp was at max capacity, according to the official Camp X website. He was encouraged to visit the Genosha in Oshawa instead. It is not clear if Fleming ever stayed as a guest overnight at the Genosha, but he did visit for the entertainment.
The only way to access parking when mayor Henry visited was through Bond street. “Did James Bond get his start in Oshawa?” Henry asks.
After training elite spies in the Camp-X facility in Whitby, Fleming went on to create the famous James Bond series.
The Genosha didn’t face difficulties until the early 1980s when industry started moving away from the city centre. When General Motors started changing its operations, there were a lot less people downtown, says Henry.
“As the downtown declines, you saw the Genosh declining,” Weymark said. “They’re tied in together.”
A strip club called “The Million Dollar Saloon,” opened in the basement. It was eventually closed in 2003, leaving the building empty. In 2005 it was designated a heritage site, and 5 years later the sign was taken down.
Many people attempted to revitalize the building. Student housing was proposed, as well as 66 apartment units. These ideas never went through.
Richard Summers, the current owner of the building, who has already purchased the property once before, says maintaining this property this was made possible by Durham Region council approving a funding assistance of over $500,000.
The old building hasn’t retained much of its original self. It has undergone a partial interior demolition and the only remains of the original hotel is the Juliet fixtures on some of the windows and the painted “Hotel Genosha” sign on the exterior.
One of the marble staircases that was fitted in the lobby was severely damaged. Summers said this was because, “construction workers were sliding stoves down the stairs.”
Summers has ambitious plans to turn the building into 102 luxury micro apartments with commercial space in the main floor. The focus will be on bachelor units.
The roof currently houses a flock of pigeons. Summers said he would’ve liked to have a rooftop lounge. “Something you’d see in Toronto,” he says. Summers says it’s something he wouldn’t be able to do because of the way the Genosha is built.
Weymark says that while the new developments won’t be like the original hotel, downtown Oshawa is in need of proper housing rather than a luxury hotel.
“Now we see a resurgence and a revitalization in the downtown and you’re seeing that with the Genosh as well,” said Weymark, referring to the developments by Summers. “Along with the Regent Theatre, those two large buildings represent the evolution of downtown.”
It is estimated the residences will be completed by 2019.
Mayor Henry said, “It will never be the hotel it was, but it has a great future.”