|Walker House is situated high on the north bank of the Penetangore River, near the river's mouth where it empties into Lake Huron. Built in the 1850's by the pioneer entrepreneur, Francis "Paddy" Walker (there's some evidence that this may not have been the very first hotel Paddy built after his arrival in 1850), it is Kincardine's oldest building and the oldest standing hotel in Bruce and Grey counties.
When Paddy Walker had arrived by sled across the ice from Goderich early in the spring of 1850, there already existed a settlement of sorts at the mouth of the river. In 1848 Allan Cameron and William Withers had landed by ship at the site of the modern-day town, in that part of Upper Canada known only as the Queen's Bush, and founded a community called Penetangore (from the Indian word meaning, "the river with sand on one side"). The Queen's Bush was the large tract of Crown land, roughly where Bruce, Grey and Durham counties exist today, that had been assembled by Britain through successive Indian treaties in the early 1800's. By mid-century it was in the interests of the British colonial authorities to initiate settlement of this densely wooded region and inexpensive land grants were readily available to thousands of new settlers willing to travel to the area. Paddy, a native of Sligo, Ireland, arrived with his wife, Jane and seven sons. Testimony to his aggressive spirit and business acumen, Paddy soon built his hotel realizing that the hundreds of new settlers arriving after him would need interim lodgings while their own homes were being built. Situated at the mouth of the natural harbour and with so few roads yet built, Walker House would be at the very epicenter of commercial activity in this area.
Walker House operated as a hotel by Paddy and descendents well into the mid 1900's.Though the inn would have proprietors not directly related to the Walkers, the family maintained it's ownership until 1942 when it sold Walker House to Marie and Al Gairns.. The Gairns operated it as a hotel, then a rooming house and eventually the building served as the private residence of Marie after the death of her husband. She was living alone in her main floor apartment in January, 1995 when fire broke out and she was rescued, in her wheelchair, by local fire fighters.
The historical building was severely damaged and sat empty, exposed to the elements for three years. As rumours grew that the municipality was considering demolishing it out concern for public safety, a groundswell of interested community members came forward, forming a non-profit, charitable organization, The Paddy Walker Heritage Society and bought Walker House from Mrs. Gairns in 1998. Restoration work, largely through volunteer labour as donated funding allowed, began in 1999 and is nearing completion in time for Reunion 2008. Once completed, Walker House will serve Kincardine and the surrounding region as a heritage centre providing exhibits, programmes and hosting events that interpret local history.
A Description of Kincardine Village Taken from The County of Bruce Directory, 1867
Is situated on the shores of Lake Huron, about 30 miles north of Goderich, at the terminus of the Durham Road. The original town plot was surveyed by Government in 1850, and is one and a quarter mile square; in addition to which, Wm. Sutton, Esq. surveyed that portion known as Williamsburgh. The village is beautifully located on the inner portion of the Bay formed by Douglas Point, on the north, and Point Clark on the south. The ground rises gradually from the Lake for about a quarter of a mile to a level plateau, which extends to the banks of the river. It presents a fine appearance from the water, and commands a beautiful lake view. It is remarkable for the salubrity of its climate, and is fast coming into note as a summer resort for parties in quest of health and pleasure. The River Penetangore, (an Indian word, signifying water on both sides; formally the name of the village, and still the name of the port), enters the town plot by four branches, which unite about half-a-mile from the lake, and flows between high banks through the centre of the village-the mouth forming the entrance to the harbour. The Harbour Reserve is a low flat, comprising six acres; surrounded on all sides by high banks. By expending a few thousand dollars, in addition to the works now in progress, it could be made the safest if not the best harbour on the coast. The business of the place has been very much depressed and embarrassed for the want of proper harbour accommodation; but, during the present season, the sum of $65, 000 (45000 Government Grant, $10, 000 County grant, and $10,000 raised by the village), is being expended in extending the piers, and dredging a channel and basin. Vessels carrying 15,000 bushels of wheat can now be load inside the harbour in safety. The village was incorporated in 1857, since which time it has progressed in population, improvements, business, and prosperity; faster than, perhaps, any other village in the Western part of the county. It is the best market, and the principal place of business in the county. The exports of the past year amounted to one quarter of a million dollars. The principle articles being wheat, barley, peas, grass-seed, flour, butter, pork, wool, pearlash, and tan bark; all of which command ready market at remunerative prices.