A Little Blast of Bangkok on the Ottawa River
By Steve Pitt
The sign over the entrance of Le Voyageur Inn in Mattawa says “Authentic Thai Cuisine”. “Okay,” a skeptical person might think, “Northeastern Ontario is much more renowned for its poutine than its Pad Thai. Can anyone deliver truly “authentic Thai cuisine” in Mattawa?”
Sudawan Butt, co-owner of the Voyageur with her husband Qaisar, says yes. “Our chef is from Thailand, and so are we,” she says. “Every day, our chef uses fresh Thai ingredients like coconut milk, tamarind, red chilies, lemon grass and galangal exactly the same way they are used back home in Thailand. Even though we are in Mattawa, we can honestly say our Thai cuisine is authentic.”
The tale of two Thai entrepreneurs who came to own a historic hotel in voyageur country is a fascinating business adventure story in itself. In 2006, Sudawan and Qaisar were operating a thriving import-export business in Thailand when a Canadian-based friend of theirs suggested buying the Voyageur Inn as an investment property. “We were told that the place needed just a little upgrading, maybe a hundred thousand at most,” Sudawan laughs. “So we bought it sight-unseen and then came to Canada to see our hotel. When I saw it for the first time, I cried.”
I’ve Been Working on the Railroad…
The Voyageur Inn is one of the most historic buildings in Northeastern Ontario. It predates the town of Mattawa itself. The first stage, a two-story hotel, was built in 1881 as soon as the Canadian Pacific Railroad reached this area on its way west, building the national railroad that would link eastern Canada and British Columbia. The railroad brought a flood of new settlers who often stayed at the hotel before they could establish themselves as loggers, prospectors, farmers, government officials and professionals. Business was so good in the early days that a beautiful three-story Victorian style addition was soon added to the hotel front.
But time had taken its toll by the time Sudawan and Qaisar arrived to see their investment. By 2006, the building was more than a century old and the promise of a “little upgrading” turned out to be a massive understatement. “The rooms were small and old-fashioned, the wiring and plumbing were obsolete and nearly every piece of furniture was worn out,” Sudawan says, “My husband is an engineer but it still took us nearly four years and nearly every cent we had to bring this hotel up to what guests now expect in a modern hotel.”
Modern, Clean, and Boasting Delicious Cuisine
The number of guests rooms had to be reduced from 29 to 20 to make way for modern bathrooms, queen sized beds, flat screen TVs, free wifi, refrigerators, microwaves and ironing stations. “We also thought hard about the kind of food we wanted to offer our guests,” Sudawan says. “The last owner of the Voyageur sold pizza and typical Canadian dishes like burgers and club house sandwiches. We decided to keep some Canadian food on the menu for our guests who like that sort of thing, but also offer Thai food for guests who wanted something a little more adventurous. For the first two years, the ratio of Canadian to Thai food sold was 60 to 40. Now, it is the other way around. Sixty per cent of the food ordered by our customers for dinner is now Thai dishes.”
Besides their cuisine, the Voyageur Inn is a popular destination for visitors looking for a modern, clean room at an unbeatable price. Trip Advisor reviews are full of comments like “very comfortable and updated”, “motel is clean and the staff are extremely friendly” and “This bed and breakfast was good value for the money”.
The hotel is in the centre of the town of Mattawa which sits on the scenic shores of two major rivers and is surrounded on all sides by breathtaking forest-covered mountains. This region is a magnet for visitors who enjoy downhill skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, canoeing, golfing, hiking, swimming, hunting, nature photography and fishing. The Mattawa Marina is a two minute walk from the hotel, offering public boat slips, washrooms and pumping stations to visitors arriving by water. The marina is surrounded by parkland and it is home to the Mattawa Museum which houses a fascinating collection of local historical objects and memorabilia.
With all this going on, if you are planning to visit the area it is best to book ahead. “We tend to fill up on weekends, especially during the ski season because of our very popular ski package with nearby Antoine Mountain ski resort,” Sudawan advises.
The Voyageur Inn is located at 351 Main Street, in the heart of the historic downtown area which is easy walking distance from local conveniences like a bank, pharmacy and grocery store. There is free parking on the east side of the Inn.