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Cars don’t stop here anymore – The crumbling remains of the road trip culture

September 2021

In the years after World War II, the economy was booming and people had money to spend. Luxuries, like cars and family vacations, were becoming more and more affordable to families across Canada and America. As air travel was still quite expensive, automobiles were the preferred method of travel.

However, back in the 1950s and 60s, vehicles were less efficient and drivers were required to stop more frequently for gas and oil. The post-war baby boom resulted in bigger families, so there were more bathroom breaks and snack demands. Roadside motels and gas stations popped up all along improved highways to cater to travelers.

The name “motel” was a name created by the owner of the Milestone Mo-Tel (an abbreviation of “motor hotel”) in San Luis Obispo, California.

These new motor hotels were no longer simply separate cottages, but a collection of rooms, contained under a single roof. They were usually a single-story (sometimes two-story), long strip-style building, and were designed specifically for motorists. Each room had a door leading outside to the parking lot, so you could park your car right outside your room and enter through the door, instead of through a central lobby. The two-story style motels usually had a balcony accessed by stairs from the parking lot, allowing similar use of the outer door.

Most were basic rooms, containing a bed, bathroom and a TV in later years, but some had amenities like a swimming pool, some playground equipment, a mini-putt and a restaurant.

A a familiar sight on American and Canadian highways in the 1950s to the 1970s, was the iconic Holiday Inn, the legendary hotel chain that marketed themselves as  “The Nation’s Innkeeper.”

Their iconic 50-foot-high sign, with the flashing yellow arrow pointing the way, made Holiday Inn motels a popular choice for travellers looking for a comfortable stay, at affordable prices.

Unfortunately, the good times wouldn’t last. With the coming of chain motels and hotels of better quality and style in the 1970s, along with more and more freeways bypassing the towns that supported them, many of the older motels struggled to attract customers.

A decline in customers meant less money to maintain and upgrade the motels. Those that managed to stay in business soon fell into disrepair, and in an effort to stay in business, began accepting clients who would have been formerly denied a room, leading to more and more criminal activity in and around the motels.

While motels still do exist today, it’s the chain motels that dominate the market, especially economy brands like Motel 6, Econolodge and Knights Inn.

Many of the old independent motels that once dotted the major roads in and between cities and towns have disappeared, demolished in favour of redevelopment, taking the restaurants and gas stations. Sometimes an entire town has disappeared along with them,

Occasionally, an abandoned and crumbling motel can still be found standing as silent monuments to a by-gone era.

Some motels do remain in business, especially in smaller towns, frequently surviving as long-term rental accommodations, rather than as a place for weary travelers, while others have been converted to other commercial operations, such as self-storage or retail stores.

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Some of the roads these motels are on are no longer provincial highways, but I have listed their former highway designation anyway, to acknowledge them as former travel routes.

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Huronia Motel

Highway 11, Barrie (now Bradford Street).

Long Branch Motel

Highway 169, south of Sudbury.

Prudhomme’s Landing Inn

Queen Elizabeth Way, Vineland.

While Prudhomme’s Landing Inn was primarily for guests of the Prudhomme’s Landing Waterpark, given that it was located beside the busy Queen Elizabeth Way, the main Toronto to Niagara route, they no doubt had roadtrippers staying at the motel too.

Knight’s Inn

Highway 90, Barrie (now Dunlop Street).

Lake Simcoe Motel

Highway 11, Barrie (now Blake Street).

Venus Motel

Highway 26, Wasaga Beach (now Lyons Court).

Gloria’s Motel

Highway 17, White River.

Mountain Ash Inn

Highway 17, Goulais River.

Sutton Inn

Highway 48, Sutton.

Sundial Inn, Highway 11, Orillia.

Frontier Town, New York State Route 9, North Hudson, New York.

While this motel primarily supported the former Frontier Town Western Theme Park, it no doubt provided accommodations to weary travelers as well.

Inn on the Grand

Highway 3, Dunnville.

It’s not just the roadside motels that being left to rot. Some of the gas stations and restaurants that complemented the motels have been left to rot too.

Barr Motel

Highway 27, Barrie (now Essa Road)

The Barr Motel in Barrie is one of the old motels that have been converted into affordable housing. Re-named Lucy’s Place, in honour of a homeless woman who died on Barrie’s streets in 2014, provides a dignified and affordable transitory homes for chronically homeless men and women with addiction and mental health issues.

Lucy’s Place features 12 self-contained bachelor units, a common area, a communal kitchen and office/programming space. The adjacent home provides six additional units where residents have their own bedroom, and share kitchen and bathroom facilities.

Riviera Court Motel

The Riviera Motor Court began operations in 1963. The two level, 32-room motel offered guests a beautiful view of Lake Ontario along the back portion of the motel.

The earliest information for a manager was a Mr. William Dikeman. In 1984 the motel was bought by Mr. John Lee who incorporated it as 558644 Ontario Limited.

The Riviera on the Lake – lots of stories.

The last managers to operate the business were Peter and Yolanda Piekarski. Annual profits were in the area of $242,000.

The balconies at the rear of the motel made the room rate worth every dime.

There was nothing exceptional about the motel – it was the view of the lake from the units at the back of the building.

Cedar Chuckwagon

Highway 169, Estaire (now Estaire Road).

Sources: The Rise and Fall of the Great American Motel | History | Smithsonian Magazine, What happened? Photographer captures abandoned places along Trans-Canada Highway | CBC News, Holiday Inn – Wikipedia, Motel – Wikipedia, (1) Gloria’s Motel | Facebook, The evolution of a piece of land on the south side of Lakeshore Road. « Burlington Gazette – Local News, Politics, Community.

What Happened To The Holiday Inn Holidome, Are There Any Left? (milestomemories.com)

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/cars-dont-stop-here-anymore-the-crumbling-remains-of-the-road-trip-culture/

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