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Bringing Life Back to O’Brien Chelsea

Bringing Life Back to O’Brien Chelsea

1200 801 O'Brien Chelsea

High up in the Gatineau Hills, overlooking picturesque Lake Meech, sits the O’Brien House. Formerly a millionaire’s mansion, the O’Brien Chelsea has been completely restored to its original grandeur and given a new life as an exclusive boutique hotel.

“It’s been four years and two months between the first e-mail and today,” says Robert Milling, the Ottawa-based entrepreneur and hotelier responsible for the transformation. Milling is no stranger to the process, having already led the successful restoration of the Moulin Wakefield Mill Hotel and Spa in 2000.

“The Mill, which was quite a bit bigger, took 1427 days, so this (O’Brien) was longer (…) it was more complicated because it was right in the middle of the park.”

Formerly known as Kincora Lodge, O’Brien Chelsea was originally built in 1930 by Ambrose O’Brien and was one of the first homes in Gatineau Park. Originally designed by Ottawa architect Werner Noffke, the O’Brien house was constructed in the Queen Anne Revival style, popular in late 19th-century and early 20th-century homes.

In 1964, the home was purchased by the federal government and used as a conference and received a “Recognized” designation by the Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office (FHBRO). It then sat vacant for over twenty years, becoming significantly weathered by time and negligence.  But that all changed in September 2016 when the National Capital Commission awarded Milling the building’s $3.9-million revitalization project.

According to Milling:

“You needed a ladder to go from the first to the second floor. The building was just studs. The only thing that was in the building, really, was this floor, these two stairs, of course the fireplace – without a mantel. The staircase was in place minus the stair rail, and the red door (…) Every single element was replaced, there wasn’t a square inch that wasn’t touched.”

Construction process at the O’Brien Chelsea

Peter Simister, the architect behind the revival (Gillis) explains the team started with “just bare walls,” at the beginning of the renovation. Simister salvaged as much of the original design as possible, such as the six fireplaces and wood floors and created a scenic walkway from the parking lot to the front door to give guests a wheelchair accessible alternative to the original steep stone steps. Other updates include two new dining rooms and spa-like bathrooms in all the guestrooms. Log headboards also double as room dividers for a more contemporary touch.

Special attention was also paid to small details that make for an unforgettable experience. Every guest room has a McAusland Woollen Mill blanket from Prince Edward Island. You’ll find shelves lined with old books (The Hardy Boys, Chip Hilton) in the library along with a century-old Underwood typewriter that guests are encouraged to used to type onto postcards. In the corner, a grandfather clock formerly owned by Canadian Prime Minister Sir John Thompson keeps impeccable time.

Two guest-houses, separate from the main building and perched on the edge of the escarpment will be dubbed the “tree houses” and will provide guests with yet another unique experience and view of the surrounding splendor.

And while a lot has changed over the last four years and two months, Milling knows that more work is still to be completed including a conference building for corporate groups and special events, additional awnings and a large circular stone driveway constructed for wedding ceremonies.

After sitting dormant for years, the O’Brien Chelsea is poised to invigorate life into an otherwise calm and tranquil landscape. To inquire on availability, or to make reservations, please call 1-833-777-1930 or email

The O’Brien Chelsea will accept reservations for Friday through to Sunday starting March 30th, 2018. As of May 10th, 2018, the hotel and restaurant will be open for full bookings.

Works Cited

CTV Ottawa, “Historic Meech Lake Property For Lease.” CTV Ottawa N.p., 6 May 2014. Web. (

Gillis, Megan. “Canadiens owner’s 1930 retreat overlooking Meech Lake restored as boutique hotel.” Ottawa Citizen N.p., 17 March 2018. Web.  (

Houghton, Sarah. “The O’Brien House/Kincora Lodge.” Google Documents N.p., 27 September 2017. Web.

National Capital Commission. “The O’Brien House is Now a Destination.” Web. (

Porter, Kate. “Derelict Meech Lake landmark O’Brien House to get a new life as boutique hotel.” CBC News N.p., 12 September 2016. Web. (

The Ottawa Journal. “Personals.” N.p., 29 September 1941. Web.