Long ago, way back in 2004, Tanya’s little sister visited Hamilton. Her name was Stacey and she had been having a hard time at university and a relationship had ended. Before visiting Hamilton, she did what many young people do when facing a rough patch in their life – she put on a backpack and did some low-budget travel.
Stacey went single-female-backpacking through Europe and Asia for several months and, when her school vacation and money had run out, she stopped in to visit her family in Hamilton, before heading home to Australia. Her mind was full of the stress of her life and the excitement of her travels. The few weeks she spent with us, in our little house on Cannon Street, she called “the Ritchie retreat.” She was able to unwind, relax and refocus.
She also asked a very pertinent question. It is the question that started this whole thing rolling, and has brought us to where we are now.
Why are there no backpacker hostels in Hamilton?
We spent the next several years, on and off, investigating why that would be the case. It’s a story for another time. When Stacey visited us again in 2007, she pushed us again on the hostel issue and we went to Quebec City, Montreal and Ottawa. After exploring those cities and staying in some amazing hostels, we were pretty much sold on the idea. But would it work in Hamilton? We were pretty cautious and spent a few more years working on the kinks, talking to local friends and a few politicians who knew what was what.
It wasn’t until Stacey’s next visit, in 2010, that we finally got things underway. We had bought a house in May on Victoria Avenue – a skinny little place that was big enough to have a ground floor kitchen and common area, a second floor dorm (six beds) and one private room, plus bathroom, and live-in staff on the third floor. Stacey and her boyfriend agreed to live there while we got the hostel going. We figured that if we had no guests, we could find tenants and close the whole hostel idea down.
We opened in September 2010. Our first guest was a young woman from Japan. She checked in, freshened up, picked up some maps and then went to explore the city. We were elated. Slowly but surely, more guests came. By March 2011, we were regularly sold out. It was pretty clear that a backpackers’ hostel was, indeed, something that could work in Hamilton.
Now, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Stacey and her boyfriend headed back to Australia at the end of 2011 and we ran the hostel ourselves, with the help of occasional longer-term guests looking to help in lieu of payment. There were difficulties, but those are stories for another time. It was pretty clear by the end of 2011 that we needed a bigger venue, preferably closer to downtown. So the hunt began for our new home.
In January 2012, a house that we had always admired was listed for sale. It was huge. It was beautiful.
It was the William Pring House.
We couldn’t really afford it. But we put an offer on it. Our offer was accepted. We panicked. Fortunately, the seller didn’t want to move out until June, which gave us six months to raise the money we needed to close. On June 18th, 2012, we took possession of the Pring, and the work began in earnest.
With the invaluable help of our long-term guest, turned friend and co-worker, Tom, we bought and set up bunks and beds and couches and tables. The hostel continued to run in the old location until August, when we officially switched over. Our very first guests were a troupe of dancers from Italy, come to study and perform. Just as with our first opening two years earlier, we were elated and had hurdles to clear.
Every month and every year since we first opened has brought us new challenges and new joys. We have welcomed guests to Hamilton from every continent on Earth (except Antarctica!), from 112 countries (to date). It’s always a point of excitement when a guest arrives from a country that’s new to us – and it’s always wonderful when our guests return for another stay. Return guests from Cuba, Romania and Nigeria – among other places – call the Pring their home away from home.
We were struck suddenly and tragically by Stacey’s death in December 2018. She was 35 years old. There are simply no words to describe our grief.
The vision Stacey inspired lives on, among her many legacies. We will be forever grateful for the pushes she gave us, which started us down this path. Running the Hamilton Guesthouse has been a constant adventure and a great privilege and we are enormously proud to share it.
This September, 2020, will be our 10th anniversary. We have great plans for this year, and many years to come. We hope you’ll join us, as we continue to welcome the world to Hamilton.