Gavan’s Hotel in Quyon was packed to capacity on Saturday night, as hundreds of people from both sides of the Ottawa River rolled into town to wish the hotel’s owner, Nick Matechuk, a happy retirement.
Organized by the hotel staff, the event was promoted on social media as a surprise party for Matechuk and attendees were invited to bring friends along for the occasion, under the condition of keeping everything under wraps.
As far as Matechuk was concerned, the evening was scheduled as a musicians’ night to raise funds for the Quyon Lions Club, so he prepared accordingly with his usual-sized staff of two bartenders and a cook.
At around 8:30 p.m., Matechuk noticed crowds being significantly larger than he expected, until someone walked up to him saying “Congratulations on your retirement”.
Matechuk didn’t think much of the compliment, having publicized his decision to retire earlier this year, but when a lady handed him a card as a token of appreciation for his long career, the secret was out.
At that point, a handful of people stepped on stage to give speeches, including Matechuk who took the opportunity to thank all the people who visited the bar and supported him over the years.
The rest of the evening provided a party for the ages, as dense crowds of the party-people danced, sang and socialized while local rock collective the Shooter Band graced them with a long list of classic jams.
At around midnight, before the last ferry of the evening was preparing to take off, a large number of people from the Ontario side of the river personally congratulated Matechuk and shook his hand before heading home – a gesture he felt symbolized his relationship with his multi-generational customer base.
“They’re great people,” he said. “We have really nice people in this community… you have young kids come up to an old man like me and say ‘congratulations, have a good retirement’ and stuff, that’s nice.”
For Matechuk, the initiative to organize a surprise party in his honour was a testament to the sense of respect, loyalty and how highly his employees think of him.
“My employees work until they can’t work anymore, whether it be having their kids or moving away from home,” he said. “I’ve got 11 and they’re all solid as a rock.”
Having operated the hotel for almost 40 years, Matechuk explained that Gavan’s is where he experienced the vast majority of his best lifetime memories.
The aspect of the job he’ll miss the most will be making connections with people from all walks of life on a daily basis.
“I have more experience than anybody could have in a lifetime,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where you work, unless you’re in a bar like this. Like today, you can see about 300 people and they’re just here to say bye to me.”
While owning a business for more than 30 years presented him with all sorts of challenges, Matechuk recalls himself leading the operation with a consistent work ethic and a positive disposition all while enjoying almost every minute of it.
“I love my work,” he said. “I’ve always worked, all my life. I’m 77 years old and I’ve only been unemployed for two weeks, since I finished school.”
While he’s officially called it a career, Matechuk plans on sticking around the hotel until the holidays, before moving back to his hometown of Sault Ste. Marie to be closer to his daughter Kathy and his grandchildren.
Out of everything the freedom of retirement will offer, he mostly looks forward to spending more time with his daughter and watching his grandchildren grow.
“Everybody be happy,” he said. “Spend time with family, that’s my big thing.”
But he doesn’t see himself taking too much rest, as he plans on doing what he can to keep his daughter’s home warm during the winter.
“I said, ‘Kathy, get a load of wood and I’ll cut it for you,’” he said. “Now, in the winter I’ve got a job. It’s something to do.”
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