DORCHESTER, N.B. – Bill Steele may not have been born and raised in Dorchester but since moving there earlier this year, he has quickly grown to love the quaint and historic village he now calls home.
That’s why he is doing all he can to see it grow and flourish; and to get people excited about living and visiting here.
Things are starting to happen in Dorchester, said Steele, and he wants to be part of making that happen. And his latest initiative centers around the holiday season and bringing back a tradition that hasn’t been seen in the village in recent history.
Steele has been working with village staff and council over the past couple of weeks to host a Christmas tree lighting ceremony, an event that he believes hasn’t been held in Dorchester in about 20 years.
Steele, widely known as the guy who purchased the provincial jailhouse in Dorchester this past spring and proceeded to open it up as an Airbnb, said he recently approached council about the idea of a tree lighting after noticing there didn’t seem to be any plans to put up a tree in the village.
The mayor and council were on board with the idea so Steele didn’t waste any time forging ahead.
“I said, ‘well let’s go cut a tree down then and get it up there.’”
So a tree was found and lights have been strung, all ready for the tree lighting ceremony this Friday evening at 7 p.m.
“Everybody’s kind of jumping in on it,” said Steele.
Steele, who lost his 25-year-old son Billy in March to heart failure, said this will be his first Christmas without his boy and so a part of him wanted to do something in his honour.
“I miss him so much,” said Steele of his son, who was actually born on Christmas day in 1991. “So I’m happy I can help with reviving the tree placement and official lighting.”
A member of the Dorchester Moving Forward committee, Steele said he is also pleased to have a hand in other initiatives happening in the community, including a new weekly Chase the Ace draw and seeing several new businesses getting off the ground, including his own ‘jail’ enterprise.
“It’s kind of exciting,” he said of the progress.
Steele said it didn’t take long for Dorchester’s friendly, small-town atmosphere to grow on him and now he wants others to come and enjoy its charms.
“I want people to come to Dorchester,” he said. “I’m going to be spending the rest of my life here, that’s why I want to try and get things going and make this village more prosperous.”
Steele, who was looking for a change of pace after nearly 30 years of working as a transfer station operator for the city of Toronto, had wanted to relocate to the Maritimes for his retirement and was looking for a unique property when he came across the jail.
Steele seized the opportunity and has since turned it into a unique Airbnb that he also lives in. For just $34 a night, guests can live like an inmate in a former jail cell. There are also larger rooms or even the whole building can be booked for events.
He said he didn’t really know what to expect when he opened up his jail to visitors but it very quickly drew a lot of interest. The provincial jail, which was the site of the last double execution in the province when the Bannister brothers were hanged for murder in 1936, has a lot of history behind it and people seem intrigued by that, said Steele. He had more than 200 visitors walk through the doors this summer, coming from all over North America and even as far away as China.
“Where else can you spend a night in jail,” said Steele of its appeal.