80 years of history at the Carleton Tavern

By Dave Allston –

Kitchissippi’s most famous gathering place, the Carleton Tavern, turned 80 this year, and was marked with a week of celebrations this summer. A throwback to the city taverns that once dotted the working class neighbourhoods throughout the city, the Carleton is a piece of local history worth celebrating.

The Carleton is intimately tied to the Parkdale Market neighbourhood, but this is actually true to a much greater extent, historically speaking. Digging deep into the archives reveals that the building has gone through several major changes throughout the years. In fact, part of the Tavern can actually be traced all the way back to the summer of 1896, when a 31-year-old local entrepreneur, James William Burnett, purchased several lots on both sides of James Street (now Armstrong) west of Queen Street (now Parkdale).

Burnett, a veteran Ottawa lumberman, opened a wood planing and shingle mill on the south side of James, where the Parkdale Market now exists. He also constructed a modest two-storey brick-veneered house on the corner opposite his mill. This house would later form part of the Carleton Tavern; though unrecognizable through various alterations and expansions, the most south-easterly portion of the Carleton today is Burnett’s original 1896 house.

This scan from the 1948 Fire Insurance Plan of Ottawa shows the Carleton Tavern with its original and expanded structure.
This scan from the 1948 Fire Insurance Plan of Ottawa shows the Carleton Tavern with its original and expanded structure.

Burnett rented the upstairs of the house to tenants. The main floor was designed to be a small general store.

Between 1899 and 1900, Burnett sold his mill to James Lunny, who continued to sell wholesale and retail lumber from the future Parkdale market site (later partnering with James Gordon Maclaren, grandson of the famous Ottawa lumber baron James Maclaren). Lunny and his large family resided in the brick home on Armstrong. In 1904, Lunny sold his interest in the mill to Maclaren, who then altered the house to be used as the lumber office on the main floor, with a residential rental unit upstairs.

Maclaren operated the mill until 1909, which then passed through a handful of proprietors until closing in 1916 when economic priorities in Ottawa were shifted by WWI. Almost immediately, the site was suggested as an option for a much needed west end public playground. The mill and its related buildings were demolished, and by 1924 indeed it became the site of the new West End Market.

The house on the north side of Armstrong remained a lumber office until 1909. Burnett had sold his ownership in 1906, and new landlords took over, including James Soutar, a recent Scottish immigrant of advanced age who had spent his lifetime travelling the world by sea. Tenants would occupy the upstairs and downstairs of the house until 1911, when Soutar sold the property to the Moran family, who continued to develop the property over the next 30 years.

The Morans immediately converted the house back into a grocery store. Thomas Moran and his family resided upstairs, while a series of shopkeepers operated the grocery store on the main floor. In 1922, the family constructed a house next door at 229 Armstrong (now the site of Holland’s Cake and Shake), into which–in 1927– the Moran’s moved their grocery store. 223 then became the location of other types of businesses, including fruit dealers and butchers. In 1930, Thomas Moran decided to open a confectionery of his own on the main floor of 223. However it was his next move which would prove to be most significant.

In 1935, after five years of operating the confectionery, 75-year-old Thomas Moran extensively renovated the house at 223 Armstrong, and opened that fall as the Carleton Hotel. The business would have been small, still operating within the walls of the original brick home.

On February 26 1941, Moran sold the Carleton Hotel to Harold Starr and Harry Viau, for the sale price of $10,500. Starr was a popular Ottawa sportsman, having played for both the Rough Riders and the original Ottawa Senators in the NHL. Viau was a former barber who grew up in a hotelkeeper family.

The pair immediately hired local contractor F.E. Cummings to take out a $6,000 building permit to significantly alter and expand the Carleton to its present dimensions (almost triple its original size).

As Starr and Viau were both socially well-known and well-connected, the Carleton became an instant hangout for the sports crowd, particularly for ex-NHLers. In the late 40s, the owners phased out the hotel aspect of their business. By 1947, the Carleton Hotel became known as the Carleton House, and in 1951, changed to the Carleton Tavern.

Harry Viau’s daughter Judy recalled for me the days when the taverns were required to close at 6 p.m. (“to make sure husbands went home”), and then re-open an hour later at 7. The Carleton had a ladies side and a gents side, where the women were not allowed. She also noted there was a standard bar near where the kitchen is now, that the bar furniture had changed little, the bathroom not at all. She also reminisced that her father disliked serving draft beer, notably because of the cost effects due to the foam (“His fetish in life was to pour a pint without a collar on it.”), and as it took longer to serve and received more complaints.

In the mid-40s, the house next door (number 229) became Sadaka’s Ice Cream Bar. In 1948 Starr and Viau purchased this building from the Moran family, but just two days after the sale, it was swept by fire. They renovated and re-opened as a confectionery store (Carleton Sweets) before becoming the Carleton Steak House in 1955, which it remained for 50 years.

On November 1, 1973, Starr and Viau retired from the business, and sold the Tavern and Steak House to a syndicate of lawyers. In 1989, the group sold the bar to the Saikaley family, the operators of the Steak House since 1964.

Through its 80 years, little has changed at the Carleton Tavern, and that’s just how its many loyal patrons like it. It is a trip back into time, an experience that has fortunately been preserved in Kitchissippi, and one hopes will continue for many more years to come.

Dave Allston is a local history buff who researches and writes house histories and also publishes a popular blog called The Kitchissippi Museum (kitchissippimuseum.blogspot.ca). His family has lived in Kitchissippi for six generations. Do you have memories or photos to share of the Carleton Tavern? Email them to stories@kitchissippi.com.

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