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October 25, 2013

Christopher Ryan: Brewer's Retail - slaking Centretown's thirst

A weekly feature from Christopher Ryan, a local photographer, blogger and researcher. It appears every Friday on our blog.

Beer Store Detail. Photo by Christopher Ryan.

By the mid-1950s, Ottawa had become a thirsty city. Although Prohibition had been over for more than a quarter century, the purchase of beer, wine, and liquor had remained highly inconvenient and, depending on one’s working hours, difficult. Doubtlessly encouraged by their relatively easy access to drink overseas during the Second World War, Ontarians came to demand greater access from a province not ready to relinquish control. Nevertheless, slowly but surely, a number of new Liquor Control Board (LCBO) and Brewers’ Retail outlets were opened during the late 1950s and early 1960s.

On December 30, 1959, it was reported in the Citizen that a new outlet was set to open on Somerset St. West, between Lyon and Bay and across from Dundonald Park. The project was reported to have a total cost of $160,000 (approximately $1.25 million today), which included the lot and the construction of the “architecturally designed” building. Construction of the new outlet necessitated the demolition of ten homes. In accordance with the city’s wishes, it was constructed from red brick instead of the usual buff (though it has long since been painted The Beer Store’s preferred yellow).

A full half of the homes that were demolished were owned by a Mr. Rene Labelle of Rockcliffe, four by an unnamed Sandy Hill woman, and the owner of the one detached home was unidentified. The Citizen noted that the lot was “formerly held by an Anglican Church syndicate.” Unlike today, neither the eviction of the tenants or the demolition of the homes seemed to raise much of a cry. As rents had been increasing, many of the tenants had been in the process of seeking other accommodations. Those who remained seems to take it in stride. Indeed, the only protest came from the Board of Trustees and congregation of St. Elijah’s Church, at the corner of Lyon and MacLaren.
The new Brewers’ Retail outlet opened on time on September 26, 1960. Comment in the papers appeared to be somewhat subdued and seen more an opportunity to list the number of problems with alcohol retailing in the city. An article in the September 28, 1960 edition of the Citizen made it clear that Brewers’ Retail was leading the way in the provision of ample parking, but that the LCBO was indifferent to customers’ parking needs – perhaps in an attempt to discourage drinking.The relatively short opening hours, a long-standing Ottawa complaint, were said to be a matter of zoning according to the province.

Unlike a number of other Brewers’ Retail outlets opened during this time (such as the one on Dalhousie, which is now row-house condominiums), the outlet on Somerset remains open today. The ample parking, it seems, not entirely important in a neighbourhood full of pedestrians.

-- Christopher Ryan

See also: Ottawa Food & Drink Guide
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