Photo Hunt: Backwards

For this week’s Photo Hunt  theme, I picked photos of my favourite tavern in Ottawa. From the inside, the sign painted on the windows outside looks backwards.

There are only a few traditional taverns left in Ottawa. The Elmdale House Tavern is one of them. The building, itself dates to 1909 but the Elmdale House Tavern opened in 1934. Originally, it probably had a single barroom but new (and backward) liquor laws which were enacted in 1937 required all Ontario Taverns to have“two separate and distinct beverage rooms – one for men only, and the other solely for women, except where attended by bona fide escorts” (The Globe March 29, 1937, “Liquor Board to Curb Mixed Drinking in Ontario Hotels, New Rules to Require Two Rooms”). Women were forbidden to cross into the “men only” section. And even if they owned the tavern, women were not permitted to SERVE in the men only sections! By 1944, after much back and forth about the right of women to serve in such establishments, the LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) stipulated that “authority holders desiring this privilege [to have female servers working within the Ladies and Escorts room] must make application to the Board as well as submit a medical certificate covering the proposed employee and indicating that she is free from disease”!!! Most provinces had the same laws.

In the 1970s, I can still recall being required to remain in the “Ladies and Escorts” side of all the taverns that my friends and I went to. By then, women were permitted to go into taverns unattended, in the company of female friends, or in mixed groups… but we were still not permitted in the “men only” room. It wasn’t until the late 70s when the law permitted women to go into the “men’s” side. I can still recall the time when we were looking for a friend and my male friend took me through the “Men only” room of the famed Chateau Lafayette (older than the city of Ottawa and one of Ottawa’s oldest institutions!). Despite the fact that women were by then permitted in, it was still a male only bastion and I can recall the glares and stares I got from the denizens.

Some taverns retained the “no women allowed” attitude well into the 1980s. My former father-in-law recalls when The Bank Hotel Tavern in Quebec being the target of a protest by women who wanted the right to have lunch and a beer in the still male-only tavern. They came into the bar and were physically ejected onto the street by the male patrons! It took a court challenge to finally change the unwritten rule of “men only”. Not long ago, ago that you weren’t allowed to pick up your drinks and carry it to another table. If you wanted to move to another table, your waiter had to take your drinks over for you…

Many of the taverns still have the old “Ladies and Escorts” entrance, some still with their sign. Often, the “Ladies and Escorts” door was at the side or back of the building. The Elmdale often feels like you’ve travelled backwards in time.

The Elmdale House Tavern was purchased, updated, and reopened in 2007 and has become one of the most popular music venues in the city. It still retains its traditional tavern atmosphere, especially during the daytime, but it rocks at night! The owners have made a point of supporting local bands and music artists as well as some pretty big names from across Canada and the USA, especially Rockabilly, alt-Country, Rock and Roll, and alternative bands.

I don’t have too many photos of it when it is really hopping because I’ve tended to spend my time videotaping the shows.

Wanda Jackson and The Lustre Kings – “Funnel of Love”

I do have a lot of photos taken killing time waiting for the music to start… Most of these coins have the Queen facing the stage. They are, therefore, backwards!


  1. Bel said,

    July 17, 2011 at 10:28 pm

    Fascinating stuff. I never knew Canada (or at least Ottawa) was so conservative! And it being the Capital and all. I’d love to have this for the Post, along with a photo or two. Would that be possible?

    • mudhooks said,

      July 18, 2011 at 1:45 am


      The law is now obsolete but it was common in most, if not all provinces across Canada. Laws were even more restrictive for Native peoples until… I’m not sure what year…. no Native people were permitted into establishments that served alcohol. That included Canadian Legion halls, the social organizations serving Canadian military veterans. That meant that men who had fight for their country were not permitted to even ENTER a Legion, let alone have a beer with their non-Native brothers and sisters-in-arms! Appalling.

      Of course, they couldn’t vote in the country that they fought (and died for, in many cases) until 1962.

      First Nations reserves are all “dry”… no legal alcohol consumption. Natives are no longer prohibited from drinking off-reserve. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find the date when that prohibition ended.

      • Bel said,

        July 18, 2011 at 3:01 am

        Great, thanks. 🙂

        Would you want to work that last information in or leave it as is? Shall I pick it up, or will you send it to the Post email?

        • mudhooks said,

          July 18, 2011 at 3:07 am

          I’ll see what I can do about sending it to you. I have your email.

          I will leave out the part I added as a comment.

  2. mariposa said,

    July 17, 2011 at 11:25 am

    Beautiful shots and great take on the theme! 🙂

  3. Liz said,

    July 16, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    Nice post and I like your take on the theme.

    Have a fabulous weekend!

    Liz @ MLC

  4. Ruth said,

    July 16, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    A very clever take on the “backwards” theme 🙂

  5. Carver said,

    July 16, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    What a fascinating post. Great idea for the theme and so interesting in and of itself.

  6. azahar said,

    July 16, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    Nice selection of pics and a good story to boot!

  7. Sandy said,

    July 16, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    My favorite place was the Ottawa House. A male bastion in the 60’s, for sure. I’d go there for lunch when I worked for the Ministry of Transport in the Hunter building downtown. Both gone now I suspect as I couldn’t find them back in ’92 when we visited. Big, old stone buildings.
    One day myself and a couple of co-workers from the data center were having lunch and a group of men at a near by table fired off a firecracker. Which, of course, startled the place into silence! They began to sing happy birthday to Queen Victoria. Everyone began to laugh at that point.
    Sometime I’ll have to tell you about the summer evening I raced Pierre Trudeau along the Ottawa River Parkway. He in his Mercedes and I in my Triumph Spitfire (with a trailing RCMP escort)…

  8. magiceye said,

    July 16, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    lovely post!

  9. July 16, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    pub/tavern/bar with the right atmosphere is a thing to treasure. There are precious few around.

    I once went to a social club where in 80s there was a men only bar. You could only access if via the gents toilet.

  10. Annie said,

    July 16, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    I love this post and seeing this tavern. Great take on the theme!

  11. YTSL said,

    July 16, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    Decades ago, I encountered pubs in England partitioned into more than one bars: e.g., public, private and saloon bars. Ironically, the public bars were the ones that I, being female, didn’t feel like I was welcome in while the private and saloon bars felt more comfortable!

  12. July 16, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    An impressive collection of coins on their edges!

    • mudhooks said,

      July 16, 2011 at 2:35 pm

      They stayed like that (without artificial assistance) for about half an hour. I was quite proud of that.

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