Category Archives: Wine & Spirits

Raise a glass ~ Winston Churchill was born 139 years ago today


Remember him, for he saved all of you: pudgy and not very large but somehow massive and indomitable; baby-faced, with snub nose, square chin, rheumy eyes on occasion given to tears; a thwarted actor’s taste for clothes that would have looked ridiculous on a less splendid man. He wore the quaintest hats of anyone: tinted square bowlers; great flat sombreros squashed down on his head; naval officer’s caps rendered just slightly comic by the huge cigar protruding beneath the peak. On grave and critical occasions he sported highly practical Teddy-bear suits few grown men would dare to wear in public. He fancied oil painting, at which he was good, writing, at which he was excellent, and oratory, at which he was magnificent. His habits were somewhat owlish (a bird he faintly resembled), and he stayed up late at night, often working mornings in bed with a lap tray for his desk. (Once, after the war, when I called on him at 11:00 A.M., he inquired whether I wished a drink, ordered me a whiskey and soda, then, reaching for the empty glass beside him, told his manservant: “And bring me another.”

– From World War II by (the late NY Times Foreign Affairs columnist) C.L. Sulzberger

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Grog Shops of Halifax: a History

If I ever owned a tavern in Halifax, I’d want to call it The Grog Shop, but I doubt that name would get licensed; I seem to recall a rule about purveyors of booze not supposed to make it sound like they were purveying booze.  Anyway… here’s a trip through time to give you an idea of what a pub crawl would have been like in the city’s early days.

I have a map of early Halifax (it’s titled “Map of Halifax: 1749-1830” and was prepared and drawn by George T. Bates (I’m not sure when, but it was some time after 1950).

Among other things of historical interest, the map shows the sites of the first 30 liquor licenses in Halifax plus some other notable establishments.  John Shippey received the first license on July 17, 1749 – the year the city was founded by the British.  It doesn’t list a name of his establishment, but it was located on Lower Water Street, just south of Salter Street (or, roughly, where the parking lot of the Keith’s Brewery is now).  It says that “On Aug 24, 1750, married Sarah Allen, a widow.  Family totaled 7 (2 males, 3 females over 16, and 2 boys under 16) in the 1752 Census.  Other record is scanty”.  Shippey’s name lives on.

William Crafts received license no.2 on the same date as Shippey’s, but had it cancelled on December 27, 1749.  Wild Christmas party?  This was located on Barrington Street, just north of Blowers Street on the harbour side of Barrington.  I think that’s where the old Mason’s building is now.

John Williams received license no.3, just two days after Shippey and Crafts.  No info, but Bates mentions that there were 3 men with this name among the first settlers.  (As every school kid knows, or knew, there were 2,547 of them, and they arrived on board ships with names like Alexander, Baltimore, London, Fair Lady, Winchelsea and Merry Jacks.)  His establishment was located on Albemarle Street – up off Duke Street toward Citadel Hill; north of Duke St, I’d say between where Market Street is now and Brunswick Street.

License no.4 was issued to John Aubony on July 21, 1749.  In May of 1753, Aubony is shown as owning “The Mairmaid Tavern” near ‘the Beach’ (there was a beach?), i.e. Water Street.

Richard Wenman received the fifth license on July 28, 1749.  His establishment was located on Bedford Row between George and Duke Streets.  According to Bates’ research, Wenman married a widow named Ann Pike on July 21, 1751.  Their daughter Susanna married the Hon. Benjamin Green, MLA for Halifax (1765-1770).  Wenman died on September 28, 1751, aged 70.

John Willis received licence no.6 on August 11, 1749.  It was also on Abermarle Street, up near John Williams’ place.  Bates seems to indicate that Willis’ licence was associated with The Great Pontack.  Located at the northwest corner of Duke and Bedford Row, The Great Pontack, notes Bates, was the best known of Halifax inns, and was built by the Hon. John Butler before 1754, when it first gained notoriety, and remained at the center of Halifax social life and entertainment for the next 30 years.  Bates: It’s name appears constantly in the records of this period of Halifax’s history.

On August 21, 1749, licence no.7 was given to the one and only Ewnosh Auchmuty.  His name does not appear again, so he might be Eunice.  One John Auchmuty died October 31, 1750; spooky.  Alas, there are no Auchmuty’s in the Halifax phone book today.  The Auchmuty establishment was located between Argyle Street and Barrington Street on Buckingham Street, which no longer exists (the Scotia Square shopping/office complex would be there now).

Jean (or Jane) Gibbons received licence no.8 on August 1, 1749.  I see the city clerk was getting his dates and licences out of order; what do you expect with so many taverns around town?  Gibbons appears to be the first woman to operate a drinking establishment in Halifax.  She was located down on Lower Water Street, just south of Shippey’s place along the Keith’s Brewery property.  There was a well just outside her front door.  She was a widow, and she married Edward Lush on October 26, 1749.  Lush died on April 24, 1753.  On Tuesday, December 18, 1753, following a night of “Mirth”, she was seized with a “Fitt” and literally died laughing two hours later.

Esther Addington received licence no.9 on August 22, 1749.  The location of her establishment is not noted, and Bates notes that she was not mentioned again in records.

Licence no.10 was granted to Samuel Blagrave on August 22, 1749.  Blagrave’s establishment was located on Bedford Row between Prince and George Streets.

Within 8 months of the city’s founding, its 30th liquor licence was granted.  The demand was obviously there.  We won’t put all the blame on the city’s first citizens; after all, it was a British garrison and naval port.

Some other establishments of note include:

* the Jerusalem Coffee House which was built as a residence by the Hon. Thomas Saul in 1753.  It was later occupied by the Hon. Alex Brymer.  It was let out as a coffee house by around 1789 and was kept by Wyndham Madden.  It was destroyed by fire in 1837.  I think it was located around where the Law Courts are now.

* at the Blowers Street end of Argyle Street, William Piggott was granted a licence to operate a coffee house with a billiard table on April 8, 1751.  It apparently moved in 1753 to Granville Street, near the “Sign of the Black Bull and Butcher”.  Captain Piggott operated “The Duke of Cumberland’s Head” for about 20 years after which it may have been called the Wolfe Inn.  Here would be an example of where the establishment goes by the description of the image of its street sign (what came first, the name or the sign?).

[first posted to The Campblog on July 30, 2005]

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Filed under Canada, Halifax, History, Nova Scotia, Wine & Spirits