Chateau Lafayette Pre-History, Part 1: 1849-1863

Ottawa's Chateau Lafayette has a long and rich history, dating back to 1849. This is Part 1 of a 5-part series chronicling that history before 1936, when it became the bar simply known as “The Laff.”

Historical researchers like myself can sometimes have "white whales." One such for me was finding the first known photos of Ottawa, which I identified and wrote about in 2021.

Another example would be my search for an early photo of the Chateau Lafayette, a bar which I've been known to occasion. An interview Laff GM Deek Labelle gave recently provided just the clue I needed—the York St. building was once home to the Bodega Hotel.

Bodega Hotel, York St. (ca. 1929-30). The building is now home to the Chateau Lafayette.

If you're reading this, you probably already knew the bar was (originally) founded in 1849. What you probably didn't know (but may have guessed)—it was founded by an Irishman!

Francis Grant was born in Ireland in 1818 and had arrived in Canada by 1846. At least two brothers joined him (likely after 1846), but their parents appear to have stayed home, meaning all the brothers presumably immigrated in adulthood. 

Why they came to Canada is a mystery. My best guess would be due to the Irish Potato Famine, which began in 1845.

In 1846, Francis married Susan McCaul (who was also Irish born) in or around Kingston, Ontario.

Rideau Canal locks at Ottawa River, ca. 1852. Barrack Hill top right, Fitzgibbons Wharf (aka 'the old steamboat landing,' later site of George Stirling's (OG) Dominion Brewery) bottom left.

Also in 1846, Grant leased the “Canada Hotel” on George St. near Sussex Dr., in the Byward Market.

[Bytown Packet – April 10, 1847]

I imagine Francis would later put this exact kind of care and attention into his Grant's Hotel.

A description of Bytown in 1846, from the time: "It is divided into two portions, called Upper and Lower Bytown... Bytown is principally supported by the lumber trade... The inhabitants of the lower town are about one-third French Canadians, the remainder are principally Irish... Population of Bytown, about 7000... Professions and Trades.—In Lower Bytown :... thirty-five taverns, two breweries, twenty beer shops..." [Smith's Canadian Gazetteer, 1846]

[Ottawa Citizen – Nov. 14, 2009]

In 1849, Francis bought Lot 7 on York St. and built his hotel-saloon.

Grant's Hotel quickly had its fifteen minutes of fame, when during the Stoney Monday Riot of Sept. 17, 1849, some Reformers (i.e. the good guys) took refuge in the establishment, escaping the flying rocks and bullets out on Market Square.

From the subsequent trials the following year, a description of Bytown Deputy Sherriff James Fraser's testimony:

[Via Bytown Packet – May 11, 1850]

The main market square at the time was home to the former Lowertown Market, situated one block north of the current Byward Market Building (on the other side of York St., and stretching to Clarence St.), present-day site of the parking garage across from Zak's Diner, Blue Cactus etc. on Byward Market Square.

Byward street map, 1857. Predominant Lowertown Market circled. [Ottawa Citizen – Sept. 17, 1994]

Byward Market Square, viewing south from Clarence St. (across York St., to George St.), ca. 1938. Former Lowertown Market building near left. [Via Library & Archives]

Byward Market Square, near Clarence St., viewing south. [Via Google Maps]

The riot pitted Loyalists/Conservatives (i.e. Tories) against Reformers (labelled 'Radicals'), and Uppertown against Lowertown. Add cultural and religious fault lines, and stir.

A depiction of the 1849 Stoney Monday Riot. [Via Bytown Museum]

Here's what happened, and why.

"In 1849 the Canadian Parliament was located at Montreal. The Rebellion Losses Bill passed in the House of Assembly by 47 to 18... Lord Elgin, then Governor-General, had signed the bill, compensating Lower Canadians for losses suffered during the Rebellions of 1837-38...”

[Ottawa Citizen – Sept. 17, 1994]

"The bill was unpopular with Loyalists... because it compensated those who had participated in the rebellion unless they had been convicted of treason...”

“Lord Elgin let it be known that he was considering relocating the nation's capital and scheduled a visit to Bytown. Tory supporters, including the mayor Robert Hervey, opposed organizing a reception for Lord Elgin. At a meeting to plan for the visit organized by Reformists in the [Lowertown] Market, the two opposing sides clashed, first with sticks and stones, but later with firearms. Thirty people were wounded, and one man was shot and died." [Via Wikipedia]

[Bytown Packet – Sept. 20, 1849] (Editorial, likely written by Packet Editor and future Mayor of Bytown and later of Ottawa, Henry Friel.)

Francis Grant himself testified at the subsequent trials:

Stoney Monday trials: description of Francis Grant's testimony. [Bytown Packet – May 11, 1850]

Although the Reformers lost the battle, they won the war: the work of Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine was already underway in establishing “Responsible Government” as we now know it, with Lafontaine's introduction of said Rebellion Losses Bill providing an early salvo.

[Ottawa Citizen – Nov. 14, 2009]

Moving on, in 1851, Francis lost his cow. 19th Century problems.

[Ottawa Citizen – Nov. 1, 1851]

At some point before 1864, one Joseph Montferrand aka Big Joe Mufferaw rolled into the Byward Market looking for a drink, but was a little short on cash. So elated was he to be accorded drinks on credit that he high-kicked the tavern ceiling in a fit of exuberance. Legend has it his boot print is still embedded in the ceiling of The Laff. 

Translation: “He jumped up with a vigorous kick and marked the nails of his boot on the ceiling.” Joseph Montferrand aka Big Joe Mufferaw in a Bytown / Ottawa saloon, possibly the future Laff. [Via Histoire de Jos. Montferrand, L'athl├Ęte Canadien, 1899]

In the 1853 City Directory, Francis adds this tagline to his Grant's Hotel listing: "A good yard and stabling, attached to the house. Moderate charges."

[Bytown Packet – Feb. 22, 1851]

[Bytown Packet – Feb. 22, 1851]

In 1855, Bytown officially changed its name to Ottawa.

In 1856, Francis' brother Peter married Elizabeth McCaul (Susan's cousin) at Notre Dame Cathedral, with Francis and their other brother Patrick in attendance. Peter and Patrick would both wind up settling in Osgoode.

Notre Dame Cathedral, ca. 1900. Signature dual spires were completed in 1858. [Photo by James Ricalton, tinted – via McCord Museum]

By 1857, Grant's Hotel had changed its name to the more formal “Exchange Hotel.” There were Exchange Hotels in other nearby cities (with similar advertising to Francis' 1846 Canada Hotel advert), and so it may have been part of a chain.

1857 was also the year Queen Victoria selected Ottawa as the new capital of Canada.

Lowertown, Bytown / Ottawa, 1850s. Note: Notre Dame Cathedral's spires are missing/incomplete. [Via "The New World, or, The United States and Canada," 1858]

Tragically, in 1858, Francis died at the young age of 40 (“after a short illness”). He must have been of some regional renown, as the notice of his passing was shared in Kingston and Montreal newspapers.

Obviously, this had to be a huge blow for the family. It would take them five years to sell the hotel and bar, and in the meantime, it was all hands on deck.

In 1859, Francis' widow Susan married William Hastings Griffin. Remember that name.

Also in 1859, work on the new Parliament Buildings on Barrack Hill commenced.

Viewing towards corner of Rideau St. & Sussex Dr. from Barrack Hill during construction of Parliament: "Canal locks and Major's Hill," 1860. [Original photo via Wikipedia – colourized by Ashley Newall]

In 1860, the imminent sale of the hotel was announced in the newspaper: Francis' widow Susan would be selling to his brother, Peter Grant.

In 1861, a curious ad appeared in the Ottawa Citizen, advertising the hotel for lease. Signing as the Proprietor at the time was a certain W.H. Griffin—Susan's new husband!

[Ottawa Citizen – Nov. 8, 1861]

That same year, an ad appeared in the Ottawa Citizen signed by a notable lessee, one Phoebe Garner, the first known woman to officially run the establishment. (This is insofar as available records show—Susan may have done the same prior, of necessity.)

[Ottawa Citizen  Feb. 5, 1861]

Phoebe was born in England, and was 26 years old in 1861.

In 1862, the hotel went through a name change, appearing in city directories as the “Market Hotel,” with one William O'Connor running the place.

In 1863, Peter Grant sold the hotel and bar to James Salmon. Salmon was otherwise engaged at the time, running another hotel in the area (i.e. the “Grand River Hotel”), on Sussex Dr. at Clarence St.—it would be another year before he'd move into the former Grant's Hotel.

Stay tuned for Part 2 (coming soon!), the Salmon's Hotel and Johnson House years!

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