Chateau Lafayette Pre-History, Part 2: 1863-1883

Looking West from Court House to Parliament Hill, ca. 1867. [Orig. image via Library & Archives – colourized by Ashley Newall]

Ottawa's Chateau Lafayette has a long and rich history, dating back to 1849. This is Part 2 of a 5-part series chronicling that history before 1936, when it became the bar simply known as “The Laff.” 

The Chateau Lafayette (on York St., in Ottawa's Byward Market) is my favourite kind of bar—one that presents live local music. Also, they sell my favourite beer in quart bottles, which only further endears. 

Picking right back up where we left off in Part 1, ... 

In 1863, founder Francis Grant's brother Peter sold the hotel and bar to James Salmon, but Salmon didn't move in right away. The year prior, the bar was re-named from the Exchange Hotel to the Market Hotel and was being run by one William O'Connor. Salmon was ensconced by the end of 1864, and quickly turned the former Irish-Catholic stronghold into a de facto clubhouse for the very British (and very Protestant) St. George's Society.

[Ottawa Citizen – April 6, 1866]

“Parliament Buildings. Main front. View from Sparks Street,” ca. 1863. [Orig. image via Library & Archives – colourized by Ashley Newall]

James Salmon (1814-1883) was born in England and immigrated to Canada in 1857. He was enterprising, and he was serious about beer. Before running his Salmon's Hotel in the former Grant's Hotel, and future Laff, he ran the Grand River Hotel also in Ottawa's Byward Market, on Sussex Dr. at Clarence St.

[Ottawa Citizen – Nov. 2, 1860]

An example of Salmon's style of hospitality, from 1860: 

[From Ottawa Citizen – Nov 2, 1860]

On the Grand River Hotel premises, he also ran an adult beverage store, plus – in 1863, at least – a boot and shoe store. 

[Ottawa Daily Citizen – June 7, 1861]

Salmon was the exclusive purveyor of "Fisher's Kingston Ale" in Ottawa, competing against a bevy of local brewers. 

Fisher's Kingston Ale Agency [Ottawa Citizen – Nov 2, 1860]

Fisher's Kingston Ale [From Ottawa Daily Citizen – March 16, 1860]

He also sold malt to local breweries. 

[Ottawa Citizen – May 16, 1863]

In the 1860s, the brewing business really took off in Ottawa, and several breweries were situated in the immediate Byward Market area.  

There was the City Brewery on Sussex (advertised in 1861), a location which had been another brewery prior and would be another soon after, becoming Doyles Brewery by 1864.

[Ottawa Citizen – July 30, 1861]

George Stirling’s Dominion Brewery (est. 1850s) was nearby, situated at the foot of the Rideau Canal locks on the Ottawa River, on the doorstep of the Byward Market. 

Foot of canal locks, Ottawa (March 1900). Long building center-left was George Stirling's Dominion Brewery. [Orig. image via Bytown Museum – colourized by Ashley Newall]

Henry Brading established his Union Brewery on the eastern edge of Lebreton Flats in 1865, and by 1870 he'd set up a satellite location one street south of Salmon's, on George St. (There'd been a brewery on George St. prior, and Brading was undoubtedly utilizing the same facilities.)

Outside of the immediate neighbourhood, there were also the Carleton Brewery, and the Chaudiere Brewery. 

[Ottawa Citizen – Dec. 28, 1869]

[Ottawa Citizen – June 21, 1864]

But I digress. 

The Salmon era in the Laff's history turned out to be amongst the quietest of them all, although it was not without some general intrigue—the hotel would pop up in the newspaper once a year like clockwork for the St. George's Society Anniversary (celebrating St. George's Day), and at other times for the Society's meetings, Salmon's Hotel being the launch pad for the former, and frequent venue for the latter. 

Salmon's Hotel (now Chateau Lafayette), St. George's Society annual anniversary. [Ottawa Citizen – Apr 19, 1867]

"The [St. George's] society was created to assist English and Welsh immigrants, and to promote patriotism among English Canadians... St. George, a Roman military officer who gave his fortune to the poor before being martyred, is the patron saint of England." [Via Canadian Encyclopedia]

The St. George's Society of Ottawa was "founded by Englishmen in the year 1844, for the purpose of relieving their brethren in distress.” [Via

I daresay, if Salmon had been running the future Laff in 1849 during the Stoney Monday Riot, he may have shut the (Irish and French Catholic) Reformers out, and rather shown the big bad Loyalists to the roof for a prime offensive position! 

In a continuance of his gravitation towards general posh-ness, Salmon was also a charter member of the local Masonic Carleton Chapter. 

[From Ottawa Citizen – May 30, 1877]

As for what was going on in town during this period, Ottawa's Parliament opened in June 1866, and Confederation Day was celebrated on July 1, 1867. 

July 1, 1867 on Parliament Hill, Ottawa – Confederation Day. [Colourized by Ashley Newall]

From the photos, at least, Ottawa looked quite idyllic during its immediate post-Confederation honeymoon. 

View looking north along Sussex Dr. (from Rideau St.) towards Notre Dame Basilica, ca. 1870. (Church in foreground is St. John's Anglican.) [Orig. image via Library and Archives – colourized by Ashley Newall]

York St. back in those days was what I'd call 'hotel alley.' One regular patron of the zone at the time had a theory as to why such was the case: 

[Ottawa Citizen – April 24, 1875]

In 1878, James Salmon went broke. Subsequently, his Salmon's Hotel went on the auction block, as did his furniture. 

[Ottawa Citizen – Sept. 10, 1878]

(Salmon's bankruptcy may have been partly due to his largesse in hosting the St. George's Society over the years. More likely, it was related to the worldwide recession on at the time, compounded by Canada's own post-Confederation economic slump.) 

In the ensuing five years, the hotel and bar would change hands a few times. In 1879, it was sold to John Johnson, likely by J.E. Christie (who'd bought it at auction the year prior for $4500), for the bargain basement price of $4000. Johnson had operated another hotel on York (near Sussex) earlier that decade, and at the time of the sale he was running a boarding house in Mechanicsville (i.e. Lebreton Flats).

[Ottawa Citizen – March 06, 1879]

The brief Johnson House era (1879-1880) was similarly quiet to the Salmon's Hotel years. Fear not, however: following his short and sweet reign, all hell would break loose for the next 40 years!

John Johnson is a complete mystery: my best (educated) guess is that he was either Irish or Scottish. No records could be identified pertaining to where and when he was born nor where and when he died. 

John Johnson, Ottawa, 1873. *This may or may not be the exact John Johnson in question (there was another John Johnson in town at the time – a bureaucrat – whom it could possibly have been), but this guy certainly looks the part of an innkeeper. [Photo by William Topley – via Library & Archives]

Around 1881, Johnson leased the premises to one William Howe. 

George St., Byward Market, viewing east from Parliament Hill, ca. 1880. Chateau Lafayette building appears to just sneak into frame on far left. [Via Lost Ottawa]

In 1883, Johnson sold to Samuel Davidson, who in turn named it... The Dominion House. That name would initially only last the year, but in 1887 it would become the enduring name of the establishment for the ensuing 42 years. 

[Ottawa Citizen – April 25, 1883]

In 1884, Davidson would lease the hotel and bar to the Grace Brothers (Stephen and Michael), whose name would, er, grace it for the next three years. 

Davidson went on to establish his “Davidson's Hotel,” first a few doors west of the present-day Laff, and then right next door to the east (on the corner of Byward Market Sq.). 

James Salmon would go on to run Dorney's Hotel on Bank St. (presumably in Centretown). 

[Ottawa Citizen –  Jan. 19, 1882]

John Johnson moved around a lot in the 1880s, from once again running a boarding house on Lebreton Flats, to running the Royal Exchange Hotel on Wellington St., to winding up back in the Byward Market (on Sussex). Then, in 1890, he was back on the strip—he re-constituted his Johnson House on Sussex at York St., after which he completely vanishes into thin air (insofar as any available records in which he could be positively identified are concerned). 

[Ottawa Journal – May 12, 1887]

[Ottawa Citizen – Feb 25, 1888]

[Ottawa Citizen – May 7, 1890]

As for the future Laff, ... 

After 1884, the Grace Brothers' partnership proceeded to disintegrate, and the hotel and bar would soon be run by a revolving cast of even more colourful characters. With Temperance laws about to gain teeth, the establishment was on the cusp of a flurry of visits from the local constabulary. 

Stay tuned for Parts 3 and 4 (coming soonish!)—The Dominion House years! 

Part 1 here: Chateau Lafayette Pre-History, Part 1: 1849-1863 (Francis Grant & The Exchange Hotel) 

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