Tavern in the Town: A Look Back at Drinking in Toronto

10 November 2005

report by Maggie Newell,
CHO’s Secretary

On Thursday, November 10 the Culinary Historians of Canada and Friends of Etobicoke’s Heritage gathered at Montgomery’s Inn to learn more about the history of alcohol consumption in Toronto. Our speaker was Craig Heron, an academic at York University and author of Booze: A Distilled History (Toronto: Between the Lines, 2003). Canadians have had a long and complicated relationship with alcohol. This entertaining and informative talk touched on many aspects of this relationship.

One of Heron’s themes was gender differences in drinking habits. In the early 19th century, European gentlemen gathered around their port after the ladies withdrew from the dining room. Working men gathered in the tavern after completing their day’s labour. Women did consume alcohol, and sometimes brewed beer as part of their domestic duties, but generally they did not gather around alcoholic drinks as a social activity in public. This identification of drinking with masculinity continued into the mid 20th century with the physical division of the exclusively male Beverage Room from the mixed Ladies and Escorts area.

Following the lecture we adjourned to Thomas Montgomery’s bar room in the restored Inn. When Thomas served his first customers here in 1838, a bar room was a place where men and women from all levels of society could stop and take refreshment on their journey along the Dundas highway. We enjoyed historically appropriate pork pies and potato bread, and an opportunity to sample beers from several micro breweries, while the recollections continued to flow.

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