Beer parlours vs. ice cream parlours in early Parry Sound
January 2, 2013
During 30 years of writing this column I’ve several times mentioned the early-days bar scene south of the Seguin River in “wet” Parry Harbour, while ignoring the parallel ice-cream-parlour culture just across the bridge in “dry” Parry Sound.
Put it down to the fact that joining friends over ice cream or soft drinks on genteel James Street generated less colourful copy than did booze-fueled lumberjacks whooping it up in the Montgomery House over on aptly named Champagne Street.
In truth, not a few loggers looking for a good time did choose the Seguin’s right bank over the left. I’ve written before about being sternly lectured on the matter by George Beagan, who worked in lumber camps and on log drives along the Shawanaga River a century and more. On hitting town, George declared, he and his friends headed not for a beer parlour but for an ice cream parlour, there to indulge their youthful craving for sweets.
And undoubtedly the soda fountain of the Victoria House, seen in an accompanying photograph, was one port of call.
I don’t know whether he was its founder, but William Calder Sr., who came to Parry Sound in 1879 to work in William Taylor’s tannery, ran the Victoria House in the 1890s, and members of the Calder family continued to operate it well into the 20th century. When William died, in 1903, his wife, three daughters and four sons survived him. The well-dressed gent behind the marble counter, identified on the back of the photo as Tom Calder, presumably is one of those sons.
The Victoria House was located on the west side of James Street midway between Seguin and Mary streets, planting it squarely in the heart of Parry Sound and well removed from Parry Harbour’s hurly-burly. Any stranger walking into the Victoria House and noticing the two gleaming ceramic dispensers of Hires Root Beer concentrate on the counter would instantly know which side of the Seguin River he was on.
A Philadelphia pharmacist named Charles Elmer Hires first concocted the beverage, from carbonated water infused with a concentrate of wild roots and berries, in 1876, even before venerable Coca-Cola was born. The soft drink caught on, and a few years later, when he started distributing a concentrate to retailers in syrup form, Hires began promoting his creation as “The Temperance Drink.”
That was a brilliant marketing ploy in an era of mounting public opposition to cheap and readily available alcohol. And how far-sighted of the Calders to start carrying the product before Prohibition effectively strangled the liquor hotels, midway through the Great War.
The syrupy mix of secret ingredients that the fountain operator pumped from those Hires dispensers was mixed with soda water — plain water infused with carbon dioxide gas — then served to the customer. The nearest source of this mixer (although there’s no way of telling if Calders did patronize it) lay just a few hundred yards down James and Bay streets, on Parry Sound’s waterfront.
Even before the turn of the century, Harry Laughington’s Soda Waterworks, situated about where the Bay Street Café now stands, began pumping carbon dioxide into clear Georgian Bay water and marketing the product in refillable quart bottles embossed with the words “H. Laughington, Soda Water Manufacturer, Parry Sound.” Those bottles, mostly dug out of old garbage dumps, have become collectors’ items. Even I have one.
I know nothing about Laughington other that I once was told that he moonlighted as a deputy game warden, and “travelled” a stallion in his spare time, evidence that satisfying the local thirst for soft drinks then amounted to less than a full-time job.
In 1910, Parry Sound businessmen Henry W. Reid and Andrew C. Logan purchased the plant and began marketing their product as “aerated water” (I also have one of their bottles) and shipping it to points as distant as the French River and Sprucedale, no doubt cashing in on the district’s growing tourist trade. In 1925, Reid bought out Logan and ran it for another five years or so before finally closing it.
The Victoria House was long ago converted to James Street retail space. The brick building housing the soda water works fared less well, having been destroyed by fire around 1930.
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