Old Vic Tavern aka The Exchange
1904, Henry Ford dreamed of selling his cars in the British Empire-
this would require a production facility in Canada, close to his
Detroit production facility. Walkerville was a natural location
for the new facility, given its superb infrastructure of railroad,
ferry boats, electricity and water, all designed by entrepreneur
extraordinaire Hiram Walker.
Ford agreed to buy the Walkerville Wagon Works, after a series of
meetings with owners Gordon MacGregor and Charles and John Stodgell.
The documents to seal the deal of what is arguably one of the most
important Canadian business transactions in the 20th century were
signed at The Exchange (the Old Vic).
Old Vic owes its existence to Charles Chilver, a Walker supporter,
building & road commissioner, and developer. (Chilver Road is
named after him.) In May 1897, he converted his house at the corner
of Chilver and Assumption into a tavern and after much deliberation,
christened it The Walkerville Exchange.
August 1900, the business was sold to Frank Laforet, reputedly one
of the first door-to-door milkmen in the region.
April 1903, Laforet announced that he would build a $10,000 two-story
brick hotel on the site. Rather than tear down the house however,
he moved it to the next lot south and it was rented out as a rooming
house (now 438-442 Chilver.)
hotel served as an overnight facility catering to passengers in
horse-drawn carriages headed to the nearby Walkerville train station.
Business boomed and in 1906, a third floor was added which featured
a balcony, awnings and stylish brackets. Lodging, meals and entertainment
were available, while coal fired heating units at the end of the
hallways kept the rooms warm in the winter.
name was changed to The Victoria Hotel sometime around 1930. The
business stayed in the hands of the Laforet family until 1982; old
regulars remember the spinster Ida Laforet, the colourful and eccentric
descendant of Frank who lived upstairs. Ida reportedly never
came down to the Tavern for 14 years!
major fire in 1968 resulted in a complete remodelling of the interior
and some exterior brickwork. Then in 1982, an investment group led
by Larry Burchell purchased the old Victoria Tavern. One partner
was killed in a motorcycle accident while another died during surgery;
Burchell stayed on as the sole proprietor. Burchell sold in 1987,
but ended up back in charge in 1989.
Aaron Edwards has taken control of the reigns at the Old Vic after
5 years of bartending at the tavern. He has already overseen upgrades
to the bar area, incorporating an oak cabinet that houses a selection
of over 80 scotches. Guinness beer now flows from the taps, as does
Walkerville Lager- the bar is one of the top sellers of it in the
one point, the Old Vic earned a reputation as a tough biker bar.
Today, however, The Old Vic is, in fact, a traditional neighbourhood
bar that caters to regulars (known affectionately as The Victoria
Tavern Association of Professional Cocktailers) and a lunch crowd
from all over the city.
Old Vic is a comfortable and safe environment where you can enjoy
quality draft and home-cooked meals", says Edwards. "Our U-shaped
bar is very conducive to conversation and camaraderie, while our
'stand ups' are extremely popular during our special event parties."
to Edwards, "The Old Vic remains one of Walkerville's best kept
secrets. Our clientele comes from all walks of life; you have a
bus driver sitting next to a CEO of a large corporation."
continues to diversify the clientele, booking bands that cater to
the university crowd on Saturday Nights. Coupled with the popular
Blues Band "In the Pocket", playing to a packed house on Saturday
afternoons, The Old Vic is now one of the most popular places in
the city on any given Saturday.
And says Edwards: "We pay careful attention to the temperature of
our beer, right down to how we wash our glasses."
Sunday, we barbeque our chicken and ribs over a fire made with oak
wood from old Hiram Walker's barrels- the flavour and quality of
our ribs are becoming legendary in the Walkerville and Windsor area."
has ambitions to broaden his market further. Two sold out An Quaich
Scotch tasting parties have been held recently, independent bands
showcase alternative music (the Old Vic has developed a reputation
as the venue for serious and independent musicians in the city,
due to its incredible acoustics and intimate atmosphere), a Lingerie
Show for Valentine's Day- along with the traditional sold out St.
Patrick's and Victoria Day bashes.
the near future, plans are afoot to reinstall the brackets under
the soffits to return more of the historical charm to the building.
After nearly 100 years of providing lodging, food and drink, the
Old Vic is a Walkerville tradition that seems destined to carry
on well into the 21st century.