Tavern Days

It seems J.E. Hawley only ran a tavern at Ham House from about 1840 to to 1854, yet many features of this period survived. The first thing one might associate with a tavern are pipe stems, and the remains of clay pipes were found throughout the foundation and basement. In reality smoking transcended all aspects of life in early Upper Canada and the discovery of clay pipe stems merely indicates a place inhabited prior to the 1870's.


Figure 1. Clay pipe

Found in the mud of the basement floor were 3 bronze keg spigots which were obviously directly connected with the tavern. Owing to cheap grain, the drink of choice for all of North America in the early to mid 19th century was whiskey(1).


Figure 2. Keg Spigots

It is difficult to overstate how different taverns of the early 19th century were from those of today (3). Governing authorities attempted to regulate the consumption of alcohol, both for social and revenue reasons, but in the absence of a real police force this was largely futile. The Temperance Movement in concert with Methodism was such a powerful force in North America that by the 1870's the culture against taverns began to get traction, changing the drinking culture of an entire continent. While in the U.S. the temperance movement culminated in the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution in 1919 that banned the production, importation, transportation and sale of alcohol, in Canada prohibition proceeded on provincial grounds. Ontario enacted prohibition legislation in 1919. Prohibition did not end in the U.S. until it was repealed by the 21st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution in 1933 while prohibition in Ontario ended in 1927. Eight years of prohibition coupled with previous decades of regulatory tightening had wiped any trace of the Upper Canada tavern from existence by the late 1920's. The drinking culture of today is very close to what the early prohibitionists envisioned in the 1860's.

In the first half of the 19th century there was at least one tavern every mile on every highway. It was also common for there to be 4 taverns to every street intersection. In 1872, Kingston cut the number of tavern licenses in half to about 200. This was still a lot of taverns for a city with a population of about 20,000.

From the 1830's to the 1850's, the taverns of Bath were notorious as dens of vice and sin, there being at least 50 establishments within the old village alone that could not have had many more than 50 buildings. Most were unlicensed 'irregulars'. This continued with the village as a busy port until the coming of the railway in the late 1850's.


Figure 3. Bullet Hole

In keeping with the character of Bath in the 1840's, a bullet hole was found in the plank wall of the tap room covered with a leather patch held in place by 4 corner nails. It seems someone stood in front of the bar holding a pistol out from his waist in his right hand and fired a shot into the wall. Near to the bullet hole was found the graffiti:

"A ? died March 28 1844"

In the same vein, to the west of the basement stairs and against the north foundation wall were found the remains of no fewer than 15 broken whiskey bottles. It seems a right-handed individual liked to sit at the bottom of the stairs, and when finished his bottle, tossed it against the stone basement foundation wall.

Figure 4. Whiskey bottles

One surprising thing that kept popping up in excavations around the building were detached bear claws.


Figure 5. Some of the very very many bear claws found at Ham House

Another discovery was what is referred to as a 'livery' button with a fox. Livery buttons were common in the 18th century where the subject of the button indicated wearer's profession. On Britain at least, the fox was the symbol of the hunter.


Figure 6. Fox livery button

Finally, a Minie ball was found in the garbage dump. This was state-of-the art weaponry from about 1849-1866 (4) which presumably any self-respecting hunter would be sure to have in his arsenal. Shaped like a modern bullet, the projectile was still muzzle-loaded, but engaged rifling that gave it dramatically better range and accuracy.

Figure 7. Minie Ball

All of this suggests there was an industry at the house supporting hunters. It is still unclear whether this was during the tavern of J. E. Hawley, or afterwards by Mrs. Ham herself.

After the tavern closed in 1854, the floor was covered with a second floor and soon thereafter the plank walls and ceiling were plastered. This preserved marks on the floor and walls showing the location of the bar and shelving in the space. Parts of the tavern were also reused installing stove pipes for iron stoves. A section of shelving with bottle rings was discovered holding up bricks surrounding a new stove pipe.


Figure 8. Shelving showing bottle circles

Not related to J. E. Hawley's tavern in Ham House, but definitely part of the story of the end of the traditional tavern in Ontario are the dozens and dozens of medicinal bottles found around the building - particularly in a garbage pile off the SW corner of the building and under the addition. With the temperance movement in full swing, liquor was only available by subscription. This was big business for the pharmacies and apparently someone had a condition needing a strong prescription of Nerviline.


Figure 9. Medicinal bottles

One other curious find came from the garbage pile at the SW corner of the building under the addition. Like the medicinal bottles and not related to the tavern, this aluminum pill-box like container had the words '3 Merry Widows Agnes-Mabel-Beckie" embossed on it. Perhaps related to the period in which the building was a hotel or from the Halls, this was in fact a 3-pack condom container from the late 19th or early 20th century.

Figure 10. '3 Merry Widows'


1. Edwin C. Guillet, "Pioneer Inns and Taverns, Volumn 1, with Detailed Reference to Metropolitan Toronto and Yonge Street to Penetanguishene", 1954

2.Margararet McBurney, Mary Byers, "Tavern in the Town, Early Inns and Taverns of Ontario", University of Toronto Press, 1987

3. Sharon V. Salinger, "Taverns and Drinking in Early America",The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.

4. HistoryNet: www.historynet.com/minie-ball