Last call, the very last call… Canal Royal Oak closes – forever

John Dance

Neighbourhood patrons Dan Byrne, left, and Jim Strang gave the final toast to the permanently closed-down, boarded-up Royal Oak. Now, even its sign is gone. Photo by John Dance

Neighbourhood patrons Dan Byrne, left, and Jim Strang gave the final toast to the permanently closed-down, boarded-up Royal Oak. Now, even its sign is gone. Photo by John Dance

The mighty Oak has fallen. The “Canal” Royal Oak at Pretoria Bridge has permanently closed after 19 years as Old Ottawa East’s one and only pub and serving as its unofficial headquarters for all sorts of community events.

In mid-March, the Royal Oak Pub Group took the decision to shut down the refuge of local residents, Canal skaters, passersby and thirsty sports teams, but only in September did it become known that the Oak won’t be reopening.

It wasn’t COVID-19 that drove the closure but rather “It had to do with the building falling into disrepair,” says Justin Howard, CEO of the Royal Oak Pub Group. And, given the possible expropriation of the property by the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO), further investments in the pub and the building were not warranted.

MTO originally proposed expropriation so that, in a few years, it would have space to rebuild the Queensway Bridge that spans Queen Elizabeth Drive, the Rideau Canal and Colonel By Drive.

However, in view of opposition to the demolition of the Royal Oak building, “The ministry is still reviewing design options for this location. Until the ministry has a preferred option, discussions with the property owner are currently on hold,” says MTO spokesperson Brandy Duhaime.

Meanwhile the owner is looking for a new tenant so there is a slight glimmer of hope that there could again be some sort of bar or restaurant at the location, at least until MTO figures out what it is going to do. “[W]e are actively looking for a replacement tenant [but] we have no comment on other issues related to the property,” Gordon Kaylor, the property’s leasing manager told The Mainstreeter.

Given MTO’s plans, the closure may have been inevitable – it just seems sudden and sad for patrons. The Oak had a perfect location at the eastern end of Pretoria Bridge with great Canal and sunset views from ground and second floor patios. Inside there were lots of nooks and crannies where friends could enjoy a chat, bite and beverage.

Every year organizations like The Mainstreeter would host their Christmas parties at the Oak. Throughout the year the Oak ran a series of special events whether for St Patrick’s Day, Octoberfest or whatever. With its central location, the pub was a great spot for teams to relax after an evening game. Every week there’d be trivia and openmic nights. And for many years the OOECA planning committee would commandeer one of the front rooms for its monthly meetings.

The Canal Royal Oak opened on May 8, 2001. “I remember that first weekend after it opened,” says Howard, “Completely packed inside and out. We employed approximately10 people between part- and full-time. It truly had that well-worn yet comfortable feel.”

King’s Landing resident Jim Strang was the pub’s very first customer. “I was on site slightly before the 10:00 a.m. opening, and I proudly took my position at the bar. A very busy but disinterested bartender preoccupied with opening details barely noticed me. I caught his attention long enough to order, and he served me the first beer to ever cross the bar.”

The Royal Oak Group also closed its Laurier Avenue pub in July and, says Howard, the suburban Oak locations are doing better than the central ones because “nobody’s downtown,” during this pandemic.

Asked about the possibility of his firm opening a new pub elsewhere in OOE, Howard says, “The development around the university [Saint Paul] is incredible – I wouldn’t be surprised if someone put in a pub,” and he went on to comment that if there wasn’t a pandemic the firm might be interested. “As they say, it will be sadly missed,” says Strang. “The community needs a pub.”

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