The Restauranteur’s Waltz

For a short while, it was a hotspot. Source: City of Ottawa Archives.
For a short while, it was a hotspot. Source: City of Ottawa Archives (1955).

Some restaurants take on a life of their own and go down in history as being legendary for the community, even once long gone. Soggy drunken nights at the Belle Claire or the Saucy Noodle, for example, loom within the memories of many Ottawans. Others appear to make their mark and then disappear once the the lights are turned off for the last time. Or in some cases, once the fire brigade shuts off its hoses.

The view today. Source: Google Street View, May 2014.
The view today. Source: Google Street View, May 2014.

Home to Ho Ho today, the lot at the corner of Richmond Road and Lockhard was once the site of a popular spot for french fries and ice cream. Walt’s Inn was founded in 1929 by Ottawa-area native and World War 1 veteran, Walter Thomas Mathews.1Walt grew up with his father Owen in the former Mount Sherwood on Turner (nee Sherwood, now Cambridge St. N, south of Gladstone, and Cambridge St. S, south of the Queensway)

A committed outdoorsman, Mathews sought to provide Ottawans with a place to stop on the way to Britannia during the warm season. As such, the advertisements focused on his double-dip ice cream cones and boasted that his drive-up was the “only nickel hamburg on the road.”2Ottawa Citizen, June 29, 1935, p. 19.

Come for the double-dip, stay for the only filets on Richmond Road. Source: Ottawa Citizen, June 29, 1935, Page 19.
Come for the double-dip, stay for the only filets on Richmond Road. Source: Ottawa Citizen, June 29, 1935, Page 19.

It was once more common for such roadside businesses to operate on a purely seasonal basis. Much like the Dairy Queen on Taché in Gatineau today, Walt’s Inn was not open during the winter. Whether it was a matter of money or a more steady schedule, by the early 1940s, Mathews was ready to get out. In 1941, he sold the business to Fred Guthrie and took a job with the Senate. The stability and predictability of work with the Senate doubtlessly allowed Walt and his wife Rebecca to pursue their passion for the outdoors. They both also spent time working as hunting guides for a lodge in Quebec.3Carolyn Willett, “Make Sure of the Target Says This Huntswoman,” Ottawa Journal, March 19, 1957, p. 15. Walt died suddenly in 1956,4He collapsed doing what he loved: launching a boat at his summer home in Wakefield. See “W.T. Mathews Collapses, Dies Hauling Boat,” Ottawa Journal, May 29, 1956, p. 38; and “Walter Mathews Dies Suddenly,” Ottawa Citizen, May 30, 1956, p. 22 and Rebecca continued to make the news as a skilled fisherwoman and a crack shot to boot.5In a profile that was published in the Ottawa Journal, it was reported that over “the years, Mrs. Mathews has downed something like 117 deer not to mention a 1,000 pound moose and two very large bears.” See Phil O’Reilly. “Think You’re an Outdoorsman? She’ll Show You How …at 72,” Ottawa Journal, January 24, 1970, p. 12.

The couple, who never had children, preferred to spend their time outdoors. Both Walt and his wife Rachel were avid hunters. Source: Ottawa Journal, January 24, 1970, Page 12.
The couple, who never had children, preferred to spend their time outdoors. Both Walt and his wife Rebecca were avid hunters. Rebecca carried on long after Walt’s passing in 1956. Source: Ottawa Journal, January 24, 1970, Page 12.

A change in ownership is often a time when the new owner decides whether to re-brand, signalling change in direction, or to keep an established name and retain the existing base. Fortunately for Fred Guthrie, he was able to have it both ways. When he officially re-launched the business in December of 1941, he did rechristen it. For drivers down Richmond Road and those living nearby, “Walt’s Inn” became Fred Guthrie’s “Waltz Inn”. Though it did not have a dance floor, it was billed as “a popular meeting place for ‘youthful’ Ottawa.”6Ottawa Journal, December 5, 1941, Page 6.

Apologies for the size. This ad launched the new Waltz Inn. Source: Ottawa Journal, December 5, 1941, Page 6.
Apologies for the size. This ad launched the new Waltz Inn. Source: Ottawa Journal, December 5, 1941, Page 6.

One of the first operating changes that Guthrie made was to open the restaurant year round. For the winter season, he advertised sleighing parties and called out to skiers in the area. It seems that Guthrie’s play was a smart one. The neighbourhood along the Britannia line tracks was growing, more Ottawans had cars, and the restaurant was perfectly positioned to take advantage of the explosion. Indeed, business was so good, that collisions between vehicles coming and going from the Waltz Inn became increasingly frequent.7For example, see “Grant $4,400 for Injuries,” Ottawa Citizen, April 13, 1956, p. 7. Much like any popular establishment, it also served as a navigation point for real-estate listings.8”Open House,” Ottawa Journal, February 23, 1955, p. 32. Business had been so good that Guthrie was also able to bankroll a significant renovation and expand his offerings.9”Popular Waltz Inn, Modernized Brings New Look to Richmond Road,” Ottawa Journal, April 25, 1958, p. 13.

At the end of the 1950s, things were looking good. Curbside BBQ chicken? Yes please! Source: Ottawa Journal, April 25, 1958, Page 13.
At the end of the 1950s, things were looking good. Curbside BBQ chicken? Yes please! Source: Ottawa Journal, April 25, 1958, Page 13.

The renovation, which was undertaken by S.B. Murray10The design and contract firm, which was located on Primrose, designed a number of restaurants around Ottawa, including the Ascot Lunch Cafe on Wellington., was completely on point in terms of midcentury design.

The combination of sandstone [sic] angelstone with mahogany trim is distinctly modern ‘neath the all-round permanent canopy, which permits curb service on rainy days and protection from sun. Inside, the restaurant is attractively decorated in soft pastel shades and terracotta. Everglade green woodwork blends with multi-coloured scenic paper on a fresh beige background to match draperies.

Modern indirect lighting accents the stippled ceiling and freshly tiled floors.

Unfortunately for Guthrie, the Waltz Inn would not end on a high note. On December 2, 1962, it burned to the ground.

The dream went up in flames in early December. Source: Ottawa Journal, December 2, 1963, Page 11.

Guthrie’s noncommittal response to the question as to whether or not he would reconstruct, as it would be, was likely as much a matter of concerns at home as it was matter of exasperation. By the end of the month, his wife Velma11Or Themla as has been reported. died at 53 years.12Ottawa Journal, December 28, 1963, p. 22. Left devastated, Guthrie elected not to re-build, and the lot remained a burnt-out shell for a number of years. Guthrie himself died at 60, in 1970.13Ottawa Journal, January 28, 1970, p. 47.

Aerial image of the site, 1965. Source: geoOttawa.
Aerial image of the site. Still burnt out in 1965. Source: geoOttawa.

By 1974, the site (now addressed 875 Richmond instead of 871) was once again host to a restaurant: the Ukrainian Village.14Ottawa Journal, July 13, 1973, p. 48. Though a fitting location (positioned across the road from then recently-completed Ukrainian church at 1000 Byron), it decamped for Holland Avenue in 1977.15Marilyn Minnes. “Dining Out: The Little Ukrainian House, 91 Holland Street,” Ottawa Journal, January 15, 1977, p. 26..

I'm a sucker for little characters in ads. Source: Ottawa Journal, April 24, 1976, Page 64.
I’m a sucker for little characters in ads. Source: Ottawa Journal, April 24, 1976, Page 64.

Its current occupant, the legendary Ho-Ho, has been operating there since about 1980 when it relocated from the food court at Lincoln Fields.16Anne DesBrisay. “Terrific dining fun and value: For my money, Ho Ho may be the best family eatery in this city,” Ottawa Citizen, March 7, 2001, p. E8.

 

Notes   [ + ]

1. Walt grew up with his father Owen in the former Mount Sherwood on Turner (nee Sherwood, now Cambridge St. N, south of Gladstone, and Cambridge St. S, south of the Queensway)
2. Ottawa Citizen, June 29, 1935, p. 19.
3. Carolyn Willett, “Make Sure of the Target Says This Huntswoman,” Ottawa Journal, March 19, 1957, p. 15.
4. He collapsed doing what he loved: launching a boat at his summer home in Wakefield. See “W.T. Mathews Collapses, Dies Hauling Boat,” Ottawa Journal, May 29, 1956, p. 38; and “Walter Mathews Dies Suddenly,” Ottawa Citizen, May 30, 1956, p. 22
5. In a profile that was published in the Ottawa Journal, it was reported that over “the years, Mrs. Mathews has downed something like 117 deer not to mention a 1,000 pound moose and two very large bears.” See Phil O’Reilly. “Think You’re an Outdoorsman? She’ll Show You How …at 72,” Ottawa Journal, January 24, 1970, p. 12.
6. Ottawa Journal, December 5, 1941, Page 6.
7. For example, see “Grant $4,400 for Injuries,” Ottawa Citizen, April 13, 1956, p. 7.
8. ”Open House,” Ottawa Journal, February 23, 1955, p. 32.
9. ”Popular Waltz Inn, Modernized Brings New Look to Richmond Road,” Ottawa Journal, April 25, 1958, p. 13.
10. The design and contract firm, which was located on Primrose, designed a number of restaurants around Ottawa, including the Ascot Lunch Cafe on Wellington.
11. Or Themla as has been reported.
12. Ottawa Journal, December 28, 1963, p. 22.
13. Ottawa Journal, January 28, 1970, p. 47.
14. Ottawa Journal, July 13, 1973, p. 48.
15. Marilyn Minnes. “Dining Out: The Little Ukrainian House, 91 Holland Street,” Ottawa Journal, January 15, 1977, p. 26.
16. Anne DesBrisay. “Terrific dining fun and value: For my money, Ho Ho may be the best family eatery in this city,” Ottawa Citizen, March 7, 2001, p. E8.

5 Comments

  1. My father loved the French fries and always wondered what spice or oil they used to make them!! To this day, he claims they were the best fries EVER!
    If anyone knows, please reply!

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