The Winchester – from draft beer to coffee since before Confederation

I did a short double-take walking up Parliament Street today, approaching the former Winchester Hotel. At the sreet-level entrance to what are now apartments upstairs – to the south of Tim Horton’s – a sign says something to the effect “Winchester Gardens – since 1861”.

That would be the landlord’s way of putting a time-stamp on the building, I suspect, whose main floor has undergone more than one transformation over the years.  When I first moved into the neighbourhood nineteen years ago it was still the Winchester Hotel, in its original incarnation, run-down and seedy, a tavern with rooms upstairs.  (They may even have called themselves apartments by then.)

The second photo shows the Winchester Street side which, as I recall, was once the “ladies and escorts entrance” – an archaic designation, commonly seen at watering-holes across Ontario, mandated by liquor control authorities of past generations.

The tavern, modernized with a kitchen serving finger foods, continued to try to make a go of it until relatively recently – my last visit there being a Michael Shapcott election campaign celebration.

Things changed, however, when the building’s fine brick-work had the beejeezus sand-blasted out of it a few years ago in preparation for its current main floor tenant, a Tim Horton’s coffee shop.

Neighbours will remember the fight Tim’s had to wage to claim its place on the corner as heritage preservationists rightly demanded that the franchise adapt its typically cookie-cutter plans to befit the historic Victorian architecture of the Winchester.  Even skeptics would be hard-pressed to argue that they haven’t done a good job with the thick brick interior walls accented with framed pictures of the hotel and Parliament Street.

Like any Tim’s location in Canada it is a busy spot, even without the customary drive-thru window, and is a meeting place in Cabbagetown for people of all ages – men, women, escorts and children!


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