The ByWard Market’s Clarence Street was once nicknamed the “Queen of Pleasures” for the sheer number of brothels located along its dissolute length.
This and other tidbits of the skanky, rowdy side of Ottawa’s history come alive in the Naughty Ottawa Pub Walk. Glen Shackleton, director and owner of Haunted Walk, Inc., which directs the walking tours, said people are often surprised to hear how violent and vice-ridden Bytown was in its early days.
“It really was a wild frontier town with very few laws and gangs running the streets,” he said. “It was a little closer to (the movie) Gangs of New York.”
The stories popped up during research for the ghost stories that comprise his company’s better known walking tours, the Haunted Walk of Ottawa, Ghost and Gallows Tour and Crime and Punishment Jail Tour.
“As we were doing our research for the haunted walk and for other tours that we do, we just kept coming across these great stories that maybe weren’t appropriate for the more family audience on our other tours but were hilarious,” Shackleton said.
As you might expect, the tour abounds with tales of prime ministerial peccadilloes, Sir John A. Macdonald’s legendary drinking, and William Lyon Mackenzie King’s curious interest in prostitutes (he was saving their souls, he insisted).
The Pub Walk is definitely not for children, and, true to its name, starts at a pub, ends at a pub, and stops for another whistle-wetting in the middle.
“That is one of the great things about the tour is that people do get to meet other people, Shackleton said. “We have lots of locals, we have people from out of town and everybody gets a chance during the breaks at the pubs, so that kind of adds to the experience, and yes, having a couple of drinks certainly doesn’t hurt with a funny tour.”
Teachers, says Shackleton, are among Naughty Ottawa’s biggest fans.
“They come with their kids on the school groups on the Haunted Walk and then come back and take the Naughty Ottawa tour for themselves,” he said.
For more information, visit hauntedwalk.com.