“. . . But if you’re going to focus on the story of one pub, you’ve got to pick the one that lets you tell the best story . . .”
— From Shakespeare’s Pub by Pete Brown. He is the author of A Man Walks into a Pub: A sociable history of beer; Three Sheets to the Wind, and Hops of Glory. In 2009, Pete Brown was named Beer Writer of the Year by the British Guild of Beer Writers.
The Fryfogel Tavern was a 19th century stagecoach stop and resting place for incoming settlers to the Canada Company’s Huron Tract. The Canada Company arranged to have taverns at intervals along the Huron Road of which this is the sole survivor. The Fryfogel Tavern is located just east of Shakespeare Ontario, Canada.
Fryfogel Tavern was built by Perth County’s first settler, Sebastian Fryfogel, in 1844-45. It replaced a log shelter built in 1827 at the time the Canada Company’s Huron Road was being surveyed in 1827-28.
In time it became a Fryfogel family duplex, when some alterations were made. Through the years it also served as a cheese factory and rented quarters until 1938, when two sisters from Stratford converted it to a restaurant at their own expense. Thus the Tavern has also been known as Green Acres or the Old Homestead, and was owned by the Fryfogels until the 1960s.
It is now owned by the Stratford Perth Heritage Foundation, which hopes to see the building restored to its original purpose as a wayside-stopping place. However, this takes a great deal of money. The building is steeped in history. To date there has been extensive research on the walls and floors and the original state has been determined. Surrounding the Tavern is a five acre estate that has been developed as an Arboretum consisting of the trees, shrubs and plants native to South Western Ontario.
Recent work at Fryfogel Tavern has turned up evidence of a beautifully decorated building, which must have appeared a marvel to local native Canadians and the last post of civilized elegance for settlers heading into the bush. Picture this building surrounded by forest, with a corduroy roadbed twelve feet lower than the present highway. It flourished as a tavern until about 1856, when the railway was built a short distance behind it, causing business to dwindle.
A Short Description Of Fryfogel Tavern
A wooden stoop ran three-quarters of the way across the front of the building. The entrance to the right led into the bar room, which occupied the north half of the west (right hand) side. Behind this was the dining room. There is a central hall. On the left was the hotel parlour. Behind the parlour was the proprietor’s office, with linen closet.
The kitchen, containing an enormous fireplace, was located in the basement, beneath the parlour side of the building. There are five other fireplaces in the building.
The second floor on the west side contains a large ballroom, and a small back bedroom. The ballroom doubled as a men’s dormitory. On the east (left) side was a large bedroom with two rooms leading from it and a small storeroom at the back.
The attic is one large area. The little attic windows indicate that the building was erected by a German house builder, but it is known that the doors and windows were hung by a Scottish immigrant school teacher.
The graves in the yard were moved from a family plot in the middle of a field across the road. The three stones are those of Sebastian Fryfogel, his father Jakob and a son who died at an early age. Sebastian’s wife is buried elsewhere. The stone cairn was erected in 1928 when the Huron Road (Hwy. 8) to Goderich was paved 100 years after its survey.
During archaeological work and research in the 1970’s, two murals came to light under many layers of wallpaper. There is an idyllic mountain scene in the ballroom above the mantel and a view of Niagara Falls in the main bedroom.
The first log building was probably 3.8m x 7.5m, set back a fair distance from the road and Tavern Brook. The year when it was replaced by the present building is not known exactly, because Sebastian Fryfogel, township assessor at the time, “omitted” listing his new building. It wasn’t until a new assessor took over that it first appeared on records. Other sources indicate construction during 1844-45.
Masonry work completed
The soft red brick in the present building probably came from the Berlin (now called Kitchener) area, and is standard British size. Those in the basement fireplace, east side, and supports for hearths above in the west basement may have come, according to a family story, from Hamilton. They are creamy-greenish in colour, standard American size, and are very hard.
Fieldstones, located on the site, and used in the south wall and basement, are in a random Germanic design, positioned to expose as much surface as possible. Large stone surfaces with the least mortar are placed along the front and back foundations where stoops or verandas would be built.
Thanks to a $40,000 grant from the Trillium Foundation, exterior masonry work was completed in the summer of 2009 and all outer walls were sealed with funding from Trillium and Ontario Heritage Trust.
A Fryfogel Planning Committee formed in 2010 was charged with the task of producing a report that would help ensure the future of the tavern. The report tabled on February 15, 2011, called for the tavern to become a focal point in the community. It would serve as:
- A viable tourist destination with modern facilities, including washrooms, that could be open to the public, perhaps on a regular basis;
- A place for local service organizations and clubs to hold meetings, presentations and annual events;
- A well-equipped facility that will cater to groups for receptions and conferences, even hosting musical presentations and a variety of outdoor events.
A community-backed vision needed
Mindful of the need to preserve the historic character of the tavern, the Foundation has launched a Fryfogel Canadiana Program to acquire appropriate furniture and artifacts. Efforts are underway to gather artifacts that would be found in a pioneer kitchen.
In 2014, the Shakespeare Men’s Club added a large deck overlooking the arboretum from the back door of the tavern. All the lumber and other building supplies were donated by Yantzis Tim-BR Mart in Tavistock.