The 1970s Carpenter’s Arms: an Anglo-Canadian Partnership


The lore and mystique of the British pub are, today, of world-wide scope. I’ve examined manifestations in the United States and Canada. I’ve also looked at the pub in Britain through the eyes of foreign observers.

Canada, as the United States, was always an apt student for the charms of Albion’s unique institution. In 1967 a replica English pub was built for the 10-day British Week in Toronto festival. This trade and cultural showcase was of sufficient importance that Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson came from Ottawa to open the fair. British dignitaries were also present, with two Guards regiments piping music.

(The Guards seems emblematic of Britain in numerous ways).

Double-decker Leyland Titans, some marked “Bristol City Line”, were shipped over in vermilion glory to complete the pageantry.

Reports have it that Lester B. arrived at what is now, appropriately, Pearson Airport at 11:00 a.m. He was ferried by car on the Queen Elizabeth Way in time to open ceremonies at 12:00 p.m., held at Toronto City Hall plaza. That tells you something about traffic then, even with police escort.

The replica pub sold Bass ale, Whitbread Brewmaster, Mackeson Stout, McEwan’s Strong Ale and I.P.A., and three English ciders (Globe and Mail, October 14, 1967).

The pub, called The Lion and the Unicorn, sold 50,000 bottles of British beer during the fest (Globe and Mail, October 21, 1967). Pretty good eh? We know how to drink beer in Canada. The British don’t need to teach us about that. Well maybe long ago they did.

That pub helped lay the foundation for the British (and Irish) pub craze that hit the city in the mid-1970s.

The influence also went the other way, in a manner of speaking.

I am not sure if Estelle Silverman, a native of Kingston, ON, knew about The Lion and the Unicorn at Exhibition Place. She was working in a law firm then. But one way or another, she got a hankering to run a pub in London, England. She had visited London in 1967, perhaps that was the spur.

She achieved her dream in partnership with Jean Corbett, a Briton who descended from the famous boxing clan.

The pub was notorious in the mid-1960s for being a fief of the Kray Twins. According to a December 5, 1967 report in the Globe and Mail, in 1969 Silverman and Corbett acquired the pub from Truman, the venerable east London brewer.

They ran an exemplary business, by all accounts. Silverman’s father had owned a delicatessen in Kingston, the family was part of the small Jewish community there. Running a pub probably came more easily to Silverman due to this background. Jean’s prize-fighter father Harry had run a pub in London, so she knew the business that way.

Lutsky reports the juke box was well stocked and priced fair. A later story in the Toronto Star (July 8, 1978) by Lutsky reported that Anne Murray’s Snowbird echoed through the pub, a nod to Ms. Silverman’s native land.

The landladies, Lucky wrote, took no guff, while any real bother was avoided by their diplomacy, “a bit of the verbal”. It was hard work to be sure – running any good pub is – but the ladies obtained commensurate rewards for their dedication.

They ran the pub for at least nine years, but the trail ran cold for me after Lutsky’s second article. I offer the story as annother example, with a twist, of Anglo-Canadian cooperation in the service of the great institution, the English pub. Certainly if either woman is still living her memories would be of great interest.

The Carpenter’s Arms is now far removed from the Kray era. It goes from strength to strength at the same location on Cheshire Street, see the website, here. A stylish food and drinks menu is offered in a setting both contemporary and traditional.

No doubt the Silverman-Corbett tenure helped it along to the present status as a prestige pub. Lutsky, for example, recounts how champagne would be opened on special occasions, so the path to gentrification seemed set by the 1970s.

The ladies told him a special occasion was a client’s willingness to pay a “fiver” – before the cork was pulled, mind. Wise policy, then or at any time.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from the pub’s website linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable, and is used here for historical and educational purposes. All feedback welcomed.