In nearly two decades as owner of the Cheshire Cat Pub, Dustin Therrien has guided the venerable British-style watering hole through recessions, a pandemic and just about everything else the volatile hospitality industry could throw at it.
Through it all, there was one constant: the monarch whose visage kept watch over the pub in multiple portraits, a symbol of stability in a topsy-turvy world.
Thursday afternoon, that suddenly changed. Queen Elizabeth II died at the age of 96, leaving Therrien and tens of millions of other Canadians to contemplate life without the only head of state they had ever known.
“This woman has (worked) with pretty much every world leader who’s ever been important, at least in my lifetime, that’s for sure,” Therrien, 47, told OBJ, adding he noticed several older customers “having a cry at their table when they got the news.”
Therrien, who’s owned the restaurant and bar on Richardson Side Road in Carp with his wife Crystal for 18 years, said Elizabeth – or at least her image – was a ubiquitous presence in his establishment, which he called “a local pub, but with a British flair.”
“We have three pictures of the Queen looking at me right now on my wall and then a picture of her mom on another wall,” he said.
“We’ll have to dive in and try to find a flattering picture of our new king and get him up on the wall now, I guess,” Therrien added, referring to the Queen’s oldest son Charles, who immediately acceded to the throne upon her death.
The longtime pub owner said Elizabeth’s passing was the dominant topic of conversation when he arrived at the Cheshire Cat about an hour after the news broke.
"Pretty much anybody that’s over 50 is looking at their phone right now. There’s not anybody who’s not talking about it."
“Pretty much anybody that’s over 50 is looking at their phone right now,” he said. “It’s usually the opposite. There’s not anybody who’s not talking about it.”
Known for its extensive list of craft brews and whiskies, the Cheshire Cat has become almost a second home for a significant number of Ottawa’s large community of British expats.
Therrien said that despite Elizabeth’s advanced age, many of his customers were struggling to come to terms with the fact that she would no longer be Britain’s head of state after 70 years in the role.
“We have obviously a pretty large contingent of Brits that come in here on a regular basis,” he noted. “I reached out to a couple and asked how they were doing, and they said they were going to have a stiff gin and get ready for weeks of tributes.”
Although he confessed to not being a particularly devoted fan of the monarchy, Therrien said Elizabeth’s impact on the world was undeniable.
“She outlasted (Mikhail) Gorbachev,” he noted, referring to the last leader of the Soviet Union, who died in late August at age 91. “It’s pretty phenomenal to think of her longevity. She was still active right ’til (the end). It’s pretty crazy.
“In some respects, it’s the turning of a page that I think a lot of people have been waiting for to see what the next set of royals bring us. I’m hearing today from people within the pub in the last 10 minutes that ‘Geez, I wish they would just skip over (Charles) and get one of the boys.’ It’ll be interesting if (the monarchy) can sustain itself now.”
Asked if the pub would pay tribute to the late sovereign, Therrien said he hadn’t had time to come up with anything yet but would brainstorm ideas with his staff on Thursday night.
“We’ll figure out something,” he said. “We’re pretty famous for our clever signs in front of the pub, so we may try and put something out for the Queen there in the next day or so.”