As a follow up to my last blog… The Beaupre Men and the Penitentiaries, I wanted to add some stories of The Portsmouth House as told by retired guards from the various pens around Kingston. “The Ports” will also appear in many stories in the future. The Portsmouth House was built by my great-grandfather Edouard Beaupre circa 1863. At one point he opened a portion of his home to his neighbours and it became known as Beaups where the men of the Village could go for a quiet beer and interesting conversation. His son, my grandfather, PM Beaupre reopened the Portsmouth House as a pub in 1938 after he retired from KP in 1935. The Ports is still going strong to this day. My father sold The Ports in 1973 and it has had only two owners since. It is now called the Portsmouth Tavern.
There are 5 gun Towers at KP spread out along the north, east and west walls. The Ports was such a popular spot with KP staff that it was affectionately nicknamed Tower Six. When the Guards, Keepers and staff would go off duty, a number of them would make their way down the hill and across the bay to ‘Tower Six”. In the 50s,60s and 70s there was a rule that no one in uniform, ie: police, fire, bus drivers, EMTs or guards could be seen drinking in public, in uniform. Well The Ports was a little hideaway of a place with a Men’s Only room where everyone was discreet. For the officers, there was the “back room” also know as the map room. This was my father’s private domain where he and his cohorts could have a beer without the prying eyes of the public.
The above mentioned officers could be really mean to the new recruits. If a rookie was particularly green and naïve, he would be invited into the “inner sanctum” to have a beer. This was a GREAT HONOUR as far as the rookies knew. Over the course of the beer, my father, Basil Keane and at least one of the officers would start a stage whisper discussion about “the lines”. They were referring to the fictional lines of beer that ran under (Hatter’s Bay), currently called the Olympic Harbour, from The Ports to one of the store rooms off the tunnels under KP. The discussion could become quite heated, with Basil insisting the lines were clear from The Ports’ end, and that the clog must be at the KP end. They would then look up, act surprised that the rookie and others were listening, and immediately change the subject. When it was time to leave, the officer would take the rookie aside and ask him to very discreetly go down to the store room and check the lines the next time he was on duty. The rookie was also told this room was a big secret and only a few men knew about it. So down the rookie would go, with no directions as to where he was going. He would roam around the tunnels until he finally had to admit he had failed and couldn’t locate the store room. The officers in on the gag would laugh uproariously much to the rookies’ shame. I guess this was viewed as some sort of initiation?!
A number of guards I had the pleasure of speaking with all told the story about my grandfather, PM Beaupre. From 1938 when the Portsmouth House was opened until the early 50’s when it underwent a major renovation, the Ports was heated by a wood stove in the centre of the room. PM walked with a cane which he often used for more than just walking. He would stand beside the stove then rap his cane on the side of it to get everyone’s attention. In a normal speaking voice he would ask the men sitting in each corner of the room if they could here him. Each would reply, “yes Mr. Beaupre”. PM would then say, “then there is no need for all these raised voices”. Of course, the whole place would go quiet and conversations resumed in hushed tones. On other occasions PM would walk among the tables listening in to his patrons’ conversations. If they were discussing religion or politics or any other hot topic of the day, he would tap the shoulder of the man closest to him and say “they’ll be none of that talk in here gentleman”. These men were paying to be there and yet not one of them batted an eye at being scolded when PM was in the house! Note: after the renovations in the early 50s, the wood stove was removed and a steel beam was used for support. Until PM died in 1956, the steel beam and cane combination worked just as well as the woodstove to keep his customers in line.
Another retired guard told me that pre and post union meetings were often held at The Ports. I guess they needed to gear up for the meetings, and cool down after.
During WWII when each man of the Village went off to war, some of them being guards at KP, PM would write their names on a chalkboard which was hung in the pub for all to see. The soldiers who were lucky enough to return, would head for the Ports where their name would be struck from the list and they were treated to free beer for the day.