From the archives: Timeless dining spot fell victim to road work

From the archives: Timeless dining spot fell victim to road work
From the archives: Timeless dining spot fell victim to road work

Drury's Restaurant, on the now defunct Osborne St., was expropriated in 1957 and later demolished so the city of Montreal could extend de la Gauchetière St. and expand Dominion Square. That portion of Osborne St. no longer exists and the remaining portion is now called Ave. des Canadiens de Montréal. Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec

This story was first published on Dec. 8, 2009, in the Montreal Gazette.


 “Saturday night will mark the end of one of Montreal’s most famous restaurants.”

The Gazette, Friday, Nov. 27, 1959


Half a century ago last weekend [note: this is a 2009 story], modern times finally caught up to a Montreal institution. Drury’s Restaurant, which had satisfied diners for generations, closed its doors for the final time.

There was something timeless about Drury’s. Certainly, it seemed caught in another age – Dickensian London, perhaps, or even the mid-18th century London of Samuel Johnson.

Drury’s stood on Osborne St. at the corner of Windsor. That is part of the story, for both streets today, like Drury’s itself, are just a memory. Windsor has long since been renamed Peel, and the stretch of Osborne where the restaurant stood has disappeared completely.

Drury’s was as famous for its ambience as it was for its cuisine and wines. Instead of one large dining room, there was a series of smaller ones, evoking the Victorian house the building had once been.

Dark panelling and high-backed leather chairs added to the sense of mellowness and intimacy. So did the opaque, coloured glass of the windows; there was no view of the world outside, and precious little sense of it. It was a place for long lunches, and even longer dinners.

The restaurant hadn’t always been on Osborne St. When it opened in 1862, under a man named John Drury, it was around the corner on St. François de Sales St. (as Windsor was then known), a few doors down the hill at the corner of another long-gone street, Donegani.

There, too, progress came calling, though in a way that would help Drury’s, not kill it.

The area around Dominion Square, today’s Place du Canada and Dorchester Square, was rapidly losing its residential character. The Windsor Hotel, Montreal’s finest, opened on its west side in 1878, as did Windsor Station 11 years later. Visitors to the city were everywhere to be seen in the neighbourhood. Though displaced by the new railway station, Drury’s was only too happy to stay just a few steps away, and duly moved to Osborne St.

In 1938, the restaurant was acquired by Léo Dandurand from John Drury’s son Jimmy. Dandurand was well known in the city. He was a former coach, general manager, and part owner of the Montreal Canadiens, a race-track owner and a boxing promoter. His easy manner with people and his dignified bearing suited the Drury’s image well.

Many famous restaurants brag about the famous people they have welcomed, or at least don’t object when those famous names are made known by others. So it was with Drury’s, where the likes of Anthony Eden, Fiorello LaGuardia, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Maurice Chevalier once dined.

But the location that had served Drury’s so well would finally prove its undoing.

De la Gauchetière running west stopped at Cathedral St., as did Osborne running east. But they missed meeting by a short block, and traffic had to zigzag onto Cathedral to get from one street to the other.

In the mid-1950s, city planners had the answer. De la Gauchetière would be extended west at an angle to meet Osborne at Windsor St. An expanded Dominion Square, running south down to this extension, would obliterate Osborne between Windsor and Cathedral. What was left of Osborne, west of Windsor, took on the de la Gauchetière name (until, this past October [note again: this is a 2009 story], it was renamed Avenue des Canadiens de Montréal). 

The only problem, of course, was that Drury’s stood in the way. Mayor Jean Drapeau said the roadwork could be realigned to preserve the site, but by 1957 he was out of office. His successor, Sarto Fournier, evidently had no similar feeling for the venerable restaurant and on Oct. 22, 1959, Dandurand learned his property had been expropriated.

Old-time patrons of Drury’s were both saddened and angered. A petition was sent to Premier Paul Sauvé pleading for a reprieve that would save the restaurant, to no avail. Time was so short – the expropriation was set for Nov. 30 – that Dandurand could not relocate. He had no choice but to lay off most of his employees and auction such restaurant fixtures as he could.

As the final days of Drury’s drew near and as Montrealers turned out for their last meals there, many asked for souvenirs like a sugar bowl, salt and pepper shakers, or even just a menu. Some, less scrupulous, simply took what they wanted.

One American, however, later sent in $2 to cover the two hand towels he’d pocketed. The jovial Dandurand figured he made 80 cents on the deal, the towels being worth just 60 cents each.

Read more about Montreal’s history here.

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