He was the meanest, toughest, nastiest bar bouncer in the Hull-Ottawa area, probably the entire country, and my friends and I hold the tremendous honour of being thrown down the stairs by him.
We weren’t the first and we weren’t the last, but at least I can tell my grandkids someday that I once got tossed around like a pillow by the great Gerry Barber.
He wasn’t a giant of a man, this Gerry Barber, maybe five feet, 10 inches and maybe 250 pounds, but he took on all comers – drunken bikers a handful at a time, snotty teenaged kids with one too many quarts of beer in their gut, and shady characters toting guns and knives.
He broke up fights nightly at the Chaudiere Club, busted a lot of heads, and had his own head cracked open several times from pipes and other things that would damage you and me much more than him. Absolutely, Gerry Barber was one tough mother.
The Chaudiere Club sat alone on the road that led from Hull to Alymer on the Quebec side of the river across from Ottawa. It was a testament to a golden era, a massive dirty-white, two-story club built in the 1930s, and it was a monolithic marvel of balconies, rooms, and murals. In its prime, it was one of the finest jazz and swing night spots found anywhere.
Louis Armstrong, Gene Krupa, the Inkspots, Duke Ellington, they all played this house affectionately called the Chaud, and folks came from all over the Ottawa Valley tossed their fedoras and mink shawls aside and swung the night away.
But the Chaud, beginning in the 1960s, took a hardcore turn as music and minds changed, and toughs from all over began to make it their beer-soaked clubhouse. Fights, loud arguments, passing out at tables, stabbings, and angry confrontations in the parking lot all came along.
Luckily, so did Gerry Barber.
It didn’t matter how many he had to throw out, he just threw them out. Anybody. Any amount. Any time. He did his damage with sheer power, and was willing to takes great cracks on the head and knuckles on his nose to get the job done. And he’d return the favour.
Gerry Barber’s reputation grew. National magazine write-ups, stories in the Ottawa papers. Curious profiles. Several years ago, Ottawa Sun columnist Earl McRae held a long and fascinating poll with his readers to determine Ottawa’s toughest man ever. Yep, Gerry Barber won.
That’s why being thrown down the stairs at the Chaud by the great Gerry Barber is such an honour for me. I don’t remember what my friends and I had done to deserve the treatment, but guessing that we were young, obnoxious, drunken morons would be a really good guess.
Gerry Barber has been gone many years now, but I’m sure he’s still talked about with reverence and awe in the Ottawa area. The Chaudiere’s gone now too, levelled by a wrecking ball that was probably almost as hard as Barber’s fist and head. Now, for those who partied there, all that’s left are memories, several scars, and a few missing teeth.
The Chaud really had something when it had Gerry Barber to keep things in line. The place might have been out of control if it wasn’t for him. He not only rearranged noses, but he probably saved many lives by booting them out head-first into the parking lot before the worst could happen.
He was a man who can be an inspiration for all bouncers who decide to be the best they can be. Just don’t try to be like him, because you could get hurt. And I don’t want to get thrown down any more stairs.