Music scene mourns John 'Archie' Archibald, who had hand in some of city's iconic venues

John 'Archie' Archibald helped create Zaphod Beeblebrox and Barrymore's Music Hall, among other Ottawa pubs and bars. He died on Dec. 28 at the age of 68. (Supplied by Eugene Haslam - image credit)
John 'Archie' Archibald helped create Zaphod Beeblebrox and Barrymore's Music Hall, among other Ottawa pubs and bars. He died on Dec. 28 at the age of 68. (Supplied by Eugene Haslam - image credit)

Behind the music and memories at some of Ottawa's most iconic venues was an unsung nightlife hero named John Archibald.

Known to friends as Archie, he was a man with a big laugh and an even bigger presence, having a hand in creating legendary spots from Zaphod Beeblebrox in the ByWard Market to Barrymore's Music Hall on Bank Street.

Archibald died on Dec. 28. He was 68.

His sister Jean Renaud described him as "the best brother anyone could ask for" and a "blessing."

"I want to treasure the life he shared with us over the pain that his death has brought us," she wrote in an email to CBC.

Providing a place to play

Life by Archibald's side was an adventure, according to Eugene Haslam, his longtime business partner.

"Archie would say Ottawa owes him nothing. Ottawa gave him the opportunity to do his thing," Haslam said, alternating between tears and laughter.

"Archie was instrumental in making this a fun city."

Haslam said his friend's influence can still be seen across Ottawa: he was a pioneer in the local microbrewery movement as one of the founders of the Clocktower Brew Pub on Bank Street, while his taste for the finer stuff showed through via his involvement with the Manx Pub on Elgin Street and its scotch selection.

Submitted by Eugene Haslam
Submitted by Eugene Haslam

The two shared a love of music that came through loud and clear at Zaphod's and Barrymore's, the businesses they were involved in together.

"He gave a lot of folks places to play when there weren't a lot," said Teri Loretto. "I'll always thank Archie for that."

While some might recognize Loretto from presenting the weather at CBC Ottawa, in her former life she graced both venues' stages as a musician and spent three years working behind their bars.

"The community — not just of servers and bartenders and customers, but artists — knew Archie was there to support them and that was really important," she said.

Making sure a 'grand time' was had

David Balfour was another of those artists.

His memories of Archibald date to the late 1980s, when they'd walk into bars and clubs in the ByWard Market and his friend would be warmly greeted by everyone they met.

"He was one of the kindest guys that I knew. And it was a real loss to hear that he passed away."

Balfour said Archibald was at his wedding and "practically paid for the bar bill" — a scene he now considers symbolic of who the man was.

"It didn't matter if you were at a house party or at a fundraiser … he always was making sure everyone was having a grand time."

Felix Desroches/CBC
Felix Desroches/CBC

Speaking of fundraisers, one memory all three shared was seeing Archibald and his tambourine join the musicians during a local rendition of rock musical The Who's Tommy to raise funds for autism.

Balfour spoke about seeing his friend's smile stretch from "ear to ear," while Haslam and Loretto recalled how he played so enthusiastically that at one point he fell off the stage.

"I think it was a little bit of an unintended metaphor for his life in many ways," said Loretto, chuckling at the memory.

"He just kept smiling and kept going."

Francis Ferland/CBC
Francis Ferland/CBC

Haslam said moments like that are what bring him back to laughter when it sinks in that his friend is gone.

"I'm a little saddened, but I'm not grieving. I'm so happy that I got to share so much time with this guy," Haslam said, fighting tears. "He was awesome."