The Dam Pub – Canada’s Top Scottish Pub is in Thornbury

By Kim Kerr-Dearsley

 

Contributor Kim Kerr-Dearsley pays a visit to The Dam Pub, Canada’s best Scottish pub and home to over 1,000 whiskies from around the world.

Thornbury is one of my favourite places to visit in Ontario. Known as a summer paradise for people who love sailing, boating and watersports, in winter it’s a wonderland for ski enthusiasts. Whenever I drive to Thornbury along the beautiful shoreline of Georgian Bay with its sparking blue water, it always feels a bit like I’m driving along a part of the beautiful coast of the UK.

On this particular trip, we decide to park at the harbour front, the perfect place from which to walk ‘uptown’. Taking a moment to watch the many sailboats come and go, it’s only a short and very pleasant walk to Main Street.

 

Exterior view of the Dam Pub in Thornbury
The Dam Pub in Thornbury offers a superb Scottish-inspired dining experience

 

Thornbury is a quaint little town where you'll find a plethora of shops, from fine bakeries to exquisite boutiques and amazing interior design stores. Normally we’ll stop and sit down at a café and watch the world go by, always a great way to unwind and enjoy the day this unique little town.

But on this particular day we have to force ourselves to keep walking past the tempting savoury cheeses, the sweet treats and other foods available on Main Street. No, today’s a special day as we’ve been invited to enjoy lunch at The Dam Pub Gastropub & Whisky Bar.

The Dam Pub is Damn Good

Before any food, though, it’s beer time. And on this beautiful summer’s day, what could be better than sitting on a shaded patio with a cold craft beer from Scotland (Innis & Gunn, of course), a fine local brew from nearby Creemore Springsor, if you prefer a pint of the black nectar from Ireland, Guinness.

Once seated and the beers ordered, we are greeted by the pub’s lovely owner, Stephanie Price, aka ‘The Whisky Chick’. We’d known of the pub for years and visited whenever in the area, and as a Scots’ lass myself I was curious to learn just how such a great and authentic Scottish pub came into being. Not only that, but I wanted to know how it had grown into an establishment not only respected for its food, but also for its vast collection of over 1,000 different whiskies from around the globe.

Fortunately for us, Stephanie had managed to clear a large enough gap in her busy schedule to join us for lunch, a drink (or two!), and to share her story.

 

The Dam Pub's owners Stephanie Price standing outside a whisky distillery in Scotland
The Dam Pub's Stephanie Price standing outside a whisky distillery in Scotland

 

“It had always been my dream to open a pub,” she says. “But it took 20 years before the dream became a reality.”

That dream did finally become reality shape during the cold January of 2005. After 20 years in the corporate world, Stephanie's father – at that time an airline pilot living in Scotland – reached out to his daughter and suggested they finally bite the bullet, find a property, and open up that pub.

And why choose Thornbury?

“Well, Thornbury chose us,” laughs Stephanie. “Turns out my father and I, although separated by thousands of miles, both found this property online at the same time. So we knew right away it was the right place. And the name, The Dam Pub, was developed before we even came to look at it. It was only after we visited that we discovered that there was actually a dam here, where the Beaver Valley runs through the town.”

Which was also very serendipitous, as it just so happened that the pair had chosen that quintessential Canadian animal, the beaver, as their logo. Destiny, indeed.

Grit, Determination, Destiny

With the property secure in the family and her parents relocated back to Canada, it was time to renovate. And, says Stephanie, it became something of a curiosity in the community as family and friends pulled together to help build the bar, the wainscoting, the tables… pretty much everything, in fact.

“We kicked open the doors on October 5th, 2005. On my birthday!” said Stephanie. “The first five years were tough, and we sometimes wondered whether we were going to make it. The recession hit, but we just kept going. We weren't going to give up on our dream.”

Nearly 15 years later, Stephanie’s grit and determination certainly show what can be done when you set your heart on something.

 

Whisky samples and pate on display at the Dam Pub in Thornbury
Whisky and pate ready for sampling at the Dam Pub in Thornbury

 

After hearing Stephanie’s powerful story, we were excited to try her Scottish inspired menu. Spearheaded by her Scottish mother along with input from their dedicated staff and many customers, the menu has evolved into something truly remarkable. Using fine locally sourced produce wherever possible, and inspired by the kind of authentic fresh pub food served back in the ‘old country’, The Dam Pub now offers a wide choice of great dishes, including unique twists on traditional pub fare.

And who doesn't love good pub food? From the much loved ‘bangers and mash’ (sausages and mash potatoes) to a delicious shepherds pie to deep fried haggis, it's all good, incredibly tasty, and very more-ish. We also sampled something two items that have since become my new favourites: PEI mussels in coconut Thai sauce, and delectable crab cakes (you'll not find any bread fillers in these – nothing but the best, fresh crab meat). And, of course, no Scottish pub dining experience would be complete without sampling a scotch egg.

The Whisky Chick

Everything at The Dam Pub is about consistency, and Stephanie runs a tight ship when it comes to quality. And its very apparent that she takes great pride in what she has accomplished, and it shows.

“It’s all about pleasing the customers,” she said. “And my staff. They’re key to our success. When I see a great review on TripAdvisor – something that has driven our business exponentially – it drives me to want to keep stepping up my game and work harder to produce the best quality food.”

The Dam Pub’s reputation is certainly well deserved, as evidenced by their having been awarded the much-coveted Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor year after year. And the food’s so good, in fact, that a pre-packaged line has been especially created for clients who want to take it home with them, and is sold through local grocery stores.

“The idea of food to go was a great way to utilize our kitchen in the slower hours,” says Stephanie. “It's been a big hit.”

A Nose for Whisky

Other great reasons to visit include Thursday rib nights along with discounted Martinis, and the hugely popular prime rib Sundays (be sure to make a reservation for this always popular feast).

The Dam Pub is also one of the few places where you'll find such a large selection of whiskies from around the world (as already mentioned, over 1,000 and counting). It’s something of a paradise for whisky connoisseurs, drawn here by its huge selection, its regular whisky tasting sessions, and the chance to discover a rare whisky being offered as an “angel share”…  the last dram in the bottle.

 

Guests of the Dam Pub nosting their whisky
Whisky nosing at The Dam Pub 

 

And as a certified whisky specialist with many years ‘nosing’ experience under her belt, Stephanie’s usually on hand to guide you toward enjoying some of the finest whiskies ever produced.  Add to the mix her selection of delicious food pairings and, like me, you’ll be yearning to come back again and again.

So when you find yourself in Thornbury and The Blue Mountains area – whether in the heat of summer or in the cold winter months – be sure to visit this quaint local Scottish pub for a wee dram, a pint (or a cocktail)… and some great food.

You won't be disappointed.

To learn more about The Dam Pub in Thornbury, visit their website at www.thedampub.ca

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Contributor Kim Kerr-Dearsley is a frequent visitor to Collingwood and The Blue Mountains.