Colchester County’s oldest and longest operating tavern is now just a fond memory.
The Pond Classic Grill (and Pizza) – originally known as the Ponderosa Tavern – which for many years featured a horse-drawn wagon on its roof, has shut its doors for good.
Yesterday was officially the last day of operation for the establishment which is being sold to the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.
"It’s been a good run,” owner Abdul Rafih said. “It’s been an historic place to work in.”
The establishment opened July 22, 1963, under ownership of the late Harold Bates, a local businessman who constructed the tavern over his existing Hub Beverages operation.
The Bible Hill Free Press trumpeted the arrival of this much anticipated – and appreciated – establishment on its July 17, 1963 front page.
“This is the first public tavern in the Truro-Bible Hill area in a long time and the only one in Colchester County,” the paper declared.
“It has a seating capacity of 200 and will employ two bartenders and eight waiters. It will be open six days a week from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. and all customers must be out of the building not later than 11:30 … Clients will be able to buy beer only, both bottled and draft.”
Former Central Onslow farmer Vaughan Dickie, 86, recalled being one of the first patrons through the Ponderosa's doors on that opening day, long ago.
“I kind of think we were the first in,” he said. “My brother-in-law was home from Ontario and he was a big beer drinker.”
Dickie said his recollection is that the next nearest tavern to Truro, at that time, was in Halifax. Needless to say, the Ponderosa quickly became a popular watering hole.
“It was a big thing, Truro getting a tavern,” he said.
Dickie, who now resides at the Willow Lodge seniors home in Tatamagouche, said it has been some time since he went there for the beer. However, in recent times he would still occasionally drop by for chicken wings. And that's precisely what he was planning to do on the Pond’s last day.
Kim McCallum, 67, of Upper Onslow grew up in Bible Hill. He recalls the Ponderosa being his first drinking establishment after he turned 19.
At the time of the tavern’s opening, Truro was still a “dry” community and with the exception of a select few private clubs, town residents had no option but to cross the bridge into Bible Hill if they wanted a cold drink of tavern beer.
When McCallum started going there, the “Pond,” as it was fondly known, had been open about seven years.
At that point, and for a good many years during its heydays when the value of a tavern was measured by the “gallonage” of draft beer that flowed from its taps, the Ponderosa was a popular gathering place for many area residents.
Waiters would come to the tables armed with large aluminum trays filled with foaming glasses or to empty out overflowing ashtrays amid the smoke-filled air.
“I just remember being there a lot,” McCallum said. “It was a good atmosphere … I always called it the tavern atmosphere.”
Danny MacDonald, a waiter at the Ponderosa Tavern for about five years during the early to mid-1970s, recalls it being "the place to be" on Friday and Saturday nights.
“It was a real focal point for all Truro and Bible Hill,” he said. “Besides going to the (Truro) legion for the Lincolns, it was the other place to be.”
During that period, he said, patrons could grab a hamburger and fries special for about 35 cents. And, at a time when his weekly pay cheque came in at about $85, MacDonald said he could take home as much as $130 in tips “on a real good night.”
It was also a period when female patrons were relegated to the back section and only men could be served out front.
“My fondest recollection to be honest with you, was probably the people I met and the friendships that came out of here,” he said. “The other thing I learned about working in a place like this was putting up with people.”
Heather Stewart, who has worked at the Pond for about five years, said those comradeships also stood to be the hardest thing to give up with the tavern's closure.
“I’m going to miss the customers, my people,” she said. “We have great customers. It is my social, my outing.”
The Pond has changed ownership several times over the years until being purchased by Rafih and his brother Zak about 13 years ago. Rafih eventually assumed full ownership but after being in one aspect of the restaurant business or another for much of his life, he decided he'd like to slow down and turn his interests elsewhere.
“After 45 years of being in this industry, it was time.”
The business licence is in the process of being purchased by someone who plans to open up shop in Truro, he said, and “… it’s hoped that it will reopen under the same name.”
Over the years, the Pond has echoed to the music and songs of the legendary Lincolns, Dutchie Mason and his son Garrett and countless other bands and entertainers. It has also served as the venue for numerous fundraisers, assisting individuals and community causes.
“I raised millions of dollars here in fundraisers for different charities, which I’m very proud of doing,” Rafih said, adding he, too, said he has met many friends through ownership of the Pond.
“It’s been a great ride,” he said. “I’d like to thank the community for their support.”