Celebrating one year in business on May 2 is Scott Carman, the openly gay and sole proprietor of the Ship & Plough Gastropub, whose business name is a nod to the Icelandic settlers who fished and farmed the Gimli area.
Over a year ago, Carman’s life was in turmoil following the breakup of a long-term relationship, his parents’ split and the loss of his position with MTS following a downsizing. It was then that Carman decided to follow his passion and undergo a career transformation. Becoming a pub owner meant combining his spirit of entrepreneurship with his love of live music. “That was always where my heart was, it was being entrepreneurial and working for myself and for my own success and I couldn’t be happier,” he said. “Music is always something I have been passionate about. I’m sort of a hobbyist guitar player and singer myself.”
These days, he lets others take the spotlight by promoting bands in his pub. “I’m like the luckiest guy. I consider this my house and I open it every night to a bunch of friends and strangers to come in and have a good time.”
Looking back, Carman said he feels like a different person today who is living a different life, not having realized how unhappy he had been. “It’s hard to imagine that I did what I did for so long. It’s like when people aren’t out or they’re transgender, they’re living a life that’s not for them.”
When living in Winnipeg, Carman was very involved in the GLBT* community, serving on the Pride committee as director of media and communications, contributing as a writer for OutWords, and singing with the Rainbow Harmony Project Choir. “I certainly didn’t give up my gay card when I left Winnipeg,” he said. However, when moving and opening his business in the rural town of Gimli, he did have concerns about what the effects of being openly gay would have on his business. “At the time the Ship & Plough was opening, it was when everything was happening in Morris with Pots and Pans.” Openly gay restaurateurs in the town of Morris closed down their business last year after allegedly receiving homophobic abuse.
Last summer, Carman was informed by his younger summer employee, who is from Gimli, that she’d had a discussion with friends regarding her employer’s sexual orientation. “The consensus around the friends’ table was that, if anything, what happened in Morris was all the more reason for people in Gimli to support us,” said Carman. The gastropub’s current employee Maureen Tichborne had heard rumours that Carman was gay. “I didn’t even know. When I recently found out, it didn’t matter to me. I didn’t even think twice,” she said.
Carman insists that he has not had any negative experiences. “The pub was really embraced by the community; I feel I have been.” In regards to the negative experience in the town of Morris, Carman said, “A few bad apples don’t spoil the bunch. You can’t paint the town of Morris with a broad brush just because of particular instances of homophobia that drove that restaurant to fail.” He believes that Gimli is a fairly progressive town. “It’s got a huge community of artists and musicians, some of which are gay, as well. There are other gay-owned businesses in town,” he said.
Cheryl Ashton, a neighbour and friend, met Carman a year ago when she approached him about using his new gastropub as the Gimli Film Festival’s social headquarters. “Gimli is a resort town with a fluctuating population. There are people from all over the world here.” She raised four sons and one came out in his early 20s. “Nothing changed,” she said, referring to her gay son. “He is a fantastic human being.”
Ashton’s partner, Huw Eirug, who comes from an acting background, said much the same in regards to associating with openly gay local business owner Carman. “We don’t judge someone by their sexuality. I think it’s completely irrelevant, to be honest,” said the Englishman from Wales. Both he and Ashton were instrumental in helping organize pub quiz night, which has become a popular pub activity at the Ship & Plough on Sunday nights. The pub trivia game is a traditional British pub activity that Carman discovered while living in England for three years. Patrons are charged $5 to play and all the money collected is donated to local charities.
To celebrate the gastropub’s first anniversary, some great musical acts have been lined up throughout the month of May. The Ship & Plough can be accessed via Facebook and Twitter. They offer a tasty and reasonably priced menu which is changed up seasonally. The pub holds 40 seats with another 25 seats on the outdoor patio during the summer season.
– Armande Martine is a provincial civil servant, partner to Nelle and mother of three adult children.