Wednesday, April 26, 2017

V - Vancouver Beer Parlours

Prohibition of alcohol was common in Canada in the late 19th and early 20th century, though it was managed on a province-to-province and even town-by-town basis. The only nation-wide prohibition was from 1918-1920 as a temporary wartime measure. (Maybe to ship all the booze to the boys overseas? Who knows.) The ban was repealed province-by-province through the 20s, with Ontario abolishing prohibition by 1927, though Prince Edward Island held on from 1901 until 1948.

How in god's name anyone survived on that boring island for fifty years without booze is beyond me.

The west coast city of Vancouver, British Columbia retained its liquor ban for a few more years until 1925, when the city had completely lost control of alcohol within its borders. Still technically illegal, speakeasies popped up like mushrooms on every street corner, bribing cops and officials to keep that sweet, sweet illicit booze flowing. Rather than simply legalizing it and legislating it (like Canada is currently in the process of doing with marijuana), the government of the day decided to meet the drunks halfway:

And so the Vancouver beer parlour was born.

It wasn't a bar per se. The beer parlour only served beer. No spirits, no wine, just beer. And it was the only place to get beer, too. It was still illegal everywhere else. Not surprisingly, this wasn't a problem for anyone.

This picture keeps popping up in my research but I'm really not sure if it's authentic or some modern cosplayer in a crappy fake beard.

The beer parlours flourished, becoming centres for socializing and culture (if by culture you mean getting shitfaced). People got dressed up to go out to the parlour like they were attending church or the opera. They had other weird regulations, too, like having separate entrances for "Gentlemen" and "Ladies with Escorts," specifically for avoiding the dangerous mix of men, women and liquor.

Depicted here.

This all sounds like a cute, amusing old-timey story of weird stuff our great-great grandparents did, like painting themselves with radioactive makeup and taking photos of dead children. Except that the beer parlours continued until 1971, when liquor laws finally relaxed enough to lower the drinking age to 19, allow the sale of other types of alcohol, and finally abolish that "men can't drink with women" rule.

Some classy beer parlour patrons with the ghosts of the previous patrons who drank themselves to death.


My A-to-Z Blogging Challenge theme for 2017 is Weird Canadian Facts and History. To see more blog posts, click here.

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