Liquor Laws and the Beer Parlour

The hotel beer parlor was the main gathering place for the town. In those days no hard liquor was served anywhere in the province of Alberta. Liquor could be bought from the Provincial Liquor store after you had first filed for a "permit to buy". This permit was like a small book in which each bottle you bought was duly recorded. I'm not sure what the significance of these permit books was, but I presume it was so the local lushes could be easily identified, even if they were drinking at home and not bothering anybody.

Alberta Liquor Laws

Let me digress to expand on Alberta's liquor laws. The Alberta Premier for many years was William Aberhart. He was known as Bible Bill. Now Bible Bill was of the Pentacostal persuasion and his sermons were filled with fire and brimstone. Every Sunday morning he had a one hour radio program he called "The Back to the Bible Hour" and often he would lengthen it to two hours when he had a special message for all us sinners of Alberta. Bible Bill mixed politics and religion all together in a big vat and ladled it out generously to the sinning public, who felt guilty enough to elect him every four years just like clock work. It was a sight to behold, but a hell of a way to live.

Now although Aberhart had never touched a drop of whisky (so he said) he knew the devastating results it had on a man. When prohibition was overturned in Alberta, if Bible Bill had been in power he would have turned it right back over again. Since the Provincial Liquor stores were a money maker however he left that matter be.

When Russian vodka came to Canada however Bible Bill was told that unlike scotch or rum, vodka had absolutely no flavor and could not be detected in a drink. Our good Premier in his wisdom promptly banned vodka and imposed a stiff fine for anyone caught bringing it into the province.

Another fine piece of legislation we had in Alberta at that time was the Interdiction Act which everyone called the Indian act. It was designed to prevent Indians or anybody else who couldn't hold their liquor from buying liquor or entering a beer parlor. A list called the Indian list was posted in every liquor store and every beer parlour in Alberta and if your name was on that list you could not buy beg or borrow a drink of any kind.

The worst part of this law was the shame it brought to the poor soul whose name (often unknown to him) was on the list and he was shown to the door while his friends tried not to laugh as he left. How did one get put on the list you ask? There were several ways. You could appear in court on a drunk and disorderly charge and be put on the list for thirty, sixty, or ninety days depending on whether this was your first charge. Of course if you were an Indian or half breed you went on the list permanently whether you were ever drunk or not. In fact an Indian or half breed may have got on the list at birth.

The good law abiding white man who never got drunk and disorderly, but liked his liquor, had another little problem to worry about. His good wife. Should a wife decide that her man was spending more time in the bar than he was with her, or if if in her wisdom she felt he should not be drinking at all, she could without too much trouble, and without her husband's knowledge, have him put on the Indian list. We boys often heard Mother and Dad talking about Mrs. So-and-so putting her husband on the list, and what a great uproar it caused in the community. Can you just imagine the uproar it must have created at home?

Ah yes we had a government for the people headed by a religious zealot of the first water who mixed religion and politics thoroughly and fed it to us Albertans in large doses every Sunday. To his credit however he never begged for money like most of the hellfire preachers. Of course since he had direct access to the province's taxes why should he lower himself to begging?

The Beer Parlour

Meanwhile it now ten o'clock, the beer parlor has opened and our four school van drivers are ensconced around a table with beer in hand. Weather, politics, roads, crop yields, etc. were discussed. Hashed and rehashed. A lot of cribbage was played, but never for money. Maybe for a round of beer, but money was too hard to come by to piss it away in the bar gambling, and besides Bible Bill had a law against it.

Our four van drivers always brought their own lunch, so at noon they moved out of the bar and into the lobby. Yes you no doubt have guessed it, Bible Bill prohibited the sale or consumption of food of any kind in a beer parlour. This even included chocolate bars and the like. Of course Bible Bill's reasoning was perfectly sound. If a man could eat while in the beer parlor he would probably never go home for a meal, leading again to even more family strife.

Yes sir, Bible Bill went one step further to help eliminate family strife. He would not allow women to sit in the same room or consume beer in the same area as men were. Now Bible Bill and everyone else knew when a man has a few beers he is likely to get a little horny. Further to this, if a woman is in the same room whether drinking beer or not, she will likely as not be harassed by that horny male beer drinker. Even worse than that, Bible Bill no doubt figured, if those same women were drinking beer in this same room, they might enjoy being harassed. This would no doubt lead to at least rowdy behaviour if not fornication. Neither of which could be tolerated in Alberta.

In the large towns the hotels (hotels were the only ones that could sell beer by law) a nice red neon sign over each door identified "Men" and "Women". If you and your girl wanted a drink (remember there were only beer parlors) she would go in one door and you in the other. You would have to agree on how many beers you would have, and when and where you would meet, usually in the hotel lobby.

Under threat of jail, men or women could not enter the other gender's room. Of course there was a door so the bartender could work all tables. If for instance you were ready to leave, you told the bartender your girl's name. He then called out over the loud speaker "Mary Jones you are wanted in the lobby". The lobby on a week end was a mass of unhappy people waiting for their spouse or friend. Now this law may have cut down on some fornication, but in my opinion it likely just delayed it.

Liquor and Chinese Restaurants

This antiquated law was eventually repealed, but not before it created a generation of Chinese food lovers. The explanation is a simple one. Chinatown was the only place in Calgary that you could bring your girl and a bottle to enjoy an evening of dancing and fun. The rules were simple. You must keep your bottle under the table at all times unless pouring, you must put your share of quarters in the juke box, you must buy mix and you must order a meal of Chinese food.

The police came in once in a while, walked from room to room looking over each table, while a deadly hush fell over the whole place. The police eyesight was incredibly poor and they never did see a bottle under anyone's table. Of course I now realize that the police had a standing agreement with the Chinese owners and came whenever called just to keep us patrons from getting too rowdy.

One outstanding night that I remember, Bill Proudfoot and I went to New China with our dates. After an evening of gin, great dancing, and Chinese food covered with soy sauce (which at that time we thought was pigeon blood) we attempted to leave down the steep narrow stairs that led to the street below.

At the top step Bill or his date, Crystal, tripped and hanging firmly on to each other like a pair of Russian bears in their heavy winter coats, tumbled to the bottom. Whereby Bill got up out of the pile and with a slur said "Crystal! You pushed me".

There are many more stories to tell about growing up on the bald headed prairie, and I have thousands of very fond memories of those times, but my time is limited and this as they say THAT IS ALL SHE WROTE.

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