The year is 1949. British reporter Noel Monks walks into the Hotel Vancouver and orders a pint. The barman turns him away — not because he's intoxicated or even poorly dressed — Monks was bounced for standing on two feet.
The journalist later wrote Canada is "a tremendous, virile country... Yet you've apparently let yourselves be legislated into a state of adolescence when it comes to the use of alcohol."
Monks had reason to be miffed. At the time, B.C.'s beer-serving establishments outlawed music, dancing, food of all kinds, unescorted women and standing upright with a beer. Wine or whisky weren't on the menu, and mocking the rules by crawling from one table to the next was presumably more than frowned upon.
Local historian Robert Campbell (author of Sit Down and Drink Your Beer) explains these laws were a reaction to the "wild west" era before prohibition. "There was intense debate. The government wasn't necessarily against liquor, but against the 24/7 public drinking and drunkeness in saloons."
Following the First World War (a brief time of temperance in Canada), B.C. axed its prohibition laws and brought back booze under heavy government control. "They banned all the trappings of the former saloons," says Campbell. "Anything that might encourage one to drink."
We've come a long way since those puritanical days, but change has been astonishingly slow. Despite a culture predisposed to bonding over bevvies, B.C.'s liquor laws remain among the most archaic and outdated in North America.
1. No beer on stage!
An example: until earlier this year, it was against the law for performers to sip beer on any stage in the province. For rock bands touring anywhere from Nanaimo to Vancouver to Prince George, liquid courage was technically off limits.
It's a rule still enforced by many B.C. bar owners who fear inspections and penalties. The Astoria pub in Vancouver is one such venue: "You can't drink or even dance on the stage with a drink," confirms Astoria bouncer Buck Lafontaine. "We tell them before they go up: water, but nothing else."
"I want to drink a beer in between songs," shrugs musician David Rogria after a recent show at the pub. Rogria books live gigs for the Astoria and plays in a band called Basketball. "Security (staff) have a lot more important things to do than bother musicians drinking on stage."
Campbell says the law was likely a "hangover" from the post-1920 restrictions on entertainment. "It has very deep roots, I suspect." After the better part of a century, this relic of screwy prohibition-era logic was finally laid to rest.
But the historical hangover doesn't end here. Among B.C.'s entrepreneurs, culturites and politicians, there's an emerging critical voice.
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