Liquor Once So Strong Fumes Blew Apart Barrel
Carleton Place Canadian, April 17, 1958
By Howard Morton Brown
Stories of less commendable features of Lanark County’s nineteenth century social life are found accompanying records of the pioneer progress of the county. Among these was the liquor problem, frequently a controversial combination of poverty and alcohol. Some of its aspects, as seen and reported by weekly newspaper editors of this district, are reproduced here from the so-called good old days.
Licenced or unlicenced bars and other private sources of liquor supplies were among the ordinary features of community life throughout the century dating to the World War of 1914-1918. They carried on a flourishing business in every village or town, and once in taverns at strategically located country crossroad points. Examples were those in the “stirring little village” of Carleton Place, appraised in a traveller’s “Sketches by the Way”, in 1841 as “more taverns I think than are necessary for comfort or accommodation, numbering about five or six”.
Effects of excessive consumption of alcohol became a nineteenth century social problem. Commonly caused or aggravated by other social conditions, it appears to have been a conspicuous contributor to crime and to other broader social losses. Local temperance societies were formed as early as about 125 years ago to combat its evils. At the outset of settlement at Carleton Place the Ballygiblin Riots of 1824 – joined in the name of law and order by participants of the areas from Perth to Almonte, with gunfire casualties including loss of a life – had been sparked by a drunken military Donnybrook on Mill Street in Morphy’s Falls.
A similar scene, checked at its onset, is found in James Poole’s press report of the next generation’s Spring Fair Day of 1852 at Carleton Place:
“The Spring Fair was held at Carleton Place last Tuesday. Very indifferent Milch cows brought 20 pounds. There was an average stock of drunken bipeds in the village, some of whom were under eighteen years. The day was finished with one of those party fights between Orangemen and Catholics, which have been the disgrace and ruin of Ireland and which occasionally break out among her sons in this land of their adoption. We know not what length their passions would have carried them had they not been checked by the prompt and decisive action of Mr. Robert Bell, who was called there by the uproar, where there were about fifty actually engaged, and the whole crowd which filled the street were fast giving way to their passions.”
Among other less typical and therefore newsworthy incidents of the liquor trade, a classic barroom news item is one recorded in the July 12th Carleton Place Herald of the summer of 1860, reported from the village of Clayton:
“An accident happened at Clayton on Monday last by which a young man named Andrew Waugh came near losing his life, and may serve as a caution against similar occurrences. Accident happened at the Hotel of Mrs. Sutherland. A newly emptied high-wines barrel was turned out in the morning and stood on end outside the barroom door. In the afternoon the young man, who is the bar-keeper in the hotel was sitting on it and took out a match to light a pipe for another individual. The fire ignited with the gas or steam of the alcohol escaping out of the tap-hole of the barrel and caused it to explode with a terrible cannon-like report, pitching the young man and the barrel a considerable distance out on the street and severely burning one of his hands. Had not the lower end of the barrel burst out the consequences might have been serious.”
Alleged dispensing of liquor in proceedings of a junior court of justice at Carleton Place became the theme of an 1858 editorial onslaught by the town’s prohibitionist editor (Herald, July 22, 1858):
“Whatever notions of respect we may hitherto have felt for magistrates as peace officers of Her Majesty and the dispensers of justice among the people, we can entertain nothing but the most profound contempt for a tribunal of Just-asses who sat in this village on the 19th instant. The first case tried was that of a woman who threatened to murder a boy about fifteen years of age who, as she stated, said something prejudicial to her character. The case was clearly proved but the magistrates, one of whom seemed more like counsel employed by the defence, insisted on settling the case.
A decanter of liquor was immediately placed on the table in front of the justices who helped themselves liberally, and invited the parties partake freely. At this stage we left the courtroom, completely disgusted with the proceedings. The second case was that of some little boys who had climbed a fence for the purpose of eating green peas, and were brought before the Solomons. We were not present but have been told the witnesses were sworn on Wesley’s Hymns, the magistrates being so tight that they probably did not perceive the difference.”
A period of restriction of sale of alcoholic beverages, imposed in Lanark County in the 1870’s under the Dunkin Temperance Act, was ended for this county in 1879. Its suspension was reported by editor James C. Poole (Herald, June 18, 1879):
“Hotels – The hotels throughout the county are again in full swing, though to be candid they “swung” just as freely while the Dunkin Act was in force. Our genial landlords can now remove the syrup labels off their brandy bottles.”
Lanark and Renfrew hotel keepers two years later were found getting together to raise the prices of meals and liquor. As reported in Carleton Place, “The hotel keepers of this section held a largely attended meeting at Arnprior, and unanimously agreed on raising the price of liquor to ten cents a glass, and meals to thirty-five cents.” Similar liquor prices seem to have prevailed for many years, as suggested by a 1905 report from Brockville, relating that “Brockville hotel men have combined to raise the price of liquor dispensed over the bar. Five cent drinks will hereafter be ten cents.”
Editor J. C. Poole’s characteristic version of a Carleton Place liquor enforcement case of 1881 was published by him under the title “Suction”:
“A few weeks ago complaint was made before Licence Inspector Manning of certain infringements of the law. After examination of the houses and premises of Messrs. George Warren and James Lee, a considerable number of bottles supposed to contain ‘crooked whiskey’ were seized and said to be confiscated. The matter was published in the papers at the time. Praise was given to the local constables for at least ferreting out and assisting in disposing of the ‘tanglefoot’ by placing it under lock and key in the building which was at one time known as the Town Hall and Lock-up, but which has since been dignified with the name of an educational institution. For several years this building was presided over by a most worthy and efficient constable by the name of Alvin Livingston. Mr. Livingston was deposed and the office filled by the favorites of the Reeve and Council, named Donald Stewart, musician, and James Nolan, carpenter, bona fide residents of the ‘South Side’!
Our reporter saith that the Inspector with the aid of his assistants placed in the Lock-up the large amount of twenty-seven dozen of bottled ale and porter and, by way of spice, two large jars of whiskey; and that every drop of this large stock of stimulants has, by thirsty palates or otherwise, been drawn through the massive stone walls of the lock-up building! We do not wish to be understood to be attaching any blame at all to the worthy inspector, although the placing of such a powerful temptation in the way of his assistants may seem extraordinary. At or near the close of the picnic, which neighbouring observers say was kept up for several days in jolly style, the lock disappeared from the door, as if pried off.”
Bar Room Conditions
Seasons of lumbering prosperity in the twenty-five years before 1900 provided their share of unconscious human figures laid out on Bridge Street in Carleton Place on Saturday nights. A local editorial verdict was that the accompanying prevalence of drunkenness was both disgusting at times and a disgrace to the town. Such penal enforcement of liquor licencing as prevailed from time to time seems to have been aimed largely at support of the local and other revenues gained from licence fees. Unlicenced production and sale included such arrangements as those reported to the Kingston Whig from one of the small up-river lumbering centres in the Mississippi watershed, on the Clyde River and the K. and P. Railway.
(Herald, Sept. 10, 1894):
“Although we have no licenced hotel, for some little time ‘bug juice’ has flowed freely. The ‘bhoys’ do not have to go down lanes, through long dark corridors or spell such a long word as Constantinople to get it, either. We have a good corn and potato crop.”
Licenced liquor vendors in Lanark County when the time of the brass-railed open bar was nearing its end included, in South Lanark in 1903, nine hotels and one shop at Smiths Falls, seven hotels and shops at Perth, in Beckwith township two hotels at Franktown and one at Lake Park, in Drummond township a hotel at Innisville and one at Ferguson’s Falls, and a hotel at Maberley in South Sherbrooke. North Lanark in 1900 had twenty-three licenced outlets, including eight hotels and two shops at Carleton Place. A change in public opinion leading to stricter licencing and prohibition of sale by local option vote – carried in 1910 at points including Almonte, Pakenham, Ramsay and Beckwith and in 1916 at Carleton Place – brought the final trend noted in 1914 in the Carleton Place Herald, April 21, 1914:
“North Lanark is gradually becoming dry. Only seven applications came before the Licence Commissioners at their meeting here this morning, all for hotel licences. Six of these are in Carleton Place, the seventh is in Lavant. The latter was renewed. The applications of W. C. McIlquham, M. Doyle and Mr. Lambertus were granted. Mr. Rothwell was given three months notice for improvements, and at an adjourned meeting the applications of E. White and M. Morris were refused. The Commissioners are Messrs. Cole of Almonte, Howe of Pakenham, and Berryman of Carleton Place.”
In the post-war depression of 1921, the last step in prohibition of alcoholic beverages in Ontario was taken when by referendum the previously permitted importation into the province was barred under the Canada Temperance Act.