Date: 1888

Origin: Keith Walden, “Becoming Modern in Toronto: The Industrial Exhibition and the Shaping of a Late Victorian Culture” (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997) pp.60-64

Historian Keith Walden provides background to this 1888 J.W. Bengough cartoon in Grip, a satirical magazine of the time in his book, Becoming Modern in Toronto: The Industrial Exhibition and the Making of Late Victorian Culture:

Alcohol is prohibited at the Fair

When the fair began in 1879, provincial legislation prohibited the sale of alcohol on the Exhibition Grounds and within a 300-yard radius. The Association decided, however, that the provision of lager beer for thirsty visitors was entirely reasonable.

Kegs Roll In …

Refreshment booth concessionaires were advised that no interference with the delivery of lager beer was anticipated. Legal action would be taken only if an outsider laid a complaint, in which case, laws would have to be enforced but fines would be minimal. Kegs rolled in. Even before the official opening, stands were doing a thriving business. Some breweries put in telephone lines on the grounds so that new supplies could be ordered quickly when stocks got low.

Liquor Inspectors Arrive …

Early in the second week of the show, liquor inspectors arrived on the grounds and began to issue summonses, prodded by prohibitionists and some of the licensed victualers in the city who resented the competition. When the charges were heard after the show ended, the police magistrate handed down fines ranging from forty to fifty dollars plus costs. The concessionaires were taken aback by the size of the fines. They complained that it would be impossible to recoup rental charges from the sale of lemonade and tea only, that the booths had not been fitted up with facilities to make tea or coffee but had been provided with fixtures for glasses, that making fires in the booths had been expressly prohibited, that booths had been leased to several breweries, and that the directors themselves had ordered beer for one of their lunches. They also pointed to the popular demand for the beverage, arguing that, in fact, it was a temperance drink. C.R. Beswetherick, lease of the dining-room concession, insisted he was “totally opposed to the unrestricted sale of spirituous liquors,” but that lager beer was “perfectly harmless and non-intoxicating.” Temperance could best be promoted by admitting lager, “thereby weaning thousands from whiskey who are daily filling our goals (jails) and hospitals.

Sales Continue to Thrive …

Booth operators found the lager trade hard to resist. They were back at it the next season, selling collectively about a thousand barrels a day. Though more wary of liquor inspectors, several concessions openly advertised the availability of lager, and the dining-hall advised that wine and liquors could be obtained at an adjoining bar. When the fair was over, sixteen leases were each fined twenty dollars and costs, a token that may have encouraged some the following year to peddle hard liquor, advertising only by word of mouth.

Directors come up with “crafty” Solution to City Council’s ban on Lager at the Fair …

The directors meanwhile were attempting to regularize the sale of liquor on the grounds. After a motion to legalize the sale of lager was defeated by City Council, they obtained a hotel license for the dining-hall, once again upsetting the Licensed Victualers’ Association, which protested official willingness to see a hotel where only a restaurant existed.  What particularly aroused the ire of both victualers and prohibitionists was the way the dining-hall permit was stretched to include eight refreshment booths under the Grand Stand. One incensed teetotaler suggested it represented the most open and flagrant violation of the province’s liquor act since its passage. The Globe shared his apprehension that the Exhibition would become “an occasion for widespread drunkenness” but took a more moderate position, advocating the closure of two-thirds of the booths and strict insurance that only “light” drinks be sold at the rest. Visitors spoke with their pocketbooks. Booth holders maintained that they sold five times as much lager as anything else. Even with stronger potions sold surreptitiously at some stands, intoxication remained within acceptable limits. A reporter for the Port Hope Guide thought arrangements for selling ‘strong waters’ on the grounds ‘as reprehensible as well could be,’ but admitted ‘there was no so many drunk as might have been expected,’ though the number in that condition was still too high.

The story doesn’t end there…….