Punched Drunk: Alcohol, Surveillance and the LCBO, 1927-1975

LCBO Surveillance Technologies

Punch Cards, IBM & Statistical Analysis


The Return of Drinking Establishments 1934

When licenced drinking establishments opened they reverted to the male-dominated social spaces of the pre-prohibition era. Although the change in legislation that allowed licenced establishments to return to the province was made as a pre-election appeal, directed primary towards working class male voters, the LCBO had a very different idea about what kind of conduct was acceptable within these spaces. The Board claimed that beverage rooms would be organized with “temperance in mind” and developed a strict set of mandatory regulations for them (“Legislature Endorses” The Globe March 28 1934). Specifically, the LCBO sought to enforce the rules based on an unstated set of value expectations: moderation, industry, individual self-reliance and a heterosexual puritism” which related to “the welfare of the family, protection of children and absence of sexual misconduct” (Malleck 2005: 64-65). The LCBO’s new drinking establishments were stark and utilitarian in their design, they were simply furnished and displayed nothing on the walls other than “official notices, calendars, clocks, a few small brewery posters and a simple announcement of the beers on tap” (Heron 2005: 16).

In contrast to the freedoms enjoyed within pre-prohibition saloons, LCBO overseen drinking establishments were also designed specifically to control behaviour – requiring drinkers not to stand while drinking and to be seated at tables of no more than four; women remained strictly barred, and drinks had to be brought to the table one at a time and poured out of sight within an adjacent “tap room” (Heron 2005: 15; Liquor Control Act 1934, c.26 s.69). The Liquor Control Act also specifically legislated that:

No person holding an authority under this part shall permit or suffer in the premises for which the authority is issued,- (a) any person under or apparently under the age of twenty-one years to consume any liquor; (b) any constable or police officer while on duty to consume any liquor; (c) any gambling, drunkenness or any riotous, quarrelsome, violent or disorderly conduct to take place; (d) any person of notoriously bad character to remain; (e) any slot machine or gambling device to be placed, kept or maintained…No person to whom the sale of intoxicants is prohibited by statute of Canada or Ontario and no interdicted person shall be permitted or suffered to remain in any authorized premises (1934, c.26 s.69j, s.69m).

The LCBO further specified that customers could not “drink themselves to intoxication, fight or otherwise disturb other customers, utter profanities, or otherwise make too much noise,” while owners could not cash checks, offer entertainment of any kind, including dancing, cards, singing, or music (Ibid). Even the rates and types of alcohol consumed within these establishments were reviewed at Head Office and analyzed statistically for the development of consumption patterns and evidence of patron overindulgence (LCBO Form #B-1).

Licencee's purchase record

As Heron (2005: 15) notes, regulations specifically restrained drinkers and prevented them “from merging onto the more fluid, free associating crowds of the old-time saloons” – the “only legitimate activity in a beverage room was drinking.” The Board’s strict control of these establishments’ layouts, their imposed regulations and policies, coupled with the oversight through LCBO inspectors, and statistical auditing, asserted bourgeois principles of moderation and temperance upon these key spaces of masculine gender performance.

The LCBO not only devised regulations but were also active in policing them by investigating reported breaches. In addition to a statistical review of consumption patterns the LCBO also used investigators to ensure that the long list of regulations was being properly respected. As Valverde (1998: 149) notes:

“liquor inspectors ... entered pubs incognito to record the behaviour of the patrons, regulate the character of the music, draw maps of the premise location of every table and chair, collect information about the family fortunes and misfortunes of the [owner], respond to neighbours’ complaints, and accumulate a mass of detail about every disturbance that took place in or near licenced establishments”.

The Board leaned heavily upon establishment owners, singling them out as personally responsible for the activities that their patrons engaged in, and held the annual renewal of their licence to sell liquor hostage as a means of pressuring compliance – as the act specifically stated that holding a licence did not ensure the owner any entitlements to renewals and that licences could be cancelled at any time (Liquor Control Act 1934, c.26 s.8).

Despite the Board’s best efforts “many of the old behavioural patterns from the saloon days had returned” and beverage rooms had reasserted themselves as male working class spaces (Heron 2005: 16; Malleck 2005; Marquis 2004). In response, Board inspection records show strict attempts to stamp out singing, profane language and intemperance, among other “unacceptable” behaviours (Heron 2005: 16). In an attempt to control these behaviours Head Office issued demands to licence holders in “terse letters” and threatened disciplinary action if they did not succeed in bringing regulations to bear upon their clientele (Malleck 2005: 68). As in the case of interdiction, the Board also conducted follow-ups and investigations regarding particular establishments. Moreover, as in the case of interdiction, these letters focused claims of overindulgence, misspending and undesired behaviours; one man noted that a waiter “was swearing, drinking on the floor, and seemed to have no respect whatsoever for the few respectable people that may have been in there” (cited in Heron 2005: 18). However, claims were not only made with regard to serving particular individuals, or types of individuals, but also about the environment of these establishments, as one person complained “they manage this place terribl[y], allowing [patrons] to use profane language and carrying on awful[;] it is a disgrace” (Ibid: 17-18). Women also contacted the LCBO about the impact that some establishments were having on their husbands’ behaviour – as one “poor mother” noted one establishment had, through the serving of poor individuals, “ruined already four good families” while another woman claimed a certain hotel was “corrupting her husband” (Ibid: 17).

LCBO policing of licenced establishments also retained a strong class bias. Not only was the now legally restricted masculinity of the saloon closely connected to working class men and their values, as Heron (2005: 19) notes:

the class biases in the administration of this new public drinking regime became unmistakable when in 1936 the board decided to suppress all ‘floor shows, cabarets, dancing, music, or singing’ anywhere in hotels, except at the city’s only elite establishment, the Royal Connaught, which got permission to run a regular ‘supper dance’ with live orchestra and dancing and, in 1939, an open-air roof garden with dancing, light lunches, and beer, where dancing could continue until well after official closing time.

Board complaints and reports ultimately lead to disciplinary action against over 1,150 establishment owners by the Board between 1934 and 1945, accounting for an average of over 119 in the province annually, when the task of regulation was passed on to the Liquor Licence Board of Ontario (LLBO) (Annual Reports of the LCBO 1934-1945).

These types of discrepancies in the application of Board regulation of drinking spaces indicate clearly enough the types of performances of masculinity the Board was interested in controlling, and the type of temperate and moderation-based masculinity that regulated facilities ideally would foster. Although men sought out means of circumventing this new ordering of their drinking, perhaps most successfully in their formation of licenced social clubs (see Heron 2005: 19-20), the Board’s regulations, policies and technologies nonetheless seriously impacted male gender performances within drinking establishments between 1927 and 1945.

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