Instructor: Professor Matt Bellamy

Course Description:

Barmen protesting prohibition in Toronto

Barmen protesting prohibition in Toronto

Canada had prohibition! During the First World War and into the post-war peace, Canada was “dry” from coast-to-coast as provincial governments across the land outlawed the sale of intoxicating beverages. This, however, did not stop brewers from brewing, distillers from distilling or drinkers from drinking. Across the nation, thirsty Canadians slipped into illegal drinking establishment known as “blind pigs” to enjoy a shot of whiskey or an old-time schooner. They lined up outside of the doctor’s office to get a prescription for a legal dose of booze. In the trenches overseas, Canadian soldiers were given a shot of rum as a form of liquid courage before they “went over the top” to charge at the enemy. The brewers and distillers of the nation continued to manufacturing their products and some of them entered the dangerous world of bootlegging. Police raids were common and mobsters like Rocco Perri were linked to a number of bloody murders of their competitors in the illegal business of booze peddling.

Canadian soldiers line up to get a beer at a "wet canteen" during the First World War

Canadian soldiers line up to get a beer at a “wet canteen” during the First World War

In this seminar we will examine the rise and fall of prohibition. We will consider the arguments for and against prohibition and the reasons for its implementation and repeal. We will also contemplate what it was like to live in these temperate times. We will examine the experience of being a brewer and a distiller. How hard was it to make money from liquor trafficking during this period? How dangerous was it to be a rum runner on the East Coast or a bootlegger dealing with Al Capone in Chicago? What were some of the ingenious ways that people smuggled booze across the border? What was it like to own and operate a “blind pig”? What did these illegal drinking establishments look like and where were they located? What was it like to be policeman, a judge or a politician dealing with the issue of prohibition? How would you feel if you were a veteran returning home for the Great War and you were told that you could not have a drink of beer? What would you do? What was it like to be a prohibitionist witnessing some policemen refusing to enforce the law? What was the legacy of prohibition and what might we learn from it about the recent legalization of marijuana and the “war on drugs” today. These are just some of the questions that we will be considering during this seminar on prohibition in Canada.

Prohibitionist perception of life under the influence of alcohol

Prohibitionist perception of life under the influence of alcohol

We will meet once a week. Your mark will be based on a series of small assignments and participation on a regular basis. There will be an introduction to the Labatt Online Exhibit, digital activities such as mapping of illegal trade routes, field trips, basic work with software useful to humanities and social sciences, mock tribunals, role playing, branding/marketing exercises and an exploration of historical artifacts.