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Bottoms Up

A social history of booze

Maybe you’ve noticed, maybe even first-hand, that university subjects seem a lot more fun nowadays. Along with literature, folks might study TV shows; social history is as important as military and political analyses; and, in poli-sci, culture jamming might rank higher on the agenda than Machiavelli. But the graduating class of U of T’s Museum Studies master’s program is studying one of the most popular topics of all: booze. An exhibit, curated by the students, examines the interplay between alcohol and social and political history. Here are a few tidbits the curators of “Bottoms Up: A Spirited History of Drink in Canada” discovered:

● Temperance League members weren’t always as dry as they purported to be: while they shunned spirits, many drank medicinal bitters and tonics that were composed primarily of alcohol.

● Humorist Stephen Leacock (BA 1891 UC) didn’t find anything amusing about banning alcohol: he supported the Liberty League, an anti-prohibitionist group battling the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.

● Many of the rum-running routes established on the east coast of Canada – which were used to smuggle alcohol into the United States during its prohibition – are allegedly used to smuggle marijuana today.

●With the exception of a brief federal prohibition during the First World War, Quebecers – ever the libertines – managed to avoid giving up alcohol. They had planned to enforce a provincial prohibition law from 1919 until the end of the Great War, but, since the war ended in 1918, it never came up.

● P.E.I. was the last province to repeal its provincial prohibition – in 1948.

● During the “Taylorization of beer” from the 1930s to about 1960, legendary businessman E.P. Taylor bought all the independent breweries in order to standardize the industry. Before, there were hundreds of small brewers – and thousands of brands.

● The Bloody Caesar, Canada’s national cocktail, was invented in Calgary in 1969.

● April 3 is the 60th anniversary of Ontario’s legalization of cocktail bars. Before that time, taprooms selling beer were the norm; selling liquor by the shot had been illegal since prohibition.

Christine Sismondo (MA 1997) is the author of Mondo Cocktail: A Shaken and Stirred History (McArthur & Co. 2005).

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