Alcohol & Advocacy Liquor Laws

Top Ten Liquor Laws from 1921

On October 1, 1917 British Columbia “went dry”, giving way to the pressure of the temperance movement sweeping the nation. Less than four years later the ineffective and corrupt Prohibition regime came to an end on June 15, 1921 when an Act to provide for Government Control and Sale of Alcoholic Liquors came into force, known by its short title the Government Liquor Act.

Though the provincial government had subjected the sale of liquor to some degree of oversight pre-Prohibition – it was minimal. Until 1900 the notorious saloons of BC were open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and sold all types of liquor. While the Government Liquor Act provided for the lawful sale of alcohol by government vendors – a step in the right direction – it was a terribly draconian piece of legislation, which laid the foundation of the regulatory regime that still exists in the province today.

The statutory origins of many of the powers the general manager of Liquor Control and Licensing Branch enjoys today can be found in the Government Liquor Act of 1921. Examples include the authority to set the prices at which alcohol will be sold, conduct searches of licensed premises, and dictate how a licensee can advertise or name their business.

Like most matters of law and politics, it takes an understanding of the past to contextualize the present. Without further ado, here is Alcohol & Advocacy’s “top ten” most interesting liquor laws from 1921:

  1. Government liquor stores would only sell alcohol to adults, 21 years of age or older, who held a valid “permit.” Beer wouldn’t become available in parlours until 1925. To get a permit you had to apply, with proof of residency, and each permit cost about as much as a day’s pay for a labourer. A permit was only good for one purchase, of limited quantity, and you couldn’t apply for more than ten permits in one year.
  2. Can’t get a permit? You could always go see your doctor who could prescribe you various alcoholic beverages, provided you were a “bona fide patient” in “actual need”. A prescription for alcohol could be “filled” at a government liquor store.
  3. Government liquor stores were not fun places to shop. There was no browsing. Orders were placed in writing, permits were examined, and your purchase was provided to you in a box complete with government seal.
  4. Government liquor stores were closed on election days.
  5. Veterinarians were permitted to obtain liquor in the course of their practice to administer on animals.
  6. The consumption of alcohol at distilleries and breweries was prohibited.
  7. Minors were permitted to consume alcohol at their homes if it was given to them by their parents.
  8. An “interdiction official” could prohibit the sale of liquor to a person who “by excessive drinking of liquor, misspends, wastes or lessens his estate, or injures his health, or endangers or interrupts the peace and happiness of his family”.
  9. “Hard labour” was a popular punishment under the Act for illegally selling or possessing liquor, or merely being drunk in public.
  10. If you were caught in a state of intoxication in a public place, in addition to the usual penalty prescribed for public drunkenness (that might include a sentence of hard labour) you could be sentenced to a further three months prison, with or without hard labour, for failing to disclose the name of the person who provided you with the liquor. Naming names was important back then.

*Alcohol & Advocacy publishes articles for information purposes only. They are not a substitute for legal advice, and persons requiring such advice should consult legal counsel.

Dan Coles
Retired bartender. Young lawyer. From the East, living in the West. Interested in British Columbia's producers and purveyors of wine, beer and spirits.