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  • Try to Control Yourself: The Regulation of Public Drinking in Post-Prohibition Ontario, 1927–44 by Dan Malleck
  • Greg Marquis
Try to Control Yourself: The Regulation of Public Drinking in Post-Prohibition Ontario, 1927–44. Dan Malleck. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2012. Pp. 305, $85.00 cloth, $32.95 paper

In recent years, writing on the history of alcohol in Canada has evolved from a focus on the ideology and politics of temperance and prohibition to include studies of how and where Canadians consumed alcohol. Dan Malleck, editor of the journal Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, has contributed an important case study to this evolving body of literature. Try to Control Yourself, based on detailed archival research and thoroughly grounded in the historiography of alcohol control, examines how Ontario lawmakers, bureaucrats, communities, hotel operators, liquor inspectors, and drinkers negotiated public drinking in the period from 1927 to 1944. The title refers to Ontario, but primary research focuses on six representative communities: Essex and Waterloo counties, the Niagara region, the Thunder Bay district, Ottawa, and Toronto. The main primary sources are the records of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (lcbo), the bureaucracy that organized both private and public drinking in the period under review. The author describes the lcbo as “a bureaucratic solution to a deeply divisive political problem,” which was to balance the competing interests of temperance supporters, the provincial state, the private sector, and citizens of wetter inclinations (xvi). In contrast to scholars who have described the lcbo’s surveillance and control of citizen drinking privileges as oppressive, Malleck adopts a more balanced, nuanced analysis and even credits the commission with fashioning “a more pluralistic drinking space” for women and ethnic minorities (241).

Try to Control Yourself examines how the lcbo as a bureaucracy managed the issue of public drinking in the 1930s and early 1940s. Following years of temperance agitation and local option votes, Ontario adopted a form of modified prohibition during the First World War. [End Page 132] The author describes the 1927 Liquor Control Act as moderately revolutionary in that it reversed prohibition (although government control supporters described it as a temperance measure) and centralized the sale of alcohol (and eventually oversight of public consumption) within the provincial state. The goal from 1927 until the licensing of hotel beverage rooms and dining rooms was the paternalist encouragement of a temperate and orderly “citizen drinker” who patronized lcbo liquor stores. With the licensing of hotels to sell full-strength beer and wine by the glass in 1934, the contested regulation of drinking expanded to a heavily regulated public space. Yet the goal of lcbo regulation, as the book’s title suggests, was to encourage proprietors and drinkers to police themselves. The interventionist state was promoting moderation while discouraging bootlegging and enhancing public revenue.

Malleck employs insights from Weber’s work on bureaucratization to explain the complexities of regulating Ontario’s beverage rooms and licensed dining rooms. The key space was the standard hotel, which, according to lcbo rules, was required to have a lobby, bedrooms, laundry facilities, and a dining room. The lcbo, although affected by politics and patronage (as discussed in chapter 5), developed a professional, bureaucratic mode of regulating drinking space and behaviours. It also entertained feedback from communities on beverage room applications and relied on local police reports. The commission not only considered the community role of each hotel, it also attempted to raise the standards of establishments throughout the province. Demands for entertainment resulted in a compromise where music and dancing were forbidden in beverage rooms but not dining rooms. Good examples of the lcbo’s disinterested style are found in the chapter detailing the regulation of the “racial and ethnic outsider.” Status Indians were banned under federal law from purchasing alcohol; the regulation of Aboriginal drinking in Ontario hotels varied from one community to the next. A small minority of “authority” (licence) applicants in the communities studied were Chinese. African Canadians appeared in lcbo files as “troublemakers or those discriminated against” (194). The ethnicity of potential or actual proprietors was commonplace in the files, but Malleck argues that the commission, when dealing with beer privileges for ethnic social clubs...


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