“Temperance Bill” Temple Keeps The Junction Dry

This installment of my “Retro T.O.” column for The Grid was originally published on June 12, 2012.

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The City, November 4, 1979.

As Toronto settles into patio season, pause for a moment if you enjoy a fermented beverage with friends. As late as 2000, enjoying a summer drink in public was impossible in portions of The Junction, a legacy of the dedicated efforts of “Temperance Bill” Temple to keep the neighbourhood dry.

“He doesn’t look like a slayer of giants,” began William Stephenson’s profile of Temple for the Star’s The City supplement in 1979. “Not when he’s cruising the boulevards of the west end in his little red Pontiac. Nor while applying his special English to the balls at the Runnymede Lawn Bowling Club or felling the five-pins at the Plantation Bowlerama. Certainly not when he’s flirting with the nurses at St. Joseph’s Hospital each time he picks up the Meals-on-Wheels for delivery to Swansea’s shut-ins. On such occasions, the 5-foot-7, 130-pounder in the jaunty fedora and sport shirt looks like a successful politician, a Vic Tanny salesman, or perhaps a showbiz personality.”

Yet William Horace Temple slayed a few giants in his lifetime. The largest was Ontario Premier George Drew, who Temple, a faithful member of the CCF/NDP, defeated in the riding of High Park during the 1948 provincial election, despite having a budget one-fiftieth the size. Temple, who had lost by 400 votes in the previous election five years earlier, benefitted from fears about the repercussions of government legislation allowing cocktail lounges. Following Drew’s defeat, the provincial Tories used extreme caution in future attempts to loosen liquor laws.

At the time of The City article, Temple had celebrated his 80th birthday by downing quarts of tea. Though he once admitted to enjoying drinks to celebrate the end of World War I, Temple disdained anyone who imbibed. He believed the media was afraid to combat alcohol due to the power distillers held as advertisers, and claimed that all the negative aspects of American prohibition during the 1920s and 1930s was propaganda spread by liquor interests. “Booze enslaves, corrupts, destroys the moral fibre of a community,” Temple noted. “Battling the booze barons is the only honourable course for a citizen.”

Temple’s disdain for booze stemmed from his father, an abusive alcoholic train conductor. As a pilot in France during World War I, Temple frequently guided tipsy airmen to bed. As an RCAF duty officer during World War II, Temple infuriated his superiors by denying passes to senior officers he felt were too drunk to fly—“I had an uncomfortable war,” he later noted.

Keeping West Toronto alcohol-free was high among his pet projects. Its dry status dated back to 1904, when it was still an independent municipality. One of the conditions imposed when the area was annexed by Toronto in 1909 was that a two-stage vote (one for retail sale, one for restaurants) would be required to approve alcohol. The first major test came in the mid-1960s, when the owners of the Westway Hotel at Dundas and Heintzman organized a petition to allow alcohol sales. Temple, who headed the West Toronto Inter-church Temperance Federation (WTITF), delayed a vote by two years by proving many of the names on the petition were invalid. When the vote came in January 1966, the drys won. Temple’s forces won by an even larger margin in 1972, despite promises from a proposed Bloor Street bar to turns its proceeds over to Variety Village. Yet another vote in 1984 failed to sway the community.

Temple’s last hurrah came shortly after his death in April 1988. Smart money said that the temperance movement would collapse during a plebiscite that autumn without Temple’s determination and energy. “We did it for Bill,” proclaimed Derwyn Foley of WTITF when the drys won again. But it was one of the temperance side’s last victories. Throughout the 1990s, neighbourhoods within the dry area voted to allow alcohol. The last holdout voted 76 per cent in favour of allowing booze to be sold at restaurants in 2000 after dire predictions of increased crime and decay failed to materialize in the newly wet areas. As some proponents of alcohol sales predicted, an influx of businesses and eateries gradually flowed into The Junction.

If there’s an afterlife, it’s easy to imagine Temple’s reaction upon learning West Toronto had finally become wet. They would be the same words he yelled when he disrupted a Hiram Walker shareholders meeting in 1968 to find out if the distiller was funding politicians: “Sheep, nothing but sheep!”

Additional material from the November 4, 1979 edition of The City, the April 11, 1988 edition of the Globe and Mail, and the April 11, 1988 and November 15, 1988 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Apart from the image above, here is the full article on Temple from the November 4, 1979 edition of The City.

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One Fine Holiday Season in 1887

Originally published as a “Historicist’ column on Torontoist on December 22, 2012.

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A Toronto-penned carol from 1887 you can play at home this season. The News, December 24, 1887.

In some ways, the holiday season that brought 1887 to a close was similar to today. People rushed around the city to pick up their Christmas gifts. Plenty of booze was downed. Discussions and editorial pages focused on the future of Toronto’s mayoralty. Digging beyond the surface, similarities via the city’s legion of newspapers shows a season that was equally celebratory and cringe-inducing.

Mail columnist H.H. Wiltshire (aka “The Flaneur”) provided the best-written observation of the state of Christmas:

Latterly the question has been often asked as to what is the meaning of the tendency everywhere during the last few years for a much more general observance of the Christmas festival. In some quarters it is attributed to increased reverence, in others to sentimentality, while we are also told that it is only seized upon as an excuse for idleness and gluttony, under the cover of hospitality. Without staying to consider how far any of these views are correct, may we not suppose that one very natural reason is the necessity we all feel for a little rest and enjoyment! Unquestionably there is more work done now in a shorter time than was ever the case before; this must cause a reaction in some form, and this season of the year has appeared most convenient because it is the nearest approach to a recognized universal holiday-time throughout the civilized world. A simple answer to the enquiry is given in the fact that that overworked humanity wants rest.

All of us with healthy minds in healthy bodies enjoy holidays and amusement, and custom, if nothing else, has made both seem especially appropriate to this time of the year. One of the best associations of Christmas undoubtedly is the increasing fondness for family and friendly re-union, when many feuds are healed and words and acts of temper are forgiven; also the inculcation and practice of the truth that there are none of us so poor in ability or in purse but that we can, by merely doing “the duty nearest hand,” make the load lighter and the day more bright for some among those whom sickness or sorrow, misfortune or folly, entitle not only to our kindness and sympathy, but also to be the unsoliciting recipients of practical and generous aid.

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The Globe, December 23, 1887.

The rest Wiltshire extolled wasn’t present on Christmas Eve 1887, as downtown streets filled with shoppers in a rush. Though shop windows were filled with joyful displays, those entering stores to purchase gifts were, according to the Globe, hardly in a celebratory mood. “Almost everybody one met seemed to have a parcel or to be in a hurry to get one,” the paper noted. “To judge by the expression of face and the words caught in passing, the getting of the parcels seemed rather to hinder than to help the feeling of joyousness.”

The papers were filled with holiday-inspired doggerel and Christmas stories which would not be published under any circumstances today. The worst offender was a lengthy illustrated tale published in the News on Christmas Eve whose anonymous author reminisced about the glorious celebrations enjoyed by plantation slaves in the southern United States prior to the Civil War. Every imaginable derogatory term was used in a story filled with pidgin English, stock stereotypes, dancing galore, and “the wild hilarity of a negro gathering.”

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Evening Telegram, December 20, 1887.

Because Christmas Day fell on a Sunday, good upstanding Torontonians were expected to observe the usual pieties that created Toronto’s reputation as a place not to have any fun on the Lord’s Day for decades to come. Not that the day was devoid of pleasure—when evening rolled around, carollers hit the streets, along with impromptu brass bands playing tunes on battered instruments.

There was a sad note Christmas morning when the body of Maria Green was found in a stable behind 40 Elizabeth Street. Rather than provide any sympathy for her death from exposure, the press went into full moralizing mode. The Globe depicted Green as “an elderly woman employed as cook in a house of ill-fame on Albert Street,” while the Mail described her as “a woman of about fifty years of age, and the greater part of her life had been spent in infamy. Christmas brought to her not peace but an excess of drunkenness and debauchery with her tragic death as a wind-up.”

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The News, December 24, 1887.

The delay of most public Christmas activities to December 26 appeared to create a pent-up thirst among Torontonians, as people went wild when the bars reopened that morning. “’Moral’ Toronto Spends a Very Liquid Christmas” screamed a headline above the World’s account of “the drunkenest day that Toronto has seen for years.” Sleighs overflowed with “more young men than is allowed by the law regarding cruelty to animals.” People who claimed to have never touched a drop of alcohol were among those found in packed saloons. Some establishments closed early to avoid a steady stream of barroom brawls and police visits. “The ordinary drinking public dropped into their usual haunts and were surprised and disgusted at what they saw,” the World reported. “By 6 o’clock there were so many places closed that a usual question was ‘well, where can we go to get a drink?’” Police handled the chaos by making arrests only when necessary. The Globe theorized that the drinking orgy was due to liquor vendors attempting to demonstrate that tougher temperance laws would increase the abusive effects of booze, especially a set of bylaws on the upcoming municipal election ballot.

Alcohol control played a key role in the mayoral campaign that holiday season. On November 3, 1887, Mayor William Holmes Howland announced he would not run for a third term. While Howland spoke to Christian and temperance groups in other cities to extol the effects of his campaigns to reduce the availability of alcohol, the question arose as to who would continue his moral crusade and efforts to curb corruption at City Hall. The favoured candidate among the reformer set was rookie alderman Elias Rogers, a Quaker pro-temperance activist who was one of Toronto’s largest coal merchants.

Two other candidates emerged. Edward Frederick Clarke was a rookie Conservative member at Queen’s Park who published the Orange Sentinel newspaper. Unlike many Orangemen of the era, Clarke was seen as a broadminded man due to actions like allowing Irish Catholic activists to speak at the organization’s hall. Because he wasn’t a fervent temperance advocate, he was depicted by opponents as a friend of the saloon. Daniel Defoe was a veteran alderman who touted his long council experience but was handicapped by his Catholic faith in a very Protestant city—the best he could hope for was a spoiler role. Whoever became mayor needed to be, according to a Globe editorial, “a level-headed, painstaking, conscientious man of marked business ability.”

The campaign was well underway when official nominations were made during a raucous meeting at City Hall (now incorporated into the south St. Lawrence Market) on December 26. The loudest members of the overflow crowd were Clarke supporters, who jeered the other candidates and their nominators. Rogers received most of the verbal abuse, some of it deserved. Female electors were still a new concept—Ontario had granted spinsters and widows the vote in municipal elections in 1884—so Rogers pointed out those in attendance and indicated they were on his side. When a heckler yelled “How do you know they are?,” the Telegram noted that Rogers “knew they were on his side because the ladies were always on the right side.”

More troubling for Rogers were reports that he was the head of a “coal ring.” A series of exposes in the News written by Clarke ally and York West MP Nathaniel Clarke Wallace portrayed Rogers as the leader of a cartel who artificially inflated the price of coal in Toronto, failed to pass savings onto consumers after the federal government removed tariffs on the heating fuel, and conspired to drive competitors out of business. Rogers painted himself as a victim via a complicated explanation involving American coal combines, merciless railway companies, and forming his own ring as a protective measure.

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Cartoon depicting Elias Rogers and Edward Clarke, The News, December 31, 1887.

Despite increasingly lengthy explanations about the coal ring which convinced few voters, city churches and most of the press endorsed Rogers. Endless ink was devoted to depicting him as the best man to uphold Howland’s policies and continue the moral crusade against corruption and liquor. Papers like the Telegram were smug in their certainty of a Rogers victory, declaring that the defeat “will simply be extraordinary.”

The extraordinary happened. As the votes were tallied on January 2, 1888, Howland waited for the results at Rogers’ HQ and kept the crowd pepped up. When the early results showed Clarke in the lead, Howland urged people not to leave. By 9 p.m. the race was over—Clarke defeated Rogers by nearly 1,000 votes. Clarke appeared at the window of the News’ newsroom and gave his victory speech, where he declared his win as “not a triumph of the saloon, but a triumph of the moderate over the intemperate party.”

Clarke captured two key groups that Rogers’ backers had looked upon with condescension: labour and women. He pointed out his participation in and arrest during the printer’s strike of 1872 and utilized female canvassers. There were also signs that Torontonians were tiring of heavy-handed, puritanical laws enacted by the Howland administration, such as preventing the hiring of horses on Sundays. In his recently launched paper Saturday Night, E.E. Sheppard observed that people were exasperated by the increasing self-righteousness of Howland’s allies and by “sumptuary laws more arbitrary and intolerant than those which already exist and have been found unworkable.”

Besides Rogers, voters rejected the temperance bylaws on the ballot. They also rejected a ballot proposal to fund construction of a trunk sewer to improve city sanitation, a vote which falls into the great Toronto tradition of balking at spending money on needed infrastructure projects.

Additional material from Mayor Howland The Citizens’ Candidate by Desmond Morton (Toronto: Hakkert, 1973), Mayors of Toronto Volume 1 1834-1899 by Victor Loring Russell (Erin: Boston Mills Press, 1982), and the following newspapers: the December 23, 1887, December 26, 1887, and December 29, 1887 editions of the Globe; the December 24, 1887, December 26, 1887, and January 3, 1888 editions of the Mail; the December 24, 1887 edition of the News; the December 10, 1887 edition of Saturday Night; the December 27, 1887 and December 29, 1887 editions of the Telegram; and the December 27, 1887 edition of the World.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Editorial item, The Globe, December 21, 1887.

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The Evening Telegram also weighed in on what clergymen in Boston felt about Santa.

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A poetic attempt to use jolly old St. Nick to sell some merchandise, as found in the December 21, 1887 edition of the News.

Who’s Afraid of the Self-Serve Liquor Store?

Originally published on Torontoist on March 15, 2011.

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An LCBO employee tests out the first self-serve liquor store in Metropolitan Toronto. The Telegram, February 22, 1969.

The provincial government has recently mused about loosening Ontario’s liquor laws to allow greater mobility at outdoor festivals and other special events for those with a beverage in hand. We shouldn’t expect any rapid changes though—alterations to liquor regulations in Ontario have historically involved baby steps.

For decades after prohibition was dropped in Ontario, the government devised numerous methods of making drinking as unattractive as possible, from tight restrictions regarding service in beer parlours to requiring that Ontarians hold permits to purchase alcohol. A heavy-handed, thou-shalt-not attitude reigned supreme.

By the late 1960s, customers tired of having to purchase liquor by going into an LCBO store, signing a slip, and handing it to a clerk to retrieve their purchase, which was presented to them shamefully in a paper bag. As one customer put it, the process “makes you feel like a criminal or something. It’s a lot of nonsense.” Some clerks agreed, as they accepted slips signed by noted Torontonians like Donald Duck. Creating conditions which tut-tutted the public for wanting to buy liquor could only go on so long while the times were a-changin’.

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The Telegram, July 23, 1968.

On July 23, 1968, provincial secretary Robert Welch announced that the province was launching a comprehensive review of the liquor laws. Plans to open three test “self-serve” liquor stores in Etobicoke, North York, and Weston the following year were unveiled, along with hints of studies into extending drinking hours on the weekend (which thanks to Sunday blue laws meant last call on Saturday was at 11:30 p.m.), lowering the drinking age (which occurred in 1971) and selling beer in grocery stores (which, unless you’re a fan of near beer, hasn’t happened yet). Welch felt that these changes were necessary to prove to younger Ontarians that “we are hip and relevant” (when asked if he was concerned about dropping the drinking age from twenty-one to eighteen, Welch replied “I’ve got more confidence in young persons’ approach to drinking than I have in some people who are sixty-one”).

The Weston store, located in a privately-built structure at 40 South Station Street, was the first of the initial trio of self-service locations to go into service. As its opening in February 1969 neared, the Telegram offered a glimpse of what customers would find inside:

The customer will enter through a turnstile, select the bottles of his choice and leave through one of five desks. Two walls are now lined with rum and Canadian whiskys and there are three islands of shelves loaded with liqueurs, brandies and other hard exotics. A separate room, panelled and ornamented with wine barrels, contains a wide range of wines.

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Interior shot taken during the store preview. The Weston Times, February 27, 1969.

The store’s initial selection included eight hundred brands of hard liquor which, in the eyes of the Telegram, were arranged “like brazen hussies in a nightclub.” Two consultants, easily identified by their green blazers, were available to guide customers through the one-hundred-and-seventy Canadian and one-hundred-and-forty imported varieties of wine. If a consultant wasn’t around, cards were placed under each type of wine to indicate their level of sweetness. Among the remaining store staff were three part-time clerks that the Telegram claimed were the first female employees to work in a liquor store. None of the items on the shelf required a signed slip for purchase.

Opponents of self-service argued it was one more step in allowing too much permissiveness in society, which opened the door to more ruined lives and social depravity. Typical of the responses from those who disagreed with the concept was that of Reverend Gordon Brown of Runnymede Baptist Church, who felt easier access to alcohol would raise the crime rate (“It’s definitely a retrograde move. Criminality is related to alcohol”). Temperance advocates and religious organizations who worked with alcoholics feared that drunk driving incidents would skyrocket. Opposition also came from within the LCBO, namely clerks at existing stores. “It’ll never work,” said Bill Reed, a clerk at the liquor store at York and Wellington streets. He told the Telegram that “it won’t reduce the number of staffers required, it won’t be any faster—if anything, it’ll be slower and there will be a lot of shoplifting.” To combat shoplifters, and any temperance zealots tempted to wander in to smash the inventory, mirrors were set up around the Weston store for staff to monitor any fishy activity.

Seventeen eager customers were waiting outside the door when the store officially opened at 10 a.m. on February 24. One minute later, the first paying customer departed. Weston resident and trucking firm operator Douglas Wardrope put historical significance ahead of what was actually in his paper bag. “I’m not even sure of what I got,” he told the Star. “I guess I just wanted to be first.” (For the record, he bought a $2.55 bottle of Canadian whisky.) Wardrope raved about the new store, especially how fast he was in and out.

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40 South Station Street as it looked in 2011. Photo by Cherri Hurst/Weston Historical Society.

Customers in Weston weren’t the only beneficiaries of change that day. In the traditional counter-service liquor stores and Brewers’ Retail outlets, the hated slips were amended so that signatures were no longer required—customers just filled in their brand preference. While self-service would prove the dominant form of store, it took twenty-five years before the last of the counter service stores was phased out.

As for that first self-serve store, the site is currently occupied by the Islamic Education Guidance Center.

Additional information from the July 24, 1968 edition of the Globe and Mail; the July 24, 1968, February 20, 1969, February 21, 1969, and February 23, 1969 editions of theToronto Star; and the February 21, 1969 and February 22, 1969 editions of theTelegram.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

This story was referenced in a story on the history of selling liquor at LCBO stores I wrote for TVO in 2017, a piece which also led to my first television appearance.

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From the February 21, 1969 edition of the Telegram, the pros and cons of allowing self-serve liquor stores.

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The Telegram, February 22, 1969.