Monday, 21 February 2011

Saskatchewan’s Hotel Bars Before Prohibition

Bar at the Fielding Hotel, 1915.  Glenbow Archives, NA-3853-23

"You have to be a certain type of person to look after a bar in a hotel, as you meet all kinds of people under the influence of liquor.”
     - Irene Lessard, Baldwinton Hotel

The hotel bar was a busy place in small-town Saskatchewan in the early 1900s. The Legislative Assembly of the North West Territories passed the Liquor License Ordinance of 1892.  For about $200, hotels could obtain a license which allowed them to sell liquor by the glass at the bar, as well as off-sale liquor (by which bottles could be taken out of the premises).   

License for the Beaver Hotel at Denholm, 1914.
From Western Development Museum,
The typical Saskatchewan hotel in 1910 had a long, ornate wooden bar complete with a large mirror behind it, brass foot rails, and brass spittoons.  A sign over the beverage room door read, “Licensed to sell spirituous or fermented liquors.” These were stand-up bars for men only – there were no chairs. Over the bar, the bartender served lager beer, wine, brandy and gin, as well as soft drinks.  Whiskey sold for ten cents a glass.  

W. Laing behind the bar of the Grand Hotel at Moosomin, c. 1905.
From Moosomin Century One: Town and Country (1981)
 The hotel bars did a roaring trade. According to the Pense local history book (1982), the Carlton Hotel was built at a cost of about $48,000, and the original owner made $25,000 in a single year. “It had 30 rooms and for several years after it was built it was full every day. It also had a large bar, which on one picnic day sold $1,000 worth of liquor, the liquor being purchased by the carload.” The hotel at MacNutt stayed open on sports days. “It was on days such as this that we usually sold 500 to 600 bottles of liquor in one day,” Philip Schappert, the hotel bartender recalled.   

Prud'homme Hotel bar, n.d. Owner Joseph Marcotte on right.  Glenbow Archives, NA-3853-33
Things really got hopping on Saturdays.  Farmers who had to haul their grain for many miles stopped into the hotel to eat and quench their thirst after a hot and dusty journey “With families dispersed into the country stores to shop, visit friends, and exchange gossip,” James Gray writes in Booze (1974), “the farmers had the opportunity [to slip away for a drink] if they had the urge.” There were a few fights on Saturday nights at the hotels in those days.  T. L. Ferris described the scene for the Fielding history book (1984). “A Saturday night was quite different from anything you might see today,” he recalled. “There were no street lights in those days and only the hanging light on the wide north porch lit up the entrance to the bar. We’d see noisy drunks come reeling out and many a fight livened up our evenings.” A story is told about the North-West Hotel in Ceylon owned by William J. Coffron of a certain Irishman who had a few too many drinks and wanted to cause a disturbance. “Mr. Coffron got him upstairs and handcuffed him to the bedstead,” the Ceylon history book records (1980). “Before long, he was coming down the stairs carrying the bedstead with him.” At the Strasbourg Hotel, rumour had it that a fellow rode his horse in and shot up the bar.  Subsequent owners maintain that the bullets are still in the wall.  

Parkside Hotel bar, c. 1910.  From Follow the Spirit (1980)
Concern about the high rate of alcohol consumption led to the appearance of Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in Saskatchewan. Its primary objective was to combat the evils of whiskey. Pressure from the WCTU and the Banish-the-Bar movement resulted in an announcement by Premier Walter Scott in March, 1915 that all bars in Saskatchewan would be closed as of July 1, 1915.
© Joan Champ, 2011


  1. What a wonderful resource this is. Thank U for your work. Fascinating.

  2. Thanks for reading! I just clicked onto your small-town Saskatchewan videos web site and realized that I have posted a couple of your videos on my blog. I hope you're getting more hits as a result! I really appreciate the video resource that you have provided for preserving the history of our province.

    I haven't posted anything new recently - waiting for further inspiration I guess.


  3. Fascinating stuff! Have you got anything on Fielding, a tiny settlement north of Saskatoon? It just isn't there anymore.

    1. Thanks Edwin George. I don't have much on Fielding - just the photo of the bar above. The Fielding Hotel burned down in 1922 - perhaps because of Prohibition. The Fielding local history book, Take the Soil in Your Hands, by Prechti (1984), says that the hotel fire, "has always been considered the turning point of the decline of the village." The fire began in a stable west of the hotel, and "literally exploded in all directions." The hotel, the livery barn, the telephone office, the post office, the butcher shop, the general store and several other buildings were destroyed. "Here ended the dream of some of the pioneer promoters."