Saturday, 9 July 2011

"Ladies and Escorts:" Saskatchewan Liquor Laws in the 1960s

“The most unfortunate feature of the present system is the social discrimination against women, who are looked on as incapable of making their own choices.This business regarding women and Indians, more than half the population, as irresponsible, should be ended.”
- Prof. J. M. Naylor, University of Saskatchewan, Star-Phoenix survey on Saskatchewan's liquor laws, May 8, 1958, p. 3 Source

When Jack Morrow and his son John opened the Shell Lake Hotel on November 15, 1957, only men were allowed in the beer parlour. On Saturday nights, while the farmers were enjoying each other’s company in the bar, their wives often had nowhere else to go. The Morrows made a tiny room in the hotel basement available to women where they could visit without disturbing, or being disturbed by, the men. [Pages of the Past: History of Shell Lake-Mont Nebo Districts, 1983, p. 423] There was a long-standing prairie conviction that women and the public consumption of alcohol did not mix. [James H. Gray, Bacchanalia Revisited, 1982] Saskatchewan beer parlours were men-only enclaves until the early 1960s, when provincial liquor legislation permitted mixed drinking in newly christened “beverage rooms.”

The issue of mixed drinking was briefly debated by the members of the Hotels Association of Saskatchewan at their 22nd annual convention in May 1953. Some felt that allowing women into parlours would create a “more polite” atmosphere and would cut down on drinking in cars. Most, however, were opposed. “If you’re looking for trouble, open ladies’ beer parlours,” one delegate said. Two women hotel operators stated that they felt “that the woman’s place should be in the home and also that they wouldn’t care to look after a woman’s parlour.” In the end, it was decided to leave the decision to “outside organizations.” ["Ladies’ Beer Parlors Discussed by Hotelmen,” in Regina Leader-Post, May 20, 1953, p. 4Click for source 

Gradually, the case built for more liberal liquor laws in Saskatchewan. Veterans of the Second World War had fond memories of spending a happy hour or two with their girls in English pubs or European bistros. After the war, Canadian women were only permitted to drink with men in Legion halls and private clubs. In 1954-55, Manitoba's Bracken Commission investigated the liquor control system and recommended that all provinces hold plebiscites and let people decide if they wanted to widen drinking provisions, including the opening of public drinking facilities to women. This was welcome news to Norm and Sadie Jacklin, owners of the Climax Hotel close to the US border. Many times an American husband and wife travelling through and stopping at the hotel would have to be discreetly taken aside and told about the Saskatchewan liquor law. [Prairie Wool: A History of Climax and Surrounding School Districts, 1980, p. 35] 

In 1958, calls for mixed drinking increased. Regina Police Chief A. G. Cookson, speaking to the local branch of the Associated Canadian Travellers in March, said that men-only bars encouraged rowdyism and vulgarity. “Inject a little dignity into beer parlours by permitting mixed drinking,” he said. “When women are allowed into the parlours it restricts the activity of men.” ["Police Chief Raps Saskatchewan Liquor Laws; Advocates Mixed Drinking, Special Club Licenses," Star-Phoenix, March 8, 1958, p. 3]  

Liquor Sales Outlet Inquiry 

Throughout 1958, Saskatchewan’s Liquor Sales Outlet Inquiry Committee conducted a short but highly energetic investigation. Guided by the Bracken Commission, its ten members visited liquor outlets in Manitoba, Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and North Dakota, received 40 written briefs and heard 80 oral submissions from various organizations. The brief from the provincial hotels association showed it had softened its position. “Women are capable of looking after themselves,” said association president George G. Grant, “and should be allowed to take a drink along with men if they want to.” ["Hotel Association Brief Advocates Mixed Drinking If Liquor Laws Revised," Star-Phoenix, May 2, 1958, p. 3] On the other hand, Norman McGillivray of the Saskatchewan Temperance Federation expressed strong opposition to women in beer parlours. “There are many nice women who would like to have a drink, no doubt,” he said, “but there are many of the other kind, and it would provide them with a nice, warm office.” ["Temperance Group Gets Thorough Quiz as Liquor Outlet Probe is Launched," Star-Phoenix, May 2, 1958, p. 14]

In July of 1958, the committee released its detailed findings. Click to read full story  Three of the main recommendations concerning Saskatchewan’s liquor laws were:  Beer parlours should be improved; the liquor act should be more strictly enforced; and there should be mixed drinking outlets. During the brief debate in the provincial legislature, Attorney-General Robert A. Walker defined the beer parlour as “an outlet which caters to the lowest common denominator of depravity.” He supported beverage rooms with mixed drinking, believing they would end “the obscene kind of drinking” that is done in beer parlours. ["Bars. Beverage Rooms Debated," Star-Phoenix, March 17, 1959, p. 3] 

Liquor Licensing Act

On April 1, 1959, the Liquor Licensing Act established a process of local options votes whereby licensed dining rooms, cocktail bars, and beverage rooms could be established in Saskatchewan communities. Women were allowed into these new liquor outlets. Regulations required that hotel make renovations to convert their beer parlours into beverage rooms in order to accommodate mixed drinking.  Men-only beer parlours could continue to operate, but no beer parlour licenses would be issued to hotels not already licensed at the beginning of 1959. 

Local option votes were held in 195 Saskatchewan centres in November 1959. Surprisingly, the “dry” sentiment still ran strong throughout the rural areas of the province, and most of these communities voted “No” to the new types of liquor outlets. They would have to wait until 1964 before they could vote on the question again. ["Some Saskatchewan Communities Disapprove of New Liquor Laws," Montreal Gazette, Nov 16, 1959, p. 7] 

Leask was one of the few villages in the province that voted to allow a new liquor outlet in 1959. By February 1960, the Windsor Hotel owned by George Cuelenaere was operating one of the first beverage rooms in small-town Saskatchewan. The beverage room, which could accommodate 150 persons, had been decorated in shades of mocha, rosewood and aqua, with matching furniture. ["First Rural Beverage Room in Operation at Leask," Star-Phoenix, Feb. 11, 1960, p. 14] 


In 1961, the Hotels Association of Saskatchewan debated a proposal to hire women to serve beer and wine in beverage rooms. At the association’s annual convention, a woman delegate “received a hearty round of applause when she said that especially in smaller places women should be allowed to work in beverage rooms because a wife could then help out her husband.” George B. Stewart, chairman of the provincial liquor licensing commission, expressed concern about what the hiring of barmaids would do to "the breadwinner of the family." “Put yourself in the place of a person who would be displaced by employing a female,” he said. Stewart urged that the hotelmen study the issue more closely before making any recommendation. Stewart was pleased with having women customers, however. “Permitting the ladies in has made for a much happier operation,” he said. “God bless the ladies for that!” ["Waiters May Be Too Costly, Regina Leader-Post, May 18, 1961, p. 4] Click for source Women were finally allowed to serve beer in Saskatchewan beverage rooms in 1965. They were not, however, permitted to serve beer in beer parlours unless they were wives of hotel licensees or unless they were hotel owners and operators themselves 

Improvements Noticed 

Fields of Prosperity: A History of Englefeld 1903-19
In the early 1960s, a study conducted for the Government of Saskatchewan by research psychologists Robert Dewar and Robert Sommer found that the drinking habits of residents in an unnamed small town had changed very little in the two years following the changeover from a beer parlour to a beverage room in the local hotel. “The dire predictions that the new beverage outlet would sharply increase drinking in the community have not been fulfilled,” the authors reported. 
["Opening of New Liquor Outlet Failed to Change Drinking Habits," Star-Phoenix, May 1, 1963, p. 3] Click for source 

A questionnaire distributed to 179 beverage room operators in Saskatchewan by the provincial liquor licensing commission found improvements in the pattern of drinking behavior, stating that the overall trend was to more leisurely drinking. This improvement was attributed to the presence of women “who are more moderate.” [Sask. Drinking Habits Improve, Regina Leader-Post, May 18, 1961, p. 4] Click for source 

In 1962, Stewart told the 31st convention of the Hotels Association that, prior to the passage of the Liquor Licensing Act three years earlier, “the people of Saskatchewan were the most uncivilized drinkers in the world.” Since then, he asserted, the overall standards of beverage rooms were “magnificent,” saying women had lent the new drinking establishments “an air of decency.” “The Liquor Licensing Commission will be happy when every beer parlour in the province is converted to a beverage room,” Stewart said. ["Act Credited as Drinking Habits Better, Star-Phoenix, May 18, 1962, p. 5]
Mrs. Pauline Sopatyk, Mrs. Olga Wutzke and Mrs. Buzzy Lutzer enjoying a drink in Saskatoon's first mixed drinking beverage room at the Sutherland Hotel, Star-Phoenix, January 6, 1960. Image source
It would take another ten years before the last “Men Only” bars disappeared from Saskatchewan. In the meantime, millions of dollars were spent by the hotel owners of the province making improvements to their guest rooms, dining facilities and licensed outlets. Ab Montgomery, proprietor of the Tisdale Hotel, spent $60,000 enlarging and renovating his facility in 1964. Most of the changes were to the beverage room. Carpet, acoustic tile and inset lighting were installed and a new entrance was constructed. New tables and upholstered chairs were added. [“Hotel Changes Cost $60,000,” Leader-Post, Nov. 17, 1964, p. 2] Joe and Bernie Kaufman, owners of the Ponteix Hotel, began extensive renovations to their beer parlour in 1961 to accommodate the new liquor laws. The result was a more pleasant beverage room that included a fountain, a large aquarium, and carpeting throughout. [Ponteix Yesterday and Today, Volume 1, 1991, p. 345]

Last Men-Only Bastion 

Vic Lynn, proprietor of the Warman Hotel, had to wait until 1972 to have mixed drinking in his establishment. Warman residents had consistently voted against mixed drinking in local option votes. Amendments to provincial liquor laws in 1972 changed the status of beer parlours. Lynn could finally take down the “Men Only” sign and replace it with a "Ladies and Escorts" sign. He had to make a few changes, increasing the seating from 50 to 100 and constructing women’s washroom facilities. The Warman Hotel just north of Saskatoon and the hotel at Marchwell southeast of Yorkton were the last two beer parlours in Saskatchewan that did not allow women to drink in their premises. ["No More ‘Men Only'," Star-Phoenix, May 25, 1972, p. 10]  

Warman Hotel, last bastion of men-only drinking in Saskatchewn. Image source
 © Joan Champ 2011