In Ontario, the sight of beer in grocery stores still seems completely surreal. Oddly, for residents of this fair province, one of the thrills of traveling is being able to buy beer and liquor in normal stores. Even in Quebec and Alberta – in several other provinces – it’s legal to buy beer in regular stores. The LCBO, which is currently in danger of facing a workers’ strike, it often vilified by the public as an unnecessary provincial monopoly that inconveniences drinkers. The LCBO actually purchases more wholesale liquor than any other company in the world – just let that sink in for a second.
As the summer heats up, people start to crave frosty libations to indulge themselves in the more social months of the Canadian calendar. Summer also means that cops are out in full force issuing tickets for drinking in public – a hefty $125 fine. This discourages young people from engaging in reckless behavior that could lead to poor and dangerous decisions, but it also limits the options of more mature drinkers who feel that it should be their right to share a bottle of wine on the beach or in the park.
In the privacy of you own home, of course, you can do whatever you want. Having friends over for a BBQ or a pool party is one of summer’s great pleasures. For these types of occasions, you can pick up a keg or hire a slick catering service like Bartendo to whip up cocktails for you and your guests, but when the beautiful parks of Toronto (the slogan of the city is “a city within a park” after all) start calling your name and you want to enjoy a few drinks while playing bocce ball, you’re flirting with disaster.
So what is it about Ontario’s culture that has created this stigma around public drinking and liquor laws? In 1904, the city of West Toronto passed a law prohibiting the sale and consumption of alcohol. This prohibition, which mainly affected the neighborhood known today as The Junction, stood for almost a hundred years. At the turn twentieth century, the blue collar Macedonians, Croatians, Irish Catholics, Brits, Italians and Poles that populated the area would drink and fight as if they were in a scene from Gangs of New York. The prohibition bolstered the image the city was trying to cultivate at the time: one of temperance and morality. Ironically, a hundred years later, the Junction became synonymous with petty crime, prostitution and drug dealing; many have argued that the anachronistic law stifled the neighborhood’s economic growth. Today, The Junction is thriving with a rich culinary scene, popular cocktail bars and even a craft brewery with a full menu and seating area.
Italians may drink in the piazza, and Europeans in general enjoy the freedom to drink in public because they seem to have developed a restraint that limits the amount of drunken shenanigans they get up to. In North America, there seems to be a sense that if we were allowed to drink in public all hell would break loose; this certainly seems to be the philosophy of the Ontario government. In the end, the question is more complicated than it seems: are we ill behaved by nature, or out of rebellion because we’re not allowed?