by Joan Champ
Saskatchewan beer parlours were men-only enclaves until the early 1960s, when provincial liquor legislation permitted mixed drinking in newly christened “beverage rooms.”
Since the Second World War, the case had gradually built for more liberal liquor laws in Saskatchewan. Veterans of the war had fond memories of spending a happy hour or two with their girls in English pubs or European bistros. After the war, however, women were only permitted to drink with men in Legion halls, in private clubs, at weddings, in hotel rooms, or in their own homes.
In 1958, Saskatchewan’s Liquor Sales Outlet Inquiry Committee investigated provincial liquor laws. In its report released that July, the committee recommended that beer parlours should be improved, and that there should be mixed drinking outlets. During the debate that followed in the legislature, Attorney-General Robert A. Walker said he supported mixed drinking in beverage rooms. This change would, he believed, end “the obscene kind of drinking” that took place in the beer parlour, “an outlet which caters to the lowest common denominator of depravity.”
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 to be allowed into these new liquor outlets. Regulations required that hotels make renovations to convert their beer parlours into beverage rooms to accommodate mixed drinking. Men-only beer parlours could continue to operate.
The City of Prince Albert did not waste any time holding its local option vote. On June 29, 1959, the Daily Herald reported, city voters gave new liquor outlets “a resounding splash of approval.” The 25 per cent of the 15,000 eligible voters who turned out at the polls on that warm and sunny Monday gave their approval by a margin of two to one.
Perhaps this positive outcome was a result, in part, of the full-page advertisement placed in the Daily Herald by the Hotels Association of Saskatchewan the day before the vote was held. For years, temperance advocates had lobbied to prevent beer parlours from making improvements that might make drinking an “attractive” or “glamorous” experience. “Why,” the Association asked, “should persons who wish a drink be deprived of decent surroundings or comfortable furniture?” With the voters’ approval, the hotel owners pledged to make improvements to their drinking establishments. “Certain ugly, dingy and non-glamorous outlets are not desirable,” the Association stated.
The thought of women in beer parlours was frowned upon by many, however. The prevailing conviction was that a woman’s proper role was as a wife, mother and homemaker. Many considered beer parlours to be morally compromised places frequented by morally suspect patrons. The issue was further complicated by the fact that a lot of men, including many hotel operators, workers, and their customers, simply did not want women in what was considered male social space. Hotelmen feared that the presence of women might curtail the consumption of beer. Male camaraderie might be inhibited.
Nevertheless, Prince Albert hotelmen could see the writing on the barroom wall. After the vote results were announced, several local hotel managers revealed to the Daily Herald that they had already made preliminary plans to make changes. “We will definitely apply for both a beverage room and a dining room licence,” stated Norman Jarvis, manager of the Marlboro Hotel. “As a matter of fact, the sketches of alterations have been made, and we expect to have our blueprints about the first part of next week.”
Ralph Nash at the Lincoln Hotel on Central Avenue said, “Of course, we will apply for a beverage license now that the vote has indicated that the public wishes this kind of service.” The Lincoln Hotel did not unveil its “new look” until 1967 under the management John Semchuk. “The new renovated Beverage Room is one of the finest in the city,” the Lincoln’s ad in the Herald proclaimed. “A place to meet your friends or take your wife … the cool comfortable surroundings will make you feel well at ease.”
Throughout the 1960s, the hotels throughout Saskatchewan spent millions of dollars to make improvements to their beverage rooms. Carpet, acoustic tile and inset lighting were installed, and new entrances were constructed to accommodate the new liquor laws. At the 1962 convention of the Hotels Association, George B. Stewart, chairman of the provincial liquor licensing commission, told the delegates 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.”
Thanks to the Bill Smiley Archives for its assistance in the preparation of this column.