References to the complex relationship that Prince Edward Island has with alcohol often highlight that prohibition came first and left last here, with a ban on the retail sale of alcohol enacted in 1900 and not lifted until 1948. Usually that’s where the story ends.
The reality is that the liquor laws of PEI are still firmly rooted in the temperance movement of days gone by: liquor sales are a tightly regulated government monopoly, regulations about where and when alcohol can be served are bizarre, and alcohol continues to be treated, at least officially, as a demon against which strong defenses are required. The Liquor Control Act runs 41 pages, its accompanying regulations another 51 pages; inside you’ll find prose such as:
The Commission being of the opinion that all proprietary or patent medicines, extracts, essences, lotions, tinctures and preparations which contain alcohol, whether of a solid, semi-solid or liquid nature, can be used as a beverage or as the ingredient of a beverage, hereby prohibits the sale thereof by retail within the province, except by persons duly licensed by the Commission to keep and sell the same by retail.
A licensee may obtain special authorization from the Commission to permit dancing in the licensed dining room area for private functions closed to the general public.
An application for a permit for a clergyman to purchase wine for sacramental purposes shall be in Form 3 and the permit shall be in Form 4 and there shall be no fee for such permit.
We’re 59 years after prohibition “ended” and yet, in so many ways, the attitudes that gave rise to it are still at the heart and soul of our liquor legislation.
In the day to day course of my life this is of absolutely no importance to me. But last night we came up against the full force of these laws, and significant tantrums ensued.
Summerside, you see, is hosting a Tall Ships Festival this week, and part of the entertainment scheduled was a Lennie Gallant concert last night at the Silver Fox Curling Club. My parents are in town this week, and we thought it might make a nice night out to take them up for dinner and the show. Catherine phoned earlier in the week and reserved 5 tickets — “two seniors, two adults and a child” she told them. No problem.
When we showed up at the Silver Fox last night at quarter to eight, however, the man at the door took one look at Oliver and shook his head: the concert, it seems, was a “licensed event.” Meaning no kids. We could go in without Oliver, or, maybe, get our tickets refunded and all go home empty-Gallanted.
Now keep in mind that we’d just walked across the street from the Loyalist Country Inn where Oliver sat amongst his family has beer and wine were consumed inside a bar festooned with manifestations of alcohol. But that was okay because, well, it was in a location “such that food may readily be procured for consumption therein.”
Move across the street, however, and add music (no doubt a enabler of the demonizing influences of alcohol in ways I just can’t understand) and all bets are off.
Oliver, as you might imagine, understood none of the subtlety of all this, and was convinced that the evil man at the door simply didn’t like him. It took a lot of explaining about “backwards laws” and the composition of several distractatory songs to disabuse him of this. And I’m still pretty sure he’ll bear a lifelong feeling that the people of Summerside have a hate-on for him.
I don’t consider myself one of those bitter new residents of PEI who are always going on about the lack of decent arugula and the paucity of good ballet. I’m a pretty satisfied guy when it comes to the Island’s eccentricities and conservative tendencies.
But although I’m not even a particularly engaged consumer of the demon alcohol myself, this would appear to be one area of Island life that could use an injection of some modernity.