A Walk Around Town – Walk T – T is for Temperance

Excerpt from “Walk T” in “St. Catharines A-Z” by Junius, originally published in the St. Catharines Journal on September 25th, 1856.

This week Junius speaks of the Temperance movement and, as usual, is not shy with his opinions on the consumption of alcohol:

“That good old Book, the Holy Bible, is the best Temperance Lecture Teetotal Code and Cold Water work now extant, and were its pure precepts, high injunctions, holy teachings, salutary admonitions and divine commands liv’d manfully out, and not mercenarily up to strictly by each and all; our world would not be disgraced by drunkenness, our country would not be inflicted by drunkards, our cities would not be filled with sots, our towns would not be overrun with walking beer barrels, our streets would not be crowded with staggering signboards, our alleys would not be replete with swaggering swill-tubs, our highways and byways would not be plagued with swelled heads and bloated faces, our jails and prisons would not be stuffed with bloated criminals and society would not be pestered with demoralizing demons!” But as it was in the days of Noah so it is now; but we hope it shall not ever be, world without end Amen!  For mad intemperance has been the great crying sin of the whole civilized world for several generations past. And indeed this alcoholic demon has swept off more men, killed more people, ruined more families, and destroyed more inhabitants than either fire, famine, fever and fury combined.”

The first Temperance group in this area was the “Thorold Temperance Society” which held its first meeting on December 25th, 1829.  The first St. Catharines Temperance Society meeting was held on January 20th, 1830 in the Methodist Chapel.  The constitution of the Thorold Temperance Society was adopted by the St. Catharines group.  The Chairman of the St. Catharines Temperance Society was Oliver Phelps (a.k.a. Junius) and the Secretary was William Lewis.

Junius goes on to describe the Temperance Society and they work they were doing: “Great efforts have been hitherto here made on this behalf. Meetings were frequently held, discussions, telling and interesting, both pro and con, speeches extempore and written, were delivered, feeling enlisted and excitement waxed warm, many were convinced and converted, many remained steadfast and firm; some, we regret to say, returned to their old wanton ways, like the “sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire;” and we know that eternity alone will disclose the immense, beneficial results, which the Temperance and Total Abstinence Societies here have effected…”

Temperance address 1831 - 2
Temperance Address 1831. St. Catharines Museum Reference Collection.

Local Temperance Societies met and discussed what measures could be taken to rid the towns of alcohol consumption. They also tried to convince individuals who drank to end those practices.

 

There is a long history related to the manufacture, selling, importing, exporting and eventual government control of alcohol. The Ontario Temperance Act was not passed until 1916. This act led to prohibition.  Initially the act prohibited the sale of alcohol, although it could still be manufactured and consumed. Interestingly enough, individuals could still obtain alcohol from doctors or drugstores, and of course could make their own, as long as they were not selling it.  Prohibition inevitably led to bootlegging and there are many stories of alcohol bootlegging in this area, especially because of the proximity to the Niagara River.  Fishermen were known to run “hooch” to Port Dalhousie and Port Colborne from the United States.

It is believed that prohibition failed because of changing public opinion on the consumption of alcohol, and the government’s inability to control the illegal activity that prohibition bred. By 1927 the Temperance Act was overturned by the Liquor Control Act and the Liquor Control Board of Ontario was established to control liquor distribution and tax all liquor that is sold in these government run facilities.

 

Written By, Alicia Floyd

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