The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: Prohibition

One City Shop Selling 1,100 qts. of Whiskey Daily

The little old man’s assurance begins to fail him, but he demands in a quavering voice: “What’s the matter with it?”

Nearly Everybody Around Yonge and Front Seems to Carry a Handbag.
Govt. Dispensary Sells Alcohol, Too
Far More Sick People Requiring Prescriptions on Saturday Than on Other Days.

By Gregory Clark, November 1, 1919.

Looking at the passersby at the corner of Yonge and Front streets, one would conclude that about seventy-five per cent of them were traveling salesmen. For they all carry some sort of a little hand-bag. The little square miniature suitcase is the favorite style. But the variety runs from the plain old family valise down to the homely sateen shopping bag.

The style of bag doesn’t matter, so long as it will contain one quart bottle of whiskey.

For this stream of apparent salesmen is nothing less than the eight hundred daily customers of Ontario Government Dispensary, No. 1, of 29 Front street east.

Eight hundred to a thousand customers a day is the average run on this, the leading Government liquor store in the Province. And one quart of whiskey is the average purchase. Saturday the customers average as high as 1,700 to 2,000. Thus we an arrive at the conclusion that Toronto consumes per day about one thousand one hundred quarts of liquor from this source.

The Government Dispensary on Front street is one of two in Toronto, the other being at the corner of Dundas and Dovercourt road. It is one of seven in Ontario, the others being one each in Ottawa, Kingston, Hamilton, London and Windsor.

But the Front street shop, which is the liquor headquarters of the Province, does fifty per cent of all the business of the Province, or as much as the six other shops put together. This includes not only the large daily trade over the counter to Torontonians, but also an immense mail order trade, the liquor being shipped by express to all points in the Province.

Liquor Headquarters

But this liquor headquarters hath a mild and orderly appearance, for all its activity. The shop itself is no larger than the liquor shop of the bad old days. One wall is entirely covered with shelves full of liquor. The back of the shop is occupied by three little cages, labelled, “Censor” and “Cashier.” The main part of the room is nicely railed off with iron bars like the approach to the ticket booths at the Exhibition.

The customer on entering the shop is directed into the railed runway by a Provincial policeman, who keeps order to the shop. The runway leads to the censor’s cage.

The censors, much to the customer’s astonishment, are not fierce and skeptical old men, but demure and dainty young ladies.

The customer produces his “doctor’s prescription” for one of these fair young censors to look at. She gives it a once over and stamps it. The customer moves on to the cashier’s cage and pays the price of his liquor. Then he reaches the counter, where three busy salesmen are at work. One of these takes the customer’s prescription, skewers it on a file and hands out the quart of whiskey, gin, wine or pure alcohol, as called for.

Then the customer slips his bottle into the little hand-bag and emerges into the open with the keen expression of a stationery salesman looking for business.

It is amazing to watch the lineup of patients at Store No. 1. There are the elderly, dignified old business gentlemen and the poor draggled, old washerwomen; rakish, tilt-hatted toughs in their dancing clothes, and slim, cool-eyed young business men, who have been smoking cigarets for two years; rich, poor, old and young.

Here comes a furiously-bearded old foreigner in a frock coat.

“Vishnick!” he cries, hoarsely, to the Provincial Policeman.

Foreigners Get Alcohol

“Vishnick’s all gone,” says the young lady censor.

” Vishnick! Vishnick!” yells the old man, violently, waving his special prescription from the rabbi.

“All gone!”

“Fini” shouts one of the cashiers, who wears a returned soldier button.

“Napoo!”

And the prophetical-looking old man is ushered out, hoarsely roaring “Vishnick!”

Here comes a poor, seedy little old man with the marks of the demon on every part of his frail old form. And he assumes a jaunty and assured air that fits him ill.

He presents his prescription to the fair censor. She gives it the critical eye, apparently finds something amiss with it, and calls the Provincial Policeman over to look at it.

The little old man’s assurance begins to fail him, but he demands in a quavering voice, “What’s the matter wiff it?”

The moment the Policeman turns his back to go and telephone the doctor whose prescription this purports to be, the little old man wheels, and with remarkable agility, makes a lightning exit, and returns no more.

Here come two high-cheeked sandy mustached Russians, who each secure one quart of pure alcohol.

This mystery we later discuss with Assistant Deputy Chief of Police, Robert Geddes.

“Surely,” we protest. “It is as plain as day that those Russians get that pure alcohol for no other purpose than to manufacture more liquor in illicit stills!”

“Possibly, possibly!” replied the Assistant Deputy. “But you must also take into consideration the racial peculiarities of the Russians. They take a thimbleful of this pure alcohol and hold it in their mouths till their eyes pop from their sockets and their heads are bathed in sweat. That cures all their ills. Furthermore, the Russians mix alcohol with their porridge, soup, and other foods. Very nourishing, they say.”

From the above facts, the following truths appear to arise:

That one out of every five hundred men, women, and children in Toronto require one quart of whiskey per day for the relief or cure of disease, at a doctor’s order.

That on Saturday there are twice as many sick people who require whiskey as there are on other week days.

That Russians are a peculiarly constituted people, whose ailments are better treated with pure alcohol than by whiskey or gin. There were sixty-nine quarts of pure alcohol sold last Saturday, part of it to Russians.

These things we took to Chief License Commissioner J. D. Flavelle.

With regard to the young lady censors, he said:

“They are supplied with copies of all doctors’ signatures. They can censor quite as well as any man could.”

With regard to the selling of liquor to doubtful-looking customers and of pure alcohol to foreigners, Mr. Flavelle said:

“We have no responsibilities whatever in that regard. We have simply to carry out what the doctor’s prescription calls for. The responsibility for the amount of liquor and for the sale of the liquor rests wholly upon the doctors of Ontario.”

Twice a month the Dispensary furnishes the Board of License Commissioners with a complete list of sales, showing the number of prescriptions issued by each doctor. These records are kept on file, and are open to the inspection of the Provincial Government.


Editor’s Notes: This article shows the craziness of early prohibition in Ontario. People would need doctor’s notes for purchasing alcohol for “medicinal” purposes, but obviously people were breaking the rules. Everybody knew it was nonsense, hence the mocking tone of Greg’s writing about the “patients”, and “sick people”, and how everyone wanted to hide from others that they were buying alcohol by carrying their little bags. It is also a little racist, pointing out that “foreigners” or “Russians” can buy pure alcohol, and the assumption is they are up to something illegal. I was also struck with how few stores initially existed, with the rest of the province having to rely on mail-order, not unlike the roll-out of legal cannabisĀ in Ontario in 2019, 100 years later.

“Vishnick”, or Vishnyak is a cherry liqueur popular with Eastern European Jews at the time.

The Plebiscite at Birdseye Center

October 18, 1924

Ontario conducted it’s 5th plebiscite on Prohibition on October 23, 1924. (following ones in 1894, 1902, 1919, and 1921). Prohibition was not successful in 1894 and 1902. It was instituted nationally in 1916 during World War 1, but removed (nationally) in 1919. The 1919 referendum voted to keep it in Ontario, and the 1921 one voted to ban the import of alcohol. The 1924 referendum was whether to keep prohibition. It was approved by only 51.5%, a result that did not sit well with many and urban centers voted against it, while rural areas voted in favour of it.

Where are the Bartenders of Yesterday?

“The expression on their faces of some of the old boys, as they sipped pink pop, was more than I could stand.”

By Gregory Clark, September 15, 1923

Into the private office of the manager of a large wholesale establishment on Wellington street was admitted a middle-aged gentleman of refined appearance who told the information girl guarding the sanctum that he was an old friend of the manager.

The manager looked up as the visitor entered, stared at him with a look of puzzlement on his face, and smiled.

The visitor was smiling broadly.

“I have called,” he said, “to see if I could write you up for some insurance under a new plan my company offers men of your age.”

“Now, I’m pretty busy,” said the manager. Then, halting, he asked:

“Look here: I know your face well, but hanged if I can place you.”

Still smiling broadly, the visitor came closer to the manager’s desk. Laying his hat down, he snatched a newspaper off the desk, flicked it open, and, with a sudden movement, tucked it like an apron into his vest. Then, leaning both hands on the manager’s desk he leaned forward and said:

“What’s yours, sir?”

The effect was remarkable on the manager. He leaped to his feet and cried:

“Tim, you old scoundrel! Where have you been all these years?”

And the two set about shaking hands as if they were long-lost brothers.

But they were simply two old friends, a bartender and one of his pet customers, meeting for the first time after seven years of drought.

Tim was head bartender in the downtown bar regularly patronized by this business man for years. An intimacy had grown up between them such as few not habituated to drinking in bars can imagine. A formal intimacy like that between golfers and their old pro, or between a lady and her housekeeper of twenty years.

Making him seated and comfortable, the manager asked his old friend:

“What have you been doing?”

“Well,” said Tim, pulling on the cigar. “I have had some rough times. When the old establishment closed, in 1916, I had no plans, like all bartenders, and couldn’t believe it when the doors were really closed. The old boss offered me a job around the hotel as a sort of watchman. But I was deeply insulted. A soft drink bar was opened in the old bar, and I served exactly four days there, for some of the old boys came in, and to see the look on their faces as they drank a glass of pink pop was really more than I could bear. I felt fallen in the world. I felt unclassed. Without warning, for my kids were all grown up, I packed a valise and went over to the States. Not belonging to their union, I had a bad two years there. I was in several New York towns in succession, but getting further and further down in the mouth.

“When the States went dry, I hadn’t enough money to take me to Montreal, the last oasis. So I worked at odd jobs and darn near starved–“

“Poor old Tim,” stuck in the manager, with real sympathy.

“No, no. It was good for me,” said Tim. “While serving in a bar in Syracuse I made the acquaintance of an insurance man. Two years ago I met him on the street one day, and he gave me a job selling insurance.

“‘If a man who has listened to as many sad life stories as you can’t sell insurance,’ he said to me. ‘nobody can.'”

“So here I am looking up, one by one, all my old friends across the mahogany. Do you remember that sad story you told me one night–“

“Easy, Tim, easy!” implored the manager, a changed man after seven years.

“–about your fears for your poor family, and you feeling that your heart was in a delicate condition?”

“Tut, Tim I have a golf handicap of eight.”

At any rate, Tim drew forth, in the approved manner, his booklets and folders outlining in graphic style the proposition his company had to make to business men of fifty and over. And It was a good proposition, in spite of the sentimental appendages to the deal.

For Tim wrote his old friend policy for ten thousand.

Where are the four hundred and fifty bartenders who, up to seven years ago, were quenching Toronto’s thirst with beers, wines and liquors? Where are the skilful jugglers amongst them whom men traveled far to see, as they tossed a cocktail from glass to glass, a gleaming rainbow four feet long? Where are these repositories of the sad life stories of thousands of male citizens of this now happy city?

Their union is broken up. Thorough enquiries at the Toronto Labor Temple failed to discover Arthur O’Leary, former business agent of the Bartenders’ Union, in his heyday one of the most popular figures in the labor world.

Strange to relate, a good many of Toronto’s bartenders have stuck to bartending, even though the quality of the goods they sell is different.

In remnant of what used to be one of the longest bars in Toronto, now remodeled down to a mere fragment of its old glory, a bartender of twenty years’ experience admitted that he was too old to change his calling just because the law changed.

“Is there much difference between selling liquor and soft drinks?” he was asked.

“I feel,” he replied, “like a banker who has failed and has had to take up the grocery business for a livelihood. As a bartender, I was the friend and confidante of members of the business world, half the city hall staff knew me by name, city fathers took council with me, mayors have wept on my shoulder. In the old days, my customers were regular customers. But of that bunch–“

And he waved a contemptuous hand at a dozen people, mostly idle young men, lounging against the soda bar.

“–of that bunch I don’t know one. Never saw them before in my life.”

“What effect has prohibition had on your income?”

“I don’t get one-third the wages I used to make and I get no tips. My income is about a quarter what it was.”

“Prohibition has hit you hard?”

“Yes it has. But I still think the going of the bar is the best thing ever happened. I do, really. For one good bar, where men had a drink, there were three crooked bars where men got drunk. I never let a man get drunk off my bar in my life. Some bartenders considered their job was to rake over the coin. Some of us, however, figured our job was to serve refreshment to men. But we all got hit just the same.”

Most of the bartenders who are still serving drinks are serving them over the former bars of old hotels. Only a couple are in soda parlors.

A few of the bartenders have gone up in the world. One owns a good hotel near the centre of the city. Others have retail businesses, grocery, hardware and boot and shoe.

One very gifted bartender is now in charge of a gasoline station, and is serving up gas and oil without a hint, in the way he serves up a pint of “medium,” that he was in his day one of the most skilful drink slingers in the city.

But others, the older ones, have had a very poor time the last seven years. Some are jobless, some are janitors and handy men around old hostelries.

“It took prohibition,” said one old bartender, who has been out of a job four of the seven years since his profession quit him, “to show up how shallow was bar-room friendship. I had lived in it so long that I had begun to imagine it was genuine.”

“Men who called me affectionately by name when they ordered a drink, sports who got me to do favors for them, men I’ve cashed checks for, all turned me down when I called on them.”

“I wanted a job, recommendation. But a month after the bars were closed, most of them had forgotten who I was. Not three out of fifty of them held out the helping hand when I was in need.”

Perhaps the hardest part of prohibition to the bartender was not the loss of his calling, but the discovery of the fact that the bar-room affection that shed a glamor over his trade was as thin and unsubstantial as the beer fumes that induced it.


Editor’s Note: Prohibition went through all sorts of referendums and polls between 1916 and 1927 in Ontario when it was repealed. Greg was likely not in favour of prohibition, but his newspaper was. At the time of the article in 1923, Howard Ferguson had been elected Premier, and would move slowly and cautiously on limiting the restrictions.

Some Doctors Look Upon Whiskey as a Cure-All

January 26, 1924

This illustration by Jim accompanied an article on how Prohibition made some unscrupulous doctors money as they could give “prescriptions” for alcohol for “medicinal purposes”. The text indicated that one doctor issued 2005 prescriptions in one month. This abuse resulted in limits on how many prescriptions doctors could issue.

Business and Industry Now Chief Prohibition Forces

March 29, 1924

These illustrations were included in an article on Prohibition. In Ontario, it began as what was called “Local Option“, where individual towns could choose to be “dry”. It was introduced across the province in 1916 during World War One. After the war, a coalition of United Farmers and Labour kept prohibition going. After the 1923 election of Conservative Howard Ferguson (pictured as the “referee”), he moved cautiously since public opinion was still split. The illustration below shows the sides. Only after another referendum in 1924 and election in 1926 did prohibition get repealed.

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