By the 1930s, the language of addiction was applied to drinkers only when they were using something unusual, something dangerous.
When it was formed in 1927, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) was nothing new. It was but one of many government liquor control agencies that emerged after prohibition legislation began to be rescinded in various North American jurisdictions in the first half of the 20th century. It was loosely based upon the Gothenburg system of government regulation, the "disinterested management" model of beverage alcohol sales. It instituted government sale of spirits, and tightly regulated the private sale of beer and wine. In 1934, when legislative change allowed for the sale of regular strength beer and wine in licensed parts of hotels (beer in "beverage rooms" and beer and wine in "dining rooms") it expanded its regulatory gaze accordingly, attempting to ensure that hotel beverage sales were as "disinterested" as possible within a private hospitality industry. Yet, compared to what was going on across Canada by this time, the LCBO was, in so many ways, merely one of many.
- "Rock" Raines and The Good Doctor
- Depression Depressants: Why Are We Drinking So Much?
- Remembering a Drug Activist: Siobhan Reynolds
And yet (and you knew there was an "and yet" justificatory statement coming) a study of the LCBO can be informative. Set up in the most populous province in Canada, with the second largest land mass of provinces (the Northwest Territories are not included here) the LCBO had to reach far beyond its offices in Toronto to regulate the drinking activities of a diverse population. Moreover, the province of Ontario borders several of those United States, which, after 1933, each had their own much more liberal liquor regulatory regimes. So the board had a challenge: to create a regulated, orderly drinking environment that was good enough to keep Ontarians in the province, out of illegal drinking places, and drinking in a way that did not result in what the temperance forces maintained would be total social chaos.
That is all well and good, and you can read my book when it comes out later this year. Yet, with the book in the can, I still have some unfinished business and it is a little embarrassing. When I applied for a grant to support this research, I sought a history of medicine grant. I argued that the work of the LCBO would give us insight into the perception of addiction, of how notions of biomedical dysfunction were affected by government regulation, and I aspired to explore the role of government in the medicalization of inebriety. There was certainly some grounding for these expectations. Historian James Nicholls directed me towards the work of the U.K.'s wartime Central Control Board - Liquor Traffic.