Monday, March 12, 2012

Medicinal Spirits: Prescribing Liquor during Prohibition, 1919

The patriotic fervour of the Great War was a great impetus to the passing of nation-wide prohibition.  Sir Robert Borden could rely on the notion that the use of grain for alcoholic purposes was a waste of precious war material when he passed the bill against the booze.  At the war's end, it was illegal to import, transport, or create liquor with more than 2.5% alcohol content.
File number: NA-4534-2
Title: Soldier in dispensary, during First World War.
Date: [ca. 1914-1918]
The consumption of liquor for medicinal purposes, however, was perfectly legal during these dry days in the Dominion.  Ramsay Cook and Robert Craig Brown note in A Nation Transformed (1972, p. 301),  the tendency to abuse the stipulation that alcohol could still be used for health purposes.  In 1919, one writer in Vancouver noted:

"Toward Christmas especially it looked as if an epidemic of colds and colics had struck the country like a plague.  In Vancouver queues a mile long could be seen waiting their turn to enter the liquor stores to get prescriptions filled. Hindus, Japanese and Chinese varied the lines of the afflicted of many races.  It was a kaleidoscopic procession waiting in the rain for a replenishment that would drive the chills away; and it was alleged that several doctors needed a little alcoholic liniment to soothe the writer's cramp caused by inditing their signature at two dollars per line."

Interior of Knowlton's Drug Store [15 Hastings Street East] - [ca. 1920] City of Vancouver Archives 99-1338

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