Semantics, Addiction Concepts, and Abnormal Drinks: A Reflection on the Historical Language of Habit

Editor’s Note: Points is honored to welcome today a guest blogger firmly ensconced in the print world– Dan Malleck, Editor-in-Chief of our sister publication The Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, which is the official journal of the Alcohol and Drugs History Society.  When he’s not milling paper and setting lead type, Dan is an Associate Professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at Brock University in Ontario, Canada, where he teaches medical history.  In the essay below, he considers a few stones he left unturned in the process of writing his forthcoming book, Try to Control Yourself: The Regulation of Public Drinking in Post-Prohibition Ontario, 1927-1944.  For  expanded discussion of the “rubby habit” (with differerent charts!) see Dan Malleck, “The Meaning of Addiction in the Rubbing Alcohol Habit: The Rise and Fall of the Rubby”  Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, Vol 25, #1-2.

The Regulatory Body

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 It was but one of many government liquor control agencies that emerged after prohibition legislation began to be rescinded in various North American jurisdictions in the first half of the twentieth century.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.

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 my 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. (Expected publication date, May 2012, from UBC Press. Shameless plug over.)

Yet, with the book in the can, I still have some unfinished business and it is a little embarrassing. 

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