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1984: Ontario announces happy hour ban

The Story


Last call for cheap drinks! Ontario drinkers have one less thing to toast after the provincial government announces that it will eliminate happy hour. That's the practice of offering half-price alcoholic beverages in the late afternoon and early evening. The government says it puts too many drunks on the highways, but some Ontarians are unhappy about the move. In this clip from CBC Television, drinkers, bar owners and police discuss the ground-breaking announcement.

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Dec. 12, 1984
Guest(s): Tony Cipparone, Robert Elgie, Fernando Moniz, Charlene Terry, Robert Weiss, Susan Wills
Host: Knowlton Nash
Reporter: Michael McIvor
Duration: 2:14

Did You know?


• In December 1981, Ontario passed its so-called 'happy hour' legislation. The law allowed bar and restaurant owners to offer reduced drink prices and free food to their customers.

• The government's decision to overturn the law three years later provoked concern from the hospitality industry. Toronto's Sheraton Centre responded by offering reduced-alcohol drinks for a scaled-down price.

• Until around 1970 most Canadian drinking establishments had separate entrances and spaces for "ladies and escorts" and "men only." According to Craig Heron's book Booze: A Distilled History, the separation became law in British Columbia in 1942 and was informally practised elsewhere in Canada. The intent in B.C. was not to protect women from the overtures of unknown drunk men, but to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases by keeping prostitutes out of bars.

• Beer parlours across most of Canada were dreary places well into the 1970s. In Ontario, for example, there could be no food service, live entertainment or recorded music, and no singing or dancing. It was illegal to stand up with a drink in one's hand. If a patron wished to join friends at another table, a server had to carry the drink. The aim of these rules was to prevent people from lingering, but meant that the only thing to do was drink.

• Canadians experienced equally stern treatment at province-run liquor stores before the era of self-service. People had to buy a yearly license to purchase alcohol (a measure that was phased out everywhere by 1970). With each visit to the liquor store, a person filled out a card and handed it to a clerk. The clerk retrieved the bottles from the back of the store and delivered them to the patron in a plain brown paper bag.

• Canada's first self-service liquor store opened in British Columbia in 1962; Ontario and New Brunswick introduced them in 1969, and other provinces followed through the 1970s.

• Ontario's restrictive liquor laws also meant that Toronto Blue Jays fans couldn't drink beer when watching the team at Exhibition Stadium until 1982.

• Though still against the law in Ontario in 2014, happy hour is permitted in other provinces. In Quebec it's known as cinq à sept, or "five to seven."


Also on December 12:
1901: Guglielmo Marconi receives the first trans-Atlantic wireless signal at St.John's, Newfoundland. He flew a box kite trailing 122 metres of copper wire to a telephone to pick up faint clicking sounds transmitted from Cornwall, England.
1942: A fire at the Knights of Columbus Hostel in St. John's kills 110 people. Flammable Christmas decorations add to the fire's deadly power.
1950: Nancy Hodges is named speaker of the Legislature of British Columbia. She is the first woman to hold such an office in the Commonwealth.
1973: Commemorative $5 and $10 coins to help finance the 1976 Montreal Olympics go on sale.


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