The Rise and Fall of Prohibition in Canada (Part Two)

A Toronto man doesn’t give a damn as he carries a keg of beer down a street in broad daylight during the Prohibition era (Sept 16, 1916). [Source: LAC]

Whereas part one looked at the rise of the temperance movement in Canada, part two will cover the prohibition era and its downfall. Prohibition barely lasted a decade in most provinces and its existence was plagued by problems. Why? The ban on booze created a situation where organized crime thrived and access to alcohol was relatively easy. Moreover, the violence, rum-running, and smuggling continued even after the provincial bans on alcohol were repealed because prohibition was still going on south of the border. Why was prohibition such a massive failure in Canada and what were the wider, long-lasting consequences? Continue reading

The Rise and Fall of Prohibition in Canada (Part One)


Tree of Intemperance by Archibald Macbrair (c. 1855) – This is an American cartoon, but I think it best sums up the temperance movement. To supporters, alcohol was the root of social and moral evils.

Continuing our look into ridiculous events in Canadian history: Prohibition. The banning of alcohol has a bit of a convoluted history in Canada. Unlike in the United States were the Volstead Act was a federal bill that banned alcohol nationwide from 1920-1933, prohibition was a matter largely left up to the Canadian provinces and therefore happened stages and at different times. By-and-large, the provinces instituted the ban during World War One and repealed it during the 1920s (minus a few exceptions) because not only was prohibition a major failure, it was vastly unpopular. It wasn’t always that way though. Before we get to the “fall” aka speakeasies, rum-running, and all that fun stuff, we have to cover the “rise.” This post will look at how prohibition came to be in Canada. Continue reading

Black Canadians and the Upper Canada Rebellion

The Battle of Montgomery’s Tavern (Toronto, December 7, 1837).

Black soldiers have a long history of fighting in and for Canada; their service stretches all the way back to the days of the American Revolutionary War. After escaping from the conflict in the south, some turned right around and fought on behalf of the British. This tradition of Black loyalists as soldiers and militamen carried on through to the War of 1812 and to today’s topic, the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837. Almost 1,000 Black Canadians volunteered to fight back against the rebels who wanted to overthrow the British colonial government. What exactly led to these circumstances, namely the opposition to the rebels, and what was the ultimate outcome of their efforts? Continue reading

George Brown Vs. Sir John A. Macdonald

George Brown vs John A Macdonald

In the past for Sir John A. Macdonald’s birthday (January 11th), I have talked about the man himself and his complicated legacy as well as his friendship with Sir George Étienne Cartier. As such, it might not be much of a surprise that for this year I’m going to look at his arch-nemesis, George Brown. (I wish I could say I am being hyperbolic, but I’m not really. The two Fathers of Confederation hated one another). Despite their intense dislike of each other, the two were able to come together for Confederation purposes. How did this happen? Were they ever able to resolve their legendary feud? Continue reading

The Battle of Crysler’s Farm

Reenactment of the Battle of Crysler’s Farm.

The dismantling of the St. Lawrence Campaign during the War of 1812 was a two-step process. The first part was the Battle of Châteauguay in Lower Canada. The second part and the subject of today’s post was Crysler’s Farm. On November 11, 1813, John Crysler’s farming fields became the site of the decisive battle that marked the end of the attempt to capture Montreal. Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Wanton Morrison led the British contingent to an underdog victory, (1,200 vs 4,000), making it similar to its predecessor. Yet when you type “the battle that saved Canada” into Google, Crysler’s Farm shows up. That is quite a big claim to make about a single battle. Does it deserve that title? What makes Crysler’s Farm stand out among all the other important battles that took place throughout Canadian history? Continue reading

The Battle of Montgomery’s Tavern

Shooting of Col. Robert Moodie, Montgomery’s Tavern, Toronto by Charles William Jefferys. (December 4, 1837).

Continuing our look at ridiculous events in Canadian history, this week: The Battle of Montgomery’s Tavern (December 7, 1837). It was one of several skirmishes that occurred during the short-lived Upper Canada Rebellion. The events that took place helped to shape the future of Canadian governance and democracy. However, I say “skirmish” because “battle” is too generous a word. It would imply a sense of, you know, prolonged fighting between two opposing sides. “Hot mess” is probably the best way to describe what actually went down. Continue reading

Spotlight: Mary Henry

19th century portrait of Mary Henry
Laura Secord Homestead Museum, Queenston, (Source: Kelsie Brewer)

After a couple of somewhat negative, politically-charged posts I felt it was time for a happier one. As such, here’s the story of Mary Henry; an all-but-forgotten heroine from the War of 1812. There is not a lot of source material on her and sadly the above portrait is the only image we have of her, but Mary’s story is an example of the extraordinary things ordinary citizens do during times of war. Continue reading

Spotlight: Laura Secord

Image from the 1992 commemorative Laura Secord Stamp.

Laura Secord (1775-1868) was a wartime heroine whose story became mythologized and engrained in Canadian history, yet to this day many of the details are still quite murky. Most can recall the basic premise of her story; she overheard an American plot to ambush a British outpost and made a seriously long trek through the woods to warn them of the impending surprise attack. But specific aspects about her journey have suffered from misinformation over the past two centuries. Who was Laura and how did she hear about the plot? How long was the walk? Was she alone? Did she bring a cow with her to trick American soldiers? Or did she trick them with chocolates? Did she really do it barefoot? Did her trek even matter? What happened to her after the war? Considering that June 22-24 is the anniversary of Laura’s 1813 trek and the Battle of Beaver Dams, now is the perfect time to clear things up and get some answers to those questions. Continue reading

Spotlight: Dr. Emily Stowe

Dr. Emily Howard Stowe was pretty awesome.

Born on May 1, 1831 in Norwich, Ontario, Emily became not only the first female doctor* to openly practice in Canada, but she was also the first female public-school principal in Ontario, and campaigned for Canada’s first medical college for women. In addition, as a founding member of the Canadian Women’s Suffrage Association she played a substantial role in the beginning of the women’s suffrage movement in Canada. Continue reading

19th Century Lumberjacks Were Kinda Crazy

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Late-19th century Canadian lumberjacks.
Source: Library and Archives Canada / PA-011632

At some point, I would like to trace my paternal family lineage back to the point of arrival in Canada. What I know is very murky. An ancestor left France for Quebec sometime in the 18th century. By the time the mid-19th century rolled around, my ancestors left Joliette, Quebec for the Penetanguishene/Port Severn area in Ontario. While there they got involved in logging—hence my interest in the 19th century lumber industry in Ontario. What was life like for those workers and their families?

Continue reading