BC’s provincially legislated prohibition lasted from October 1, 1917 to June 15, 1921. That means this month marks 100 years since its repeal and the start of retail sale at government liquor stores. Well…not quite 100 years of local retail as you will see in this article in the Cumberland Islander from June 18, 1921.
Prohibition on alcohol was difficult to enforce. Legally, liquor remained available for medical, sacramental and mechanical purposes. The truly determined could purchase a prescription from an amenable doctor or buy from bootleggers. During the prohibition years, “Near-beer”, which had a low-alcohol content of 2.5% or less, could be bought from bars and soda shops.
Once the prohibition law was repealed, it was necessary to obtain a permit to buy alcohol. Talk about beer-aucracy! The Comox Argus of July 28, 1921, wrote that a beer permit cost $2 for unlimited purchases and was good until 1922. Or you could get a 50-cent permit that let you buy beer only once. Government control of liquor sales was generating revenue.
In Cumberland the local agent was Robert (Bobby) Thomson; in Courtenay it was Hugh Stewart. Cumberland could sell beer; Courtenay was a fully equipped shop with both beer and hard liquor available.
The liquor stores were not up and running for June 15, 1921. It was early July in Courtenay before the temporary quarters were open below the Masonic Hall in the old city centre near the Courtenay Hotel. A more permanent location in the Macdonald Block along the Island Highway (known then as the Union Bay Road) was ready at the beginning of August.
Cumberland’s storefront on Dunsmuir Avenue was also ready by early August. Ready but still only had beer and permits for sale. It was not until a couple weeks later that the newspaper noted a $10,000 shipment of liquor had finally arrived.
With legacy support from the Bickle Family and the Comox Valley Echo.