Owen Sound Tavern Bylaw (1857) tried to tackle the issue of monitoring taverns in the Upper Canadian pioneer wilderness.
The bylaws passed by Owen Sound's first town council in 1857 provide an interesting view of the issues which were important to the community at that time. The fourth bylaw enacted in the new town concerned licensing taverns.
In 1857 there were seven taverns in Owen Sound and the bylaw restricted growth of the number of inns beyond this number. This number represented one drinking establishment for every 350 adults and children in the town.
The law required that each bar-room "shall have at least five good bedrooms over and above those required for the use of the family or servants, which shall be properly and comfortably furnished, with at least one good bed in each room for guests". As well, the tavern had to have a large bar-room to serve patrons and an equally large room for the use of the family and servants of the owner. Each licensed tavern was also required to have safe and secure stabling facilities for horses.
To ensure that all aspects of the bylaw were met it was also required that the applicant for the licence must be 'of good character and temperate habits." The name of the proprietor had to be posted prominently along with the name of the establishment on a sign.
The same bylaw also stated that "drunkenness and disorderly conduct, and every species of gambling is prohibited." The penalty for these actions ranged from one to five pounds.
The bylaw also had a lengthy section about youngsters visiting saloons. It stated that "no youths or boys shall be permitted to resort to or frequent a bar-room, nor be allowed to abide as an idler or dram-drinker about the premises of any licensed inn." The penalty for such actions ranged from 10 shillings to two pounds.
Because there were many innkeepers who did not feel the inclination to bother with purchasing a licence to operate or to follow the rules of the town's new bylaw a set of penalties were established.
The penalty for selling without a licence was 10 pounds, and the innkeeper had to give a personal surety of 50 pounds as well as securing two other sureties of 25 pounds each, that he would keep good order.
It also provided that persons complaining under the bylaw for offences against its provisions should, on conviction of the parties that were prosecuted, be entitled to one half of the penalties imposed, the other half of the fine went to the treasurer of the municipality. The license fee consisted of 10 shillings as well as an imperial duty of two pounds five shillings.
A fee of five shillings was also payable to the treasurer for issuing the license and each visit by an inspector brought another fee which was charged at the time of the inspection.
An article in a 1910 edition of the Sun Times lamented that despite this stringent by-law the excessive consumption of alcohol continued to be a major problem in the community for decades. Consequently, the writer in the 1910 article suggested that the reason Owen Sound was a "dry” town was because of the inability of town officials to enforce this bylaw in the previous half century.
The information used in this article came from files in the Grey County Archives.
A version of this article originally appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times on February 2, 2001.
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