No Games, No Dancing, No Dice (Throwback Thursday)

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By Ken Fox

Drinking in Saskatchewan’s early days was a sober business. According to section 68 of the 1908 Liquor License Act:

“No billiard, pool or other tables shall be permitted in the bar room of any licensed hotel and no liquor shall be sold or supplied in any room in any licenses premises set apart or used for such games.”

No pool & booze? No playing foosball, darts or shuffleboard for beers? So I guess folks had to bring their own table games (let’s assume that there were tables in the bars, despite the wording above). But if they did, they would be in violation of section 74(3):

“The existence of dice or other appliances for gambling in any bar room in any licensed premises shall be prima facie evidence of an infraction of the provisions of this section.”

So cards and board games were out, since anything that involves winning and losing could be a “gambling appliance.” Well, I guess I could live with all of that. But the part that really gets me is section 68(2):

“No musical instruments, dancing or other form of entertainment shall be permitted in such bar room.”

Wow. No music. No blues pubs, no dance clubs, no country bars. No barbershop quartets, singing around the pianos, and no pianos. No staff parties at Casino Regina with counterfeit rock stars. Were folks allowed to sing in the bars? Let’s assume they were – but “entertainment” of any kind was outlawed, as was dancing!

So what changed? Well, temperance, a nice word for the absurdities noted above, was followed by outright prohibition from 1917 to 1925. And prohibition demonstrated that a key criterion for a law’s continued existence is enforceability. To a large extent, laws are created to enforce how we already live. And if we change how we live, we change our laws to match.

I’m not a historian, and don’t own a time machine, but if I did own a time machine, or took the time to do some real research, I would be very surprised to find many bars in our province’s history that reflect the grey, sober reality of our liquor laws in 1908.

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