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NYC the Good – Prohibition Era at the National
February 26th, 2014 @ 11:15 AM EST by admin

NYC THE GOOD – PROHIBITION ERA AT THE NATIONAL

The early 1900s were the days of “Toronto the Good”. The term, coined by Mayor Howland, came to reflect the values of the Lord’s Day Alliance and other religious groups. Legislation was passed to ban the rental of horses on Sundays, prohibit tobogganing, the operation of streetcars and generally restrict any activity. The various anti-vice by-laws culminated in the Lord’s Day Act of 1906.  Playgrounds were padlocked on Sundays and department stores like Eaton’s drew their curtains to guard against “sinful” window shopping.

In this setting, there was also a popular movement to ban the consumption of alcohol. The Club Executive, mindful of Toronto’s public opinion and at the urging of conservative protestant members, brought a motion to the floor of the AGM in January, 1914. Ever patriotic, Club members led the way and voted to strictly prohibit alcohol on site. Reported the Toronto World on Jan 14, 1914:

“The Annual National Yacht Club meeting was held last night and all but two officers were elected by acclamation. The treasurer’s report was very satisfactory, while the amusement committee’s was even more so. A very wise move was made by the officers, when it was embodied in the constitution that in future intoxicating liquors would be strictly prohibited in the Club.”

The rule went into effect immediately. This action was well ahead of other area yacht clubs and well ahead of provincial prohibition. Prohibition came to Ontario in 1916 with the passing of the Ontario Temperance Act. The Act banned the sale, consumption and possession of liquor and beer, causing bars and taverns to shut down overnight. The Temperance Act was initially intended as a wartime measure, but after the war in a 1919 referendum, Ontarians voted strongly to retain the law. Legal Prohibition continued until 1927 when the Temperance Act was repealed and replaced by the Liquor Licence Act. The new legislation established the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) to regulate the provincial sale of liquor.

That said NYC continued on through the 1930’s and 40’s as a dry Club. While there were incidents of members being caught running spirits across from the USA, the measure kept the membership generally dry, in theory!

With the Second World War over, members returning from overseas where liquor laws were more liberal, wanted the Club to get a license and allow members to enjoy a beverage on site. Things were finally getting a little more liberal in Toronto as well; Toronto’s first cocktail lounges were approved in 1947 although not coming in effect until about 1950. As well in 1950 all restrictive bylaws were removed and playing sports on Sundays in Toronto became legal.

In 1948, the Board began its first effort to get a Liquor License, filed an application and on March 3, 1948 the Club posted a Public Notice of Application for a Liquor License in local newspapers:

NOTICE OF APPLICATION
The Liquor License Act 1946
Licensing District Number 6
Take notice that Alexander Bow,
of the City of Toronto, in the County of York,
will make application at a Special meeting of the
Liquor License Board of Ontario
to be held at the IOOF Temple, 229 College
St., in the City of Toronto, in the County of
York, on Friday, the 19th day of March, 1948
at the hour of 10:00 o’clock in the forenoon
for the issuance of a Dining Room License
for the following premises: National Yacht
Club, foot of Bathurst St., Toronto.
Any person resident in the licensing
district may object to the application and the
grounds of objection in writing shall be filed
with R.A. Gaskin, the deputy registrar of the
licensing district, whose address is 454
University Ave., Toronto, at least ten days before
the meeting at which the application is to be heard.
DATED at Toronto this 25th day of February 1948
NATIONAL YACHT CLUB
per A. Bow, Chairman House Committee
foot of Bathurst St. Toronto

In an era when Toronto was still semi-dry, such permits remained difficult to get. The 1948 application was rejected.

At the November, 1948 Annual Meeting, Harry Howard proposed that the Club again make formal application for a Liquor License.  Harry Kimber, a Board member and General Manager for the Globe and Mail agreed to run with the file. Despite engaging legal support, the next license application was again rejected noting that unspecified additional information would be needed before a license could be approved.

NYC regattas and events continued to receive some form of negative critique, even in the press, for all that was allowed to be served was the lake water we sailed in or tea, coffee or fruit punch.

As always, it not about process or what you know; it is about whom you know. Harry Kimber often had lunch with Ontario Premier Leslie Frost. Having exhausted all regular channels, one day over lunch, Kimber suggested to the Premier it would be nice if the National could acquire a liquor license. The Premier agreed. Shortly after, surprisingly, the Liquor License Board advised the Commodore that some information had come forward and based on that “additional information” the license would be granted.

Efforts were made by the Board to have everything in place for a license to be effective April 1, 1950.  However, the City did not grant a conditional license until September. The Liquor license was extended to the Club (for a fee of $150) and the Board passed a motion that this license be picked up and used for parties and dances only until a general meeting could be held and an expression of the members obtained. Obviously, the availability of spirits at parties and dances was a success; on Sept 13, the Treasurer reported beer sales profit for two months was $1,098.

The 1950 Annual Awards banquet held Oct 20th was one of the last dry events to be hosted by the Club. No liquor was available; as always fruit punch was served for free.

At the AGM Sunday Nov 26, 1950, members moved a motion to allow the Board to sell or have sold spirituous liquors. This was still not sufficient for Liquor License Board to provide the license. The Board inspected the premises several times and were unhappy with beverages being served throughout the dining room at all hours. Finally an acceptable compromise was reached; it was agreed a curtain would be placed between the snack bar and the dining room. A space was set aside in the dining room where no beer would be served; after 8 PM members so desiring would be served on the east side of the curtain separating the snack bar from the dining room.

Bar and dining room area of former NYC Club house Circa 1980

Bar and dining room area of former NYC Club house Circa 1980


The social atmosphere greatly improved around the Club. Toronto’s anti vice laws were also removed from the books in 1950 and the tag “Toronto the Good” began to fade a few decades ago.

Harry Kimber served on NYC’s Executive for several years in the 1940’s and ’50s. He went on to become President and Publisher of the Globe and Mail, Toronto Harbour Commission Chairman and President of the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International Baseball League. He passed the bar in 1966 at age 73 but was remembered with the naming of a Toronto Harbour Commission Yacht in his memory. He also awarded the Harry Kimber Globe and Mail trophy, which is presented annually to the top boat in the 8 metre classic fleet.

Next time you order a bottle of wine for your table or step up to the bar for a beer, remember that for thirty six years there was no bar and spirits were prohibited at the Club. Of all members we should be toasting, Harry Kimber should be near the top of the list!

Cheers!

Wayne Mullins – Past Commodore / Club Historian