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HomeBusinessCentennial of B.C. government getting in the booze biz

Centennial of B.C. government getting in the booze biz


Bob Mackin

It delivers more than a billion dollars in profits to government coffers each year. The high costs to the health and justice systems have never been fully accounted for.

Victoria Daily Colonist, June 15, 1921

Beer, wine and spirits became a big business in B.C. beginning June 15, 1921. That is the day probation was replaced by government-controlled liquor stores. Customers needed to be 21 and up and fork over $5 for an annual licence to choose from the small selection behind the counter.

Thirsty British Columbians, however, had to deal with the truth from the very start. A June 12, 2021 front page headline in the Victoria Daily Colonist newspaper was blunt.

Official Prices of Liquor Fixed: Under New Government Control System Beverages Will Not Be Cheap

“Under the new dispensation of liquor sales by the Provincial Government there will not be any sale of liquor at cheap rates.”

“It is to be noted that prices of malt liquor have yet to be announced. It is the plan of the board to have deliveries of such made direct by the breweries to purchasers and an arrangement between the government and the breweries. Other liquors will be sold direct by the government to the public — through the government stores or delivered by express or parcel post, the Government, as the Act required, shouldering the cost of transportation.

June 12, 1921 Victoria Daily Colonist

“The prices announced are practically as high as the bootlegger charges for liquor which have of late prevailed. In fact that element, having studied the Government figures, process to believe that so long as the stocks they have in hand and which were cleared prior to the enunciation of the increased federal imports hold out, they can undersell the Government.”

On the historic June 15, 1921, the front page headline was: New Liquor Act Effective Today: System of Government Control and Sale Takes Place of Prohibition Law After Many Months of Preparation

“Today will see the advent of a new regime in the administration of liquor in British Columbia.”

A government store on Yates Street in Victoria and six in Vancouver. Their hours 11 a.m. to noon, closed for lunch, and then open from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Daily, except Sunday.

Beer pricing at the fledgling Liquor Distribution Branch was a work in progress, but this is what cabinet decided for other products:

Premier John Horgan

  • French brandies: $4 per imported gallon
  • Pure grain alcohol: $27.50 per gallon, $7 per imperial quart
  • Jameson’s XXX Irish whiskeys: $5 per reputed quart
  • Rum: $26 per imperial gallon for 35 over proof, $7 for imperial quarts, $4.75 for ordinary bottles
  • California port: $5.50 per gallon and $1.25 per bottle
  • Guinness stout $9 per dozen reputed quart bottles or $5 per dozen reputed pints.

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