I’m Thinking About Drinking

I’m thinking about drinking, but not in the immediate “I fancy a glass of wine” sense. It’s more along the lines of “Why do Edmontonians enjoy being penned in to drink outdoors, in the daytime, in public?”

Personal Photo

My previous blog post was about being excluded from a beer garden at a local festival. I was left to peer through the fence while I waited in line for over an hour. And, I didn’t even want to drink beer! I still don’t know why I was excluded but it may have been because it was already at the legal capacity for attendance or it may have been because they wanted to let pass holders in before the unwashed masses.

While reading the discussions that followed my blog post on Facebook, Twitter, my living room couch, and this blog, I realized that some of my friends in the UK, and parts of the US were responding with a generalized “What The Heck?” That’s when it dawned on me that the strange laws around public consumption of alcohol in Alberta are not widely shared. The Albertan alcohol legislation has a long and somewhat Puritan history. Here’s how it all came about in this part of the world.

Folk Festival
Folk Festival via Pixabay (CC0)
  • 1870  Only the government can make and sell alcohol
  • 1892  Hotels can sell alcohol
  • 1906  Licensed premises can sell alcohol
  • 1916  No one can sell alcohol
  • 1924  The Alberta Liquor Control Board can sell alcohol
  • 1934  Beer off-sales are permitted from hotels
  • 1950  Liquor can be sold by clubs and canteens when a meal is served
  • 1958  …and by Canadian National Railways and hotels.
  • 1967  Men and women can drink together in licensed premises
  • 1971  The age of majority for drinking is reduced to 18
  • 1990  Hotel off-sales are expanded to include wine and spirits
  • 1993  Liquor retail industry is privatized
  • 2003  Commercial catering companies can sell or provide liquor
  • 2008  Limits are made to happy hours, prices, and last calls
  • 2017  I am fenced off from a beer garden
Beer Fence
Beer Fence via Max Pixel (CC0)

You may be wondering why I was excluded from a beer garden at a festival or why beer gardens even exist, and I have been wondering the same thing. So, I did a little internet digging and, frankly, the results were quite unsatisfactory. All I discovered was that Canadian federal law states that consumption of alcohol in public is generally forbidden, except when a permit is proved by the municipality. This is why we create fake pub patios with temporary fencing at festivals. They are to designate the limits of the permits. Even so, I still don’t know why, exactly.

I’m guessing that the creation of beer gardens at festivals has something to do with not allowing children near sales of alcohol. That’s all well and good, but surely there are less draconian ways of accomplishing this.

Temporary Fencing
Temporary Fencing by Theen Moy via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

While I was at the festival I saw a mother with a young child turned away from the beer garden, and I wondered at the time why that law was in place. The child looked really awkward and embarrassed. Probably, she was not used to being the reason for her mother’s exclusion from a public park.

Many countries allow families with children to enjoy time together in drinking establishments, and I actually like the all-ages facility that I see in pubs in the UK.  Children are not allowed to drink alcohol, of course, but they are allowed to be present while their parents do, and they may even serve to act as inhibitors of excessive consumption.

Nevertheless, Canada and Alberta have chosen instead to separate drinkers from children at festivals, and to corral them within temporary, movable, five-foot high fences.  The truly amazing thing is that all the drinkers use the appropriate access gateways, stay inside the fences, and don’t move any of the fence sections to make openings. I wonder if all countries have such polite, law-abiding, drinkers.

As to why Edmontonians seem to enjoy being penned up to drink outdoors in the daytime, it’s probably because they are so rarely permitted to do so.







  1. Many of these laws confound me. In Louisiana my son could sit at a table in the bar area but not at the bar itself nor could he saunter over to speak to his father who, at that time, was playing on an out in the open video poker machine. My son was 13 at the the time. Nor was it clear why said machine was allowed out in the open when other establishmenst have to keep them back behind a wall where one must go through a door or curtain, much like slipping into a forbidden porn viewing room ( not that I have first hand experience with these but I do watch movies where this happens) Then there is the bar and grill in a local nearby city that serves food and spirits where I recently sat AT the bar with a man who had his young daughter with him, approximately 7 or 8. Just what ARE the rules. I don’t begrudge the daughter being present in the bar area but generally speaking the bar itself tends to have a lot of men and usually rowdier clientele. If it were dead o’clock and no one else in the place I might consider it, but with other options I would not subject my youn child to that.
    Outdoor drinking arenas at festivals should not exclude anyone. Of course, I come from Louisiana, the home of the drive thru daquiri store!

      1. No they don’t. So much of it is connected to churches and reilgious agendas. And yes, in New Orleans there are drive thru daquiri stores. There is also no open container laws in certain places. If not, Mardie Gras would be non existent. 🙄

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