Picking Up From Last Week, But first, A Drink

A Geezer’s Notebook, By Jim Foster

One of the stupidest things a columnist can do is to tell their readers what he or she is going to write about the following week when at that particular moment they have no idea what that is and that is exactly what I did.

If you recall I promised to suggest the changes necessary to transform the City of Orillia into the hub of culture, scientific knowledge and philosophical reason in Central Ontario knowing full well that we are on the economic and intellectual level of Bugtussle, Tennessee. Hence I shall have to tread water here until something brilliant pops into my head – a mean feat since nothing has ever popped there before.

We seem to lag behind some of neighbouring communities that are developing into municipal superpowers. I am referring of course to the villages of Rugby and Foxmead. We always seem to be slow catching up to the rest of the world.

Sometime in 1952, years after everyone else, Orillia got its first beer store which in the wisdom of the powers that were at the time was allowed to open on Front Street just around the corner from Mississaga, thereby guaranteeing a weekend traffic snarl on a par with the Roman peasants pouring out of the Coliseum after a Lions/Christian game. It may have been a somewhat insane decision but as you can see Orillia was slowly starting to move towards the 19th century and we hope to be there soon.

Then we had the infamous wet/dry campaigns and evidently Satan won because bars started serving alcohol (I know, I know, we are all doomed). Once upon a time, out of idle curiosity, I counted them and found there were 27 licensed establishments in Orillia which I found strange since there just happened to be 27 churches in town at the time. I am not sure what bylaw covered the situation but I believe if a bar closed down one of the churches had to close too. It only seems fair. I tried to count the number of bars today but my calculator exploded.

I tried to find out when the big wet/dry vote was in Orillia. After a half an hour trying to find out from Wikipedia and Orillia’s website what year that was I gave up. Obviously the Dry committee has had the information suppressed. One of the funniest things my father ever said was spoken at the Birchmere Hotel after they finally received their liquor license. In the next room was a free bar hosted by one of the service clubs. Standing at the bar was one of the leaders of the Dry committee. When I mentioned that he said, “You don’t understand. He wasn’t against the serving of alcohol as long as someone else was paying for it.”

The sale of alcohol was always odd in Orillia. There were no bars in the 40s and early 50s and the sale of beer or liquor was strictly prohibited. However if one belonged to the Legion, the Armouries, the Golf or Curling Club it was possible to buy a drink and occasionally two or three. From that I have deduced if one owned a broom or a nine-iron or was willing to shoot a German, it was perfectly okay.

Some of you older geezers will remember that way back in the early 60s the movie theatres were closed on Sunday. The management of the Geneva and the Orillia Opera House began to stir the pot and asked that the bylaw, or whatever draconian bit of legislation forbade it, be struck down. Naturally the churches were appalled and formed a joint committee to put a stop to such a heathen practice. I happened to have a good friend who had been chosen to sit on that committee. I assume he agreed to be a member rather than face eternal damnation. I was talking to him one Monday during the campaign and casually asked him what he did on the weekend. He said he and his girlfriend had gone to Barrie to see a movie on Sunday night. I said, “A movie? I thought you were on a committee to ban Sunday movies. He said, “I am, but I can handle it.” He was probably on the Dry committee too.

Where am I going with all this? I haven’t a clue. When I was trying to think of some brilliant plan of renovation and expansion so that we could grow like… like… Barrie? OMIGOD!

I’m just kidding; of course I have a plan. Let’s go back to 1950 when Orillia was a wonderful place to live. We don’t need stores that open 24 hours a day, just 8:00 to 6:00 Monday to Saturday, closed on Wednesday afternoon, and open until 9:00 on Friday. That would be just fine. Oh, and one more thing, it’s about the waterfront. We don’t need condos down there; we need a whole row of weather-beaten falling-down boathouses and French’s Stand, not exactly like the one that is there now, we need the one where you could buy ice cream at a nickel a scoop and a hot dog for 15 cents. I’ll discuss my plan with the new mayor on Tuesday.

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