Mention the name “O’Keefe” in association with Toronto and several things come to mind for those over a certain age. A brewery that was a cornerstone of E.P. Taylor’s business empire, which eventually merged with Molson. A performing arts centre that has undergone several name changes. A downtown laneway whose length has been shortened by developments at Yonge and Dundas.
But soft drinks?
Thanks to prohibition measures that were in effect in Ontario for a decade, today’s smiling pitchman had to fill his glass with a non-intoxicating tipple. Distillers and brewers who stayed in business had to find other means to stay afloat, be it industrial or medicinal alcohol production or, like O’Keefe’s, weaker beverages.
Dry forces who had long fought against alcohol consumption, such as the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, achieved victory in Ontario in 1916, when Premier William Howard Hearst’s government passed the Ontario Temperance Act, ostensibly as a wartime measure. A referendum revisited the question three years later, with two-thirds of voters rejecting four questions that ranged from a full repeal of prohibition to the sale of light beer in hotels. A second referendum in 1924 saw prohibition continue by a 3% margin (51.5% for, 48.5% against), though Toronto sided with the pro-booze forces. This would be the last provincial referendum until last year’s question on reforming the electoral system.
The weak results encouraged Premier Howard Ferguson to include a repeal of prohibition as part of his re-election campaign in 1926. Ferguson’s victory led to the passage of the Liquor Control Act in 1927, which allowed alcohol to be sold under the auspices of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO). The first 86 stores opened that year, though the public would require permits to purchase booze until 1961. Brewers were allowed to create their own agency to regulate retail beer sales, which evolved into Brewers Retail.
Source: The Mail and Empire, August 30, 1927