Benefits of Underage Drinking


I recently wrote about the fiftieth anniversary of the terrible Montreal tragedy that has come to be known as the Blue Bird Cafe fire although most of the 37 victims were patrons of the bar upstairs from the Blue Bird called the Wagon Wheel. The dominant signage on the building, a large neon affair, shone Blue Bird and hence the reference. The Country and Western-themed second-floor bar was very popular with many young people as this brand of music was trendy at the time.

However, given the fairly recent drop in the legal drinking age, several of those killed were even younger teenagers, some as young as 14 or 16

According to the CBC, more than 50 people were injured in the fire, with most victims being between 18 and 25. However, given the fairly recent drop in the legal drinking age, several of those killed were even younger teenagers, some as young as 14 or 16. Between February 1970 and August 1972, all 10 Canadian provinces, and both Yukon, and Northwest Territories lowered the legal drinking age from 21 – in Quebec’s case, from 20 – to either 18 or 19.

In those days many bars considered the legal drinking age in much the same way as police handle speed limits today. That’s to say, there’s some wiggle room. If the speed limit on a stretch of highway is 100km/h, a driver going 120km/h will probably be passed repeatedly, with few, if any, police interventions. As long as everything is running smoothly, let things be. Of course, a driver clocked at 160km/h is looking for, and will very likely receive, a serious ticket. In Montreal bars during the early seventies, sixteen-year-old customers were not terribly unusual.

In Montreal bars during the early seventies, sixteen-year-old customers were not terribly unusual
Montreal’s Cock ‘n’ Bull Pub, in its original state,
was one that was patient with underage drinkers

I speak from personal experience. As long as you didn’t cause any trouble, were relatively quiet, and tipped the bartender or waiter/waitress, you often found the staff looking the other way when it came to I.D.s. After all, there’s not a huge difference between 16 and 18, and, in my humble opinion, people in general, were more mature at that time than is the case today. (For more on this see my take on Skateboards.)

One of the benefits of this lax system was that it taught us how to drink sensibly. It was a Rite of Passage. A first-year university student being offered drinking lessons would have been insulted.

These days, as first-year college and university students make their way to school, an event that seems to be popular with them, if parading through the downtown streets is any indication, is the notion of a ‘pub crawl’. The term is derived from the practice of popping into several drinking establishments over the course of an afternoon or evening, having a drink or two in each, then, with alcohol intake rising, crawling on to the next stop.

The term is derived from the practice of popping into several drinking establishments over the course of an afternoon or evening, having a drink or two in each, then, with alcohol intake rising, crawling on to the next stop

Today’s pub crawl alleges to teach new students how to drink responsibly. This includes consuming vast amounts of water along with beer and being careful when playing silly drinking games. Student society members approach downtown bars in early August to coordinate and pay in advance for the arrival of students.

This can be a nice little money-maker for pubs as the cash is in the bank before the kids ever show up. The agreed-upon number of pitchers of beer and water are put in place, and the groups come in under the leadership of a senior student, do their thing, and move on to the next stop. Unconsumed pitchers are dumped, and new ones are placed in their stead to await the next group. And on it goes.

In my day we cut our beer teeth as underage drinkers long before arriving at university
Commonly known as The Annex, – after the number of Sir George Williams’ annexes in the area – l’Annexe was notorious for underage drinkers. (Photo Facebook: Woody’s, Bishop St. & Other Great Montreal Moments)

Imagine having to teach college students how to drink! Mind-boggling. This is something they should have learned long ago at home.

In my day we cut our beer teeth as underage drinkers long before arriving at university. It seems irresponsible to me that parents today don’t consider this part of youth. We didn’t have ‘senior students’ to ostensibly teach us how to drink, we had bar staff who would let you know in a hurry if you were not doing it correctly. Also, those of us not of European background could turn to our friends of Italian, Greek, Hungarian, or Portuguese descent for instruction, as they had been drinking strong homemade wine for years.

So the next time you see a group of younger drinkers, think of it as a means to an end – more responsible adult drinkers.

1 thought on “Benefits of Underage Drinking

  1. Linda Blackwell Phelan September 7, 2022 — 11:39 am

    When I was a newly married twenty-one year old, we went for drinks with wealthier friends at the posh Hotel Vancouver (where we were living.) I was carded and even though I had legal ID, I was told it was fake and asked to leave!! That’s my over-age drinking story, Deegs. Lin

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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