Prohibition of alcohol in British Columbia lasted three
years from 1917 to 1921. Gone were the days of the wild, unregulated saloons
that could be opened 24/7, replaced by the beer parlour which was tightly
controlled by the provincial government. Government liquor stores opened for
business in June 1921 and by April 1925, the first beer parlour licenses were
In the Alberni Valley the Somass, King Edward, Beaufort
and the Arlington Hotels applied for and were granted a license to sell beer by
the glass. A nine-ounce glass of beer sold for ten cents. The beer parlour
atmosphere was initially very spartan as no entertainment was allowed. No food
was sold nor consumed on the premises. Patrons could only order domestic beer
and had to sit to drink it. In spite of these new restrictions, hotel owners
welcomed the reopening of their bars as it provided a significant source of
new beer parlours were popular with a majority of the public, and many
remembered enjoying a beer in their favourite saloon before prohibition
closed them. The working people of Alberni and Port
Alberni were made up of mostly loggers, sawmill workers, fishermen, famers and
trades workers. On any given Friday and Saturday night the beer parlours filled
to capacity with hard working customers looking to blow off some steam and
enjoy beer with their friends and co-workers. All the beer parlours in town did
a booming business, especially the Arlington beer parlour. Local workers had
just won the right for the eight-hour work day that came into effect on January
6, 1925, so when the beer parlours opened a few months later, they lined up at
the doors after their shift and had more free time to patronize their favourite
John (Jack) Burke, a jolly, hardworking man with a pot
belly, owned the Arlington Hotel from 1925 to 1934, purchasing it from Arthur
H. M. Lord. Burke had operated the Alberni Livery Stables located across the
street from the Arlington hotel and had also worked on the original paper
machine for the British Columbia Pulp & Paper Manufacturing Company when he
and his brother, Richard, bought the Arlington Hotel. Burke was a long time
resident of Alberni and was well known and respected in the Community.
Jack Burke owned the Arlington Hotel from 1925 to 1934
The decade of the 1920s saw considerable changes and
improvements to the liquor laws and workers rights. Beside passing the
eight-hour day legislation, by 1927 old age pensions became law. The first
recipient of the very first old age pension cheque was a resident of Alberni,
75-year old William Henry Derby. The cheque was in the amount of twenty
dollars, the maximum sum allowed at the time, which Derby gratefully accepted
in a brief ceremony, from local MLA, Burde and Government agent Arthur Gordon
Freeze. Later that day Derby was found drinking in the Arlington Hotel beer
parlour using his newly acquired four rolls of dimes for payment.
Derby enjoying a beer in the Arlington, 1937
By 1934, the Arlington Hotel had changed owners as Fred
W. Austin became the proprietor, he sold to Andy Ercolini in 1936. The
Ercolinis operated the hotel through the war years until 1945.
1942, significant changes in the liquor laws saw the separation of the sexes in
beer parlours. Owners of beer parlours had to modify or add an addition to
their existing beer parlours to accommodate the law, sometimes at great
expense. Many beverage rooms were modified when a wall was built down the
middle of the beer parlour creating a men’s side and a ladies and escorts side.
The reason for these changes were created from the hysteria of war time –
Canada was at war and our fighting men had to be protected from sexually
transmitted diseases, so the potential volatile mix of women and beer was too
much a temptation so the law demanded that the sexes be separated. By the
summer of 1942 all beer parlours were ordered to comply with this new law.
Included in the legislation was that beer parlours could not advertise and had to go by
obscure names such as refreshment rooms or beverage rooms.
The Arlington beer parlour complied and a new wall was
built down the middle from the bar to the wall directly in front of the bar was
the dividing line; south was for ladies and their escorts and north of the line
was for men only. Some beer parlour owners used their ingenuity by putting up a
mobile wall. This was a wall with wheels on it as one side of the bar filled to
capacity, two waiters would roll the wall to the emptier side of the parlour,
thereby allowing more customers to enjoy their beer while complying with liquor
This was the time when separate entrances and the signs
that went with them were used. Beer was still ten cents a glass, but one had to
be invited to the other side of the parlour if he or she wished to drink with
mixed company. This separation of the sexes continued long after the reasons
for it became obsolete. It wasn’t until 1964 that most beer parlours were
permitted to end the segregation of the sexes. Margaret Creelman, a one-time
regular customer of the Arlington beer parlour, bragged that she was the first
woman to be allowed to drink with the men.
The post war years saw a number of different owners and
managers come and go at the Arlington hotel. By 1948J.A. McBride was the
manager of the hotel which now boasted 48 rooms, with or without a bath and
brand new spring filled mattresses. The rooms were modern, clean and quiet and
of course, comfortable. Business continued to flourish well into the 1950’s and
In the early morning hours of Saturday March 28, 1964, a
significant event took place that shocked the residents of the Alberni Valley.
People were rudely awoken by a series of tidal waves that swept through the low
lying areas of Alberni and Port Alberni caused by an earthquake in the Gulf of
Alaska. There was considerable damage. The Arlington Hotel was used as a refuge
for many of the victims of the tsunami. As the rooms filled to capacity, the
lobby acted as a temporary shelter for the overflow of people seeking shelter
from the flooding. The hotel only sustained minor flooding in the basement.
The Arlington Hotel business continued to do well.
Renovations and modernization continued during this time changing the look of
the place, but no single major renovations took place.
In 1974, the NDP government made changes to the liquor
act that allowed for entertainment and a relaxation of the regulations in beer
parlours. Since 1954, under the Social Credit government, the strict laws
governing the rules for beer parlours had been relaxed. The minimum age to be
allowed to enter a beer parlour dropped from 21 to 19 in December 1970. Patrons
were given more choices of drinks inside their local which included BC wines
and imported beer plus food was now allowed. By 1974 hard liquor was allowed to
be served and the paltry beer parlour where one could only sit and drink
domestic beer was fast becoming a thing of the past. The NDP had intended the
parlours to become more like an English pub where sing-a-longs would be
permitted but many pub owners wanted to add strippers into their
establishments. The Arlington pub, soon to be known as the Arli Pub, did not
follow suit and add strippers, but many places did.
The final article on the history of the Arlington Hotel
will cover the years from December, 1980, when long-term owner Dan McCormack
purchased the hotel – through to 2012 when he sold the Arlington to new owners
who changed the name of the hotel. We will look at the many changes that took
place through these years and especially how social changes such as the smoking
bylaw and strict drinking and driving laws have altered the pub.
This article has been published in the Alberni Valley Times Newspaper
under Kristi Dobson's regular column, "Our History" February 27, 2014,