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OPINION: Hey, don’t eat that sandwich! It’s only a table ornament

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Phil Egan

“Frankie went down to the corner salon, Get a bucket of beer.”

Bob Dylan’s 1992 remake of the old Leadbelly song, Frankie and Albert, is coming true. We may finally be able to wander down to the corner store to buy beer.

If you want some idea of how backward Ontario’s True Blue, Scottish-Presbyterian, temperance-driven drinking laws were, consider this – the first time I saw beer in a corner store pop cooler was 52 years ago – in Quebec.

News that Doug Ford’s government is going to begin undoing the monopolies of the LCBO and Brewer’s Retail, and allow us to have a restaurant Caesar in the morning if we want one, is long past outdated – like the old Sunday shopping laws.

Ontario’s old Blue Laws, which imposed Sunday restrictions and came into effect in 1906, forbid not only “tippling,” as taking a drink was known, but also gambling, using profane language, and conducting business.

The prohibition extended to working, “including musicians and paid performers of any kind, all games, races, or other sports performed for money or prizes, advertising, importing, selling or distributing foreign newspapers,” and “all excursions for hire and with the object of pleasure by train, steamer or other conveyance.”

Many considered Toronto, from whose legislature the Blue Laws emanated, to be “the dullest city on earth.” It was called “Toronto the Good” and “the Methodist Rome.”

They say you know a law is out-dated when it’s universally ignored. In that vein, I vividly recall one antiquated regulation from the early 1970s.

At the time, I was running Sunday flight excursions to Toronto from Sarnia to Argo football games at old Varsity Stadium, and hockey games at Maple Leaf Gardens. I had made deals with a number of bars and hotels along Malton’s Airport Road strip.

After the games and before our chartered flight back to Sarnia, I made a little extra by taking my 44 patrons to one of the drinking establishments near the airport.

The waitress would drop a cellophane-wrapped cheese sandwich at each drinker’s table. Occasionally, someone who didn’t know better would tell the waitress: “Hey! I didn’t order that,” or, worse yet, actually begin to remove the cellophane to eat it.

That would draw a hearty laugh from the others, who knew the sandwich, used over and over again as a table ornament, was likely aged and covered in dust.

It was illegal to order a drink on Sunday without a meal, so the sandwiches were there to satisfy any liquor inspector who might pop by.

The law didn’t say you had to eat it.

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