Liquor Licenses: Winkler of the 1890s
In 1893, the Winkler correspondent for the Morden Monitor joked that Plum Coulee had no drinking water because it had all been used to make whisky upstream, presumably for bootlegging throughout the West Reserve. That same year, Jacob Heiman, the owner of one of the two liquor stores in Morden, proposed to open a “wholesale” liquor store in Winkler. At a formal hearing, objections were raised by unknown elements of the local business community. Never one to aggravate local opposition, Heiman withdrew his application, but not before those who objected agreed to make a donation of twenty dollars to the newly established Morden Freemasons’ Hospital, his favourite charity.1 The business community of Winkler also informally agreed not to support an application for a store in the next three years, and to give Heiman the first option to establish a wholesale liquor store in Winkler should this ever receive the community support required by law. This never happened; Winkler was to have no liquor store until the government of Manitoba opened one in 2013 under a much different set of rules. This was one area of retail activity that Winkler cheerfully relinquished to Plum Coulee and Morden for over a hundred years. Heiman was the ultimate victor, since he did not have to incur the costs of another store location, and Winklerites still shopped for alcohol at his store in Morden.
The pursuit of a license to serve liquor and beer by the glass in a barroom attached to a hotel, commonly called a retail license, followed a torturous route. It originated with the efforts of Nathan Taylor and his wife Sarah. Trained as a wagon maker, Nathan had immigrated to Canada in 1884; his wife came in 1886.2 Their first business venture in Morden was a leased eight-room temperance hotel and restaurant located near the east end of North Railway Street. Although they catered banquets for social clubs such as the Orangemen and Freemasons, it was not a success. Financially they struggled, as noted by a local newspaper editor in early 1894: “Having occasion lately to visit the Temperance Restaurant of Mr. N. Taylor, near the east end of Railway Street, we were much pleased with the comfortable, clean, tidy and homelike appearance in all its departments. We were much surprised when Mr. Taylor informed us that the patronage accorded to his establishment was not nearly as much as he had anticipated when he commenced business. This is not as it should be.”3
By August of 1894 the Taylors operated a non-licensed hotel and boarding house in Winkler, temporarily located in an unidentified building owned by local businessman T. J. Warnken, who ran an agricultural machine warehouse. The Morden Monitor was less than generous in its assessment of this business. “Yappie Yap,” the Winkler correspondent, wrote: “Mr. Nathan Taylor now belongs to the floating population of the town [Winkler]. Nathan is rigging up a temporary pea-nut stand, but soon expects a span new building, likewise a hand organ. He has struck the correct chord in starting a boarding house here. Mrs. Taylor will have to make a study of Mother Seigel’s receipt book for the fact is the blue blooded sports of this town have been tenderly reared.”4 The expression pea-nut stand described a surreptitious, unlicensed bar, much like the term “blind pig.” It may have been little more than a board between two oil barrels, at the side of a dance floor, used for impromptu soirees, consisting of the cleanly swept planks of the grain warehouse. In short, to set up a “pea-nut stand” meant to go into the bar business. And the term “hand organ” likely referred to the music that accompanied the drinking. As for the room and restaurant business, it had to compete with two boarding houses known as the Manitoba and the Leland, one of which was operated by Mrs. Seigel.5 Taylor’s illicit pea-nut stand was Winkler’s first bar.
By 1896, the Taylor family was leasing the hotel built by Valentine Winkler, which they named Palmer House. Business here also did not meet their goals – a failure they ascribed to the absence of a licensed bar. They attempted to rectify this situation when they applied for a retail liquor license. Under liquor licensing rules at the time in Manitoba, an application for a wholesale license, allowing for the sale of liquor by the bottle, would only be considered upon a written petition of sixteen or more of the twenty resident owners of property located closest to the proposed store site. The Morden Herald describes how the application was rejected at a hearing on November 24, 1896, attended by Morden lawyers representing both sides of the matter, which turned on the question of who were the nearest twenty householders, and on the qualification of one man who had not signed the petition and who had moved away after it had been submitted:
“The application for a Hotel License at Winkler was heard by the Commissioners there on Tuesday afternoon and evening and excited a good deal of interest as there were two Morden Lawyers engaged on the case, Mr. Lemon [pro] and Mr. McLaren [anti]. There was plenty of discussion as to who were qualified as householders and who were the nearest twenty. In some cases parties were sent out to take exact measurements of distance. At last it came down to a question of one man who had not signed the petition for a license. The protest party had scored four out of the nearest twenty and if they could score this one also it would not leave sixteen signers for the license. The man had refused to sign the petition and had afterwards removed from the village after all the names were on the petition, but before the petition had been signed by the Commissioner and sent in, it was held he was one of the twenty qualified householders at the time required by the act, and the application for the license was therefore refused by the Board for want of sufficient signers.”6
This must have embittered the Taylors, as the following year they moved on and purchased a licensed hotel in Melita. Their Winkler business was taken over by Alex Kennedy, whose brother was the popular Morden hotelier John Kennedy, a fact that probably created a favourable impression among the liquor commissioners. Kennedy’s Stanley House, as the hotel was renamed, was granted a license on July 30, 1897, after a hearing in Morden. The lack of controversy and easy approval suggests that the aura of the Kennedy name and perhaps the lobbying efforts of Valentine Winkler, who in 1891 was the first reeve of the municipality of Stanley, where Winkler was located, carried the day.7 One newspaper editor stated, “Mr. Kennedy is an experienced hotel man and will no doubt make a success of the Winkler establishment.”8 In October 1897 the same editor reported that Kennedy “had made the Stanley House one of the favorite hostelries of the Northwest.”9
In the national referendum on prohibition of October 28, 1898, there were 28 voters opposed to prohibition in Winkler, and 14 in favour, suggesting that most Winkler males were impressed with how Kennedy handled liquor service in the nascent urban centre. Four years later, in April 1902, the growing town voted 97 to 22 against prohibition in the provincial referendum, a margin similar to Morden’s, indicating that opposition to liquor sales remained muted. In the pre-prohibition era (prior to 1916) no local-option poll occurred after the hotel license was issued in 1897. The existence of a hotel license was tolerated and the lack of a liquor store was accepted; the ready availability of “medicinal liquor” at pharmacies may have been a mitigating factor.
- I refer readers to my extensive chapter on Heiman’s activities in Morden as a socially conscious resident, in Whisky Sales and Hotel Tales of the Mennonite West Reserve, 1873–1916 (self-pub., Friesens, 2018). It is unclear whether each of the property holders was obliged to contribute twenty dollars, or if this was the total amount donated.
- This information is extrapolated from the 1901 census, when they operated a hotel in Souris.
- Morden Herald, Jan. 19, 1894.
- Morden Monitor, Apr. 12, 1894.
- Information on these establishments has drifted into obscurity.
- Morden Herald, Nov. 27, 1896.
- The license hearing was held in the office of M. B. Rombough, one of three liquor commissioners in the district, and the father-in-law of Valentine Winkler, who was the owner of the hotel building.
- Morden Chronicle, June 24, 1897. See also Siemens, Whisky Sales, 200–205, for details on Alex Kennedy.
- Morden Chronicle, Oct. 15, 1897.