York professor writes comprehensive book on alcohol

BOOZE: A Distilled History chronicles the story of Canadian drink and drinking from the European conquest to the present. Authored by Craig Heron, a professor of history and social science in the Faculty of Arts at York University, BOOZE is a rollicking read complemented by 130 vivid photographs, ads and cartoons. Heron debunks the myths associated with alcohol and meticulously portrays the stories behind trafficking of liquor; the role of alcohol in Native communities; law and prohibition, and public drunkenness.

In BOOZE: A Distilled History, Heron examines the relationship between alcohol and leisure time in Canada. He offers a compelling portrait of early watering holes, bootlegging and the workingman’s club. “To write about booze is to enter into a minefield of controversy,” said Heron, acknowledging the complexity of his subject.

“It was a book that I never intended to write but it quickly became clear to me that it was a book that had to be written,” said Heron. The idea for a book on alcohol came out of his work as a curator for an exhibit called Booze: Work, Pleasure, and Controversy which he arranged for the Ontario Workers’ Arts and Heritage Centre in 1998. “I found great gaping holes in the history of drinking in Canada and that surprised me.”

Alcohol has been at the heart of Canadian society with temperance movements, entire cities in Ontario that were alcohol free or “dry”, and it was a driving force behind 34 separate political referendums in Canada. “Booze is a difficult issue for provincial and federal governments,” said Heron. “I choose the word ‘Booze’ for the title because it generates such interesting and polarized reactions. Some of the temperance folks spit the word out. Others use it as an affectionate reference for an old friend.”

“It presents an interesting flashpoint of disagreement,” said Heron. The book represents his sixth literary effort and Heron has plans to pursue the subject into a more general study on leisure patterns in Canada and their relationship to work over the past 150 years.

BOOZE: A Distilled History is published by Between the Lines and is available at the York University Bookstore. The official launch of BOOZE: A Distilled History will take place on Dec. 4 at 7:30pm at The Mill Street Brewery in the Distillery Historic District just south of Parliament and King Street East in Toronto.