Friday, February 28, 2014

Port Alberni's Historic Hotels: The Arlington Hotel, Part II - 1925 to 1974.

History of the Arlington Hotel, 1893 to 2012
Part II: 1925 to 1974

By Glen A. Mofford & Kristi Dobson

Arlington Hotel in 1948

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 issued.

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 revenue.

The 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 watering hole.

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.

In 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 regulations.
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 1960’s.

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, page 7A.