In Attics And Archives

Volume 4-Issue 5, page 3

By Lara Maynard

The National Temperance Drink of Newfoundland

It wasn't that long ago when people from our area east of St. John's would make the trip to town to the stores on Water Street like Job's, where I'm told the flies were inches thick on puncheons of molasses on hot days. P.K. (Patrick Kevin) Devine (1859-1950) from King's Cove in Bonavista Bay was an educator and journalist who published a book in 1935 which attempted to record the St. John's of those days. Called Ye Olde St. John's, it includes a section on the businesses on Water Street. An Irishman named James Scanland was one of the people who operated there, running a grocery and provisions business. He also kept a shop nearby on what became known as Scanlan's Lane, where spruce beer "of the very best quality" was served. Devine writes:

...In summer time when the men and women cam to town from Torbay, Pouch Cove, Outer Cove etc, with loads of dried codfish on carts or steamers as they were called, Scanlan's lane became their favourite resort resort at dinner hour. They would buy their lunch, spruce beer, cheese and penny buns at Scanlan's Lane after having discharged their fish at O'Brien's, Job's, Thomas's and Walter Grieve's, etc. Not to say gallons, but barrels and barrels of spruce beer would be sold out in a day. Men, women, boys and girls would sit on the ground on both sides of the lane, eating their lunch and drinking "the cup that cheers but not inebriates."

Spruce beer was cheaply made from boughs and bus, and was a common beverage through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Devine refers to it as "the national temperance drink of Newfoundland," presumably because it was considered to have a relatively low alcohol content, even though it is a fermented beverage. But add a little run to spruce beer, and you've got callibogus, which I imagine the various temperance organizations which were in full force by the late 1800s would not have condoned. The Church of England Total Abstinence Society and the followers of the Roman Catholic Bishops Anthony Michael Fleming would surely have recognized the evils of this drink, the very name of which sounds like mischief-callibogus.

Public vote favoured prohibition of the consumption of alcohol in 1915, and it became illegal to process liquor with more than two percent alcohol content on January 1, 1917. But this law was paid little heed. Today the selection of alcohol in liquor stores would make connoisseurs of spruce beer dizzy: scotch in the fanciest bottles and vodka coolers in every colour in the rainbow with names almost as imaginative as callibogus. If the men and women who went to Scanlan's for their dinner after dropping off their fish on Water Street went there one day to suddenly find beverage selections in bright orange, purple, and blue called "Zombie" or "Jungle Juice," what would the reaction have been? I imagine that they might have thought they were being poisoned!

Back to Oceanside Press Articles