DRIVING THE WATER WAGON

A Story of the Great Prohibition Drive in Ontario

GEORGE A. WARBURTON August 1 1920

DRIVING THE WATER WAGON

A Story of the Great Prohibition Drive in Ontario

GEORGE A. WARBURTON August 1 1920

IT MAY surprise some of those who have been kind enough to favor me with their hatred and bitter denunciation since the day when the Ontario Temperance Act went into force, to be told that until the Committee of One Hundred was formed and I became connected with it, I had never been engaged in any kind of prohibition work. To be sure, when I had lived in the United States I had watched the various prohibition efforts Third Party, Anti-Saloon League and the rest—but my life had been occupied with other causes and I was never particularly attracted by the professional prohibitionist of either sex and felt but slight sympathy with many of their methods, however deeply I sympathized with their purpose.

But, with the opening of the war, it so clearly seemed to be the duty of the nation to conserve its full strength and to stop all possible waste that both my mind and heart were challenged to the utmost service.

Billy Sunday Started It

MY FIRST connection with the campaign in Ontario was at the Billy Sunday meeting in the Arena at Toronto, where I took the collection, those in charge imagining that I possessed some magical power to separate people from their money. I had not looked with favor upon Sunday’s coming, regarding his preaching as coarse and vulgar and fearing an unfavorable reaction. It was a distinct surprise to discover that the two addresses which Billy gave in Toronto were by far the most unanswerable arguments for total abstinence and prohibition that I had ever heard, even with John B. Gough among those whom I had listened to.

At that time I had no idea of assuming the leadership of the movement, though I had been urged strongly to do so by many of my friends, among whom were J. F. McKay, then of the Globe, who first mentioned it to me; J. H. Gundy, who afterward became chairman of the Finance Committee; Col. F. H. Deacon, the late A. R. Williams, Dr. A. S. Grant, Dr. T. Albert Moore and James Hales. The reason they gave for coming to me was that I was free from party affiliations, having but recently become a Canadian citizen. They said: “If you will take up this work, it will at once show its non-partisan character.” They also thought that I might induce leading men who, like myself, had not been active in prohibition work, to unite with the Committee and give its work their active support.

Billy Sunday’s meetings in the Arena drew crowds from all parts of the Province. He spoke in the afternoon and again in the evening. The audience included many clergymen, not a few from those denominations that were not particularly sympathetic with sensational revivalism. Several members of the Ontario Government were present and the late Hon. W. J. Hanna was, I remember, profoundly impressed by Sunday’s addresses. Those addresses were delivered with all the torrential fury of which the evangelist is the master. His elocution violated all conventions. He poured out a stream of vituperation as Niagara pours its waters into the abyss. He raved and roared, pacing the platform from end to end and, as a climax, mounting the pulpit, from which point of vantage he looked down into hell and advised the devil to go out of business, and having a sign out, “Rooms to Rent,” because the people here in this world were “going for God so strong.”

But in spite of mannerisms that in anyone else would have been highly offensive, he carried the whole audience forward by the irresistible logic of his facts and by his clear demonstrations of the relation between drink and crime, and sobriety and human happiness. One result of the meetings was a collection amounting to between eight and nine thousand dollars, but a far more important contribution was the general publicity and the confident fighting spirit which it put into the workers from all over Ontario.

The Difficulties of the Committee

'I'HE Committee of One Hundred was at that time in a very peculiar and somewhat precarious position in so far as its composition was concerned. It was intended to be strictly non-partisan and was pledged to secure wartime prohibition. The moving spirit in it was that brilliant young knight of prohibition, Newton Wylie, and with him were considerable numbers of Liberals and a few Conservatives, most of whom, if not all, had been ardent supporters of Rowell and his “Abolish the Bar” policy, and who, therefore, were in the position of seeming to be busy trying to resuscitate an issue which the voters of the Province had buried a few months before. There was, to be sure, one favorable condition in the fact that Sir William Hearst, known to be in sympathy with prohibition, was Premier, but it was undoubtedly true that the Conservative Party, firmly intrenched in Queen’s Park, was not likely to be friendly to any prohibition proposal, especially if it originated with the Liberals, who had made it a party issue and had been defeated upon it. I felt keenly my lack of experience in dealing with public men and with Governments and was reluctant to accept the invitation of the Committee to become its leader. Then on the Young Men’s Christian Association side there were difficulties. The traditions of the Association movement were against its General Secretaries becoming conspicuous in moral reform movements, owing to the fact that among its constituents there were those who differed as to methods and it was not considered the duty of the Association or its officers to take direct action in regard to reform movements, especially those that seemed to involve political implications. But, at last the objections of the Board were overcome and I was given leave of absence for six months to lead the Prohibition forces.

I Call on the Premier

ONE of my first moves was to call upon the Premier and explain what it was proposed to do. He received me very cordially and listened patiently to the outline of our plans. I explained that it was not the intention of the Committee to develop public opinion upon the subject of prohibition, but merely, by means of petitions, to give the people of the Provinces a free chance to express themselves. I also assured him that the movement was and should be absolutely non-partisan and that, if I ever discovered it was becoming anything else, I would leave it and denounce it. I reminded him that both he and Sir James Whitney had declared that the Government would go as far as the people demanded and that, therefore, he could not object to our giving the people the chance to express their opinion upon the prohibition situation as it had been affected by the war. I promised him that we would keep him absolutely informed as to the progress of our work and said that we wished to co-operate with the Government and to avoid embarrassing them in all that we did; we only asked him at that time not to allow the political organization of which he was the head to oppose our work. We wanted only a free chance to discover and make known the people’s will.

The Premier expressed his personal sympathy with prohibition and spoke of the difficulties, owing to its having been taken up by the Liberals as a party issue. We separated with mutual expressions of personal confidence. The Premier made no promises at that time or at any other until be was prepared to tell me what the Government policy would be. I told him that I would not ask him to be as free with respect to his plans as I would be with regard to those of the Committee because we fully recognized his position as the responsible head of the Government of the Province.

A VERY real difficulty which I faced was that there were too many Liberals in our Committee, or better, too few Conservatives. I remember recounting to one of my Conservative friends the Conservative membership at that time, and when I mentioned a certain Toronto gentleman whom I will call Brown, my friend said: “Oh yes, I know Brown. He’s a Tory who always votes Grit!” But gradually we were able to correct the balance and it was done chiefly by choosing the chairman of the County organizations from among Conservatives and by adding only those who belonged to that party to the Committee. The Liberal members of the Committee who were active in its work fully agreed with that policy, for their interest in prohibition was not, as their political opponents were apt to think and openly say, chiefly partisan.

Gradually the movement took shape and developed enormous strength. Our organizers were generally very discreet and tactful, and we had but little trouble in securing the right kind of co-operation. Our greatest difficulty was with those sections where temperance organizations had been conducted upon the principles of denunciation and where a comparatively narrow circle of citizens, and those not very influential, were identified with such work.

In one place there was a prominent organization made up of ultra-prohibitionists; nearly all of whom were Liberals in politics. They represented a very small minority of the voting population. When the returns from the various counties came in this county showed the smallest percentage of any and it was necessary to send a special group of workers into it in order that the inertia of the people who were not affiliated with the old-line temperance work might be overcome and their co-operation secured. This task was much harder than when new elements were organized independently. In fact one great handicap, which any reform is sure to have, results from the excesses and extravagances both of statement and method by its well-intentioned advocates. Another is the tendency of workers to grow stale both in spirit and method.

Co-Operation the Keynote

ONE of the keynotes of our effort was co-operation with the Government and with all people, whatever their previous position had been with respect to prohibition or whatever their personal habits as to total abstinence, who then thought war-time prohibition a desirable thing. The chairman of the Toronto Committee was not a total abstainer and it was a distinct advantage to have such a man leading in the metropolis of the Province, where we desired, and secured, the co-operation of many such men. If we had merely had as supporters of the work of the Committee of One Hundred those who had voted for Rowell and “Abolish the Bar” we could not have succeeded. It was because of our methods and our purpose that we commended ourselves to thousands who, though prohibitionists, were Conservatives and too loyal to forsake their party for the Liberals upon the prohibition issue, and also to many who were not prohibitionists, but who felt that the waste caused by drink should be stopped during the war.

Our Publicity Campaign

AS THE work developed our newspaper publicity attracted general attention. Our advertisements were full of confidence and optimism. In fact in all campaigns intended to lead the public to action, expectations of success is one of the vital, if not the most vital element. When I asked Newton McConnell, the cartoonist, to prepare some cartoons for us his first suggestions were a picture of a Dreadnought, labelled Prohibition, sinking the submarines, which were the saloons and liquor shops, and another showing the hotels and grog shops being destroyed by some sort of mighty engine called Prohibition.

“No, that is not the idea,” I said. “Give us cartoons which show Prohibition as saving life and property rather than destroying anything.”

The result was “Old Man Ontario” holding his money bags, out of which his dollars were pouring through a big hole. He was looking at it with a peculiarly determined look and, holding a needle with a thread called Prohibition. He was saying: “I’m going to sew it up.”

We used this cartoon widely in the newspapers and on bill boards and it attracted immediate attention and was the best single piece of printed matter which we used.

Keeping on the Offensive

THE side which strikes the first blow also has a great advantage. The Committee of One Hundred was always in the lead and the Personal Liberty League, at that time an organization whose officers were unknown, was always on the defensive. The only man who openly opposed us over his own name was a Toronto liquor seller who directed his attacks against me personally. It was my habit to read the Toronto newspapers and the clippings furnished by an agency very carefully. One morning a particularly virulent advertisement appeared signed by the aforesaid vendor of strong drink. I called him on the telephone.

“Is this Mr.—?” I asked.

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, this is Mr. Warburton of the Committee of One Hundred.”

"I don’t know whether it is or not.”

“Yes, it is. And I want to tell you that we are conducting our campaign on the basis of good will and that I have no ill feeling towards you for the way in which you are abusing me in the papers. I hear that you keep the law and I congratulate you upon it.”

There were no more attacks from that source!

The Globe Rocked the Boat

IT WAS a surprise to us that no daily newspaper in the Province opposed the movement. The Globe, that sheet-anchor of Liberalism in Canada, was very anxious to help the good cause, but at one time "rocked the boat” to a very dangerous degree by publishing an editorial, “Not the Dead Hand,” in which it rather violently urged the Premier to act for himself instead of following too closely the Whitney tradition. It was well intentioned but dangerous and caused us some little embarrassment. For by this time it was evident that the Government was swinging around to a friendly attitude toward the movement.

Its strength was very apparent, Those who sat in the seats of the mighty and would sit there willy nilly until 1919 were feeling the pressure of public opinion. The Premier had said to me: “I think you are wise in working with the Government, for it is from us that you will get anything that is due.”

Stories reached us of committees from political organizations visiting the Parliament buildings to find out what the Government policy was, but they came away without knowing.

The Premier Decides for Prohibition

''THE Premier was take sick one day he sent for me and told me that his policy had been decided upon and he discussed with me what the method of procedure which he had determined to take should be. That method was afterwards followed out in every detail as the Premier explained it to me, lying in his bed at home.

He said: “I have decided to introduce a measure providing for prohibition based on the Macdonald Act of Manitoba. The reason for doing this is that this Act has been declared constitutional by the Privy Council and I am anxious that what is done shall not be based upon any uncertain or untested

The Premier told me that he knew he was taking his political life in his hands, but that he was quite prepared to do it because he was convinced the course the Government had decided upon was right.

“It will not be an easy thing,” he said, “for the Government to carry the measure through. There are many members of the party who are sincere friends of temperance but who do not think that prohibition is the best means of promoting it.”

I should like to pay this tribute to Sir William Hearst. In all of my conferences with him, during the trying days which preceded as well as those which followed the adoption of the Ontario Temperance Act, I never knew him to discuss the subject upon any but the highest ground. He wished to do what was for the public interest, to settle the question in such a way as to make its permanent solution easier by taking it out of party politics and he was fully prepared to act as he did, knowing that it meant the loss of political friends and no end of trouble. I never knew him to make a promise which he did not keep, nor to outline a course which he had decided upon that he did not follow.

The Big Parade

IT is not necessary to follow the course of events which culminated in the big parade and the presentation of the monster petition. After the Premier had decided upon his policy we were prepared to give up the parade, but it was finally thought that a public demonstration would strengthen the hands of the Government.

It was a monster parade. Standing with members of the Government in the Premier’s room watching the procession coming up University Avenue through the snow the late Hon. W. J. Hanna said:

“Are you sending the people down another street to march past again?”

“No, sir,” said I. “Not being a politician I should never have thought of such a thing.”

The Petition was presented by E. C. Clement, K.C., the chairman of the Committee. The Premier replied in a speech outlining what the Government would do. The room where we were was crowded. Various members of the Government were with the Premier, some of them known not to be personally sympathetic. The enthusiasm of the temperance folk was great and they called out the Cabinet members one by one and made them commit themselves publicly. It was a bit like a Methodist class-meeting with Hearst as the leader, and being of that faith he fitted the part well. In that connection an amusing incident had occurred in one of our previous meetings. I was urging confidence in the Government and an unceasing spirit of loyalty and good will.

“Yes,” said one member, always ready for a fair scrap, “but you’ve got to put the fear of God into them!”

Father Minehan, who was present, exclaimed: “That’s impossible, there are too many Methodists in the Government!”

I EXPERIENCED what all reformers have to put up with, a torrent of abuse from friends of the traffic, sometimes over the telephone and frequently by mail. In one part of the Province it was reported, and taken seriously by some, that I was a German agent in the pay of Germany and that my purpose was to destroy the revenues of the Province. On the door of my residence I found written one morning in large prints: “Free beer for the working classes!”

The aftermath politically has been very interesting. The Liberals, were to some extent, robbed of their thunder. Mr. Rowell, whose services to the cause of prohibition are beyond praise and grow out of a deep personal conviction, acted squarely in support of the Government and carried his followers with him. There was no division in the adopt ton of the bill in the House. Rut it must have been a bit trying to see the party which had never been a prohibition party, and is not now, putting through an advanced prohibition measure.

I studiously avoided private conversations with the Liberal Leader purely as a matter of tact and good strategy. I knew him to be a man of high honor and was sure that he would support the Government, as he had promised to do in the House, if they would adopt any advanced temperance legislation. The attitude of the Conservative Party leaders being quite suspicious, friends of Mr. Rowell advised him to keep his policies in the background so that the Government might the more readily adopt prohibition. When the Premier had decided upon his policy Mr. Rowell assured me that he would support it loyally, which he did, both in public and in private, to the full extent of his ability. I always took pains to point out, however, that the Ontario Temperance Act was not the same as Mr. Rowell’s “Abolish the Bar” policy of 1914. The only real criticism that could be made against the Liberal platform of 1914 was that it did not go far enough and was not complete prohibition. The Ontario Temperance Act went as far as the Government and its advisers felt they had the power to go. In this respect it was an advance upon the Liberal programme. Then it is far easier when in Opposition to criticize a Government than it is when in power to actually introduce and put through a measure which is sure to provoke violent hostility.

For this reason the Province owes a great debt to Sir William Hearst, who acted the part of a moral hero in the crisis that arose. The late Hon. W. J. Hanna was reported to me as saying at the time: “This prohibition business will wreck the Government.”

So it is beyond question that the Premier knew the risk he was taking and deserves full credit for it,

WHEN the by-elections began to come in the liquor people’s one aim was "anything to beat Hearst.” The Government candidate was defeated in nearly all of them, and, where he was elected, his majority was greatly reduced. I know of scores of Liberals who felt, as I did, that Hearst deserved their support because of what he had done for prohibition. Yet it was hard to expect Liberals to desert Rowell, or his candidates, especially when the candidates were equally outspoken with the Conservative candidates upon the question of supporting the Ontario Temperance Act. Many Conservatives think that the Government’s defeat in the last election was due to Hearst’s support of prohibition, but this cannot be the case because the farmers are all prohibitionists and, on that issue, would support any Government that favored it. In spite of the importance of prohibition other issues crowded it out of the people’s minds, or they thought that by voting for the Referendum they registered their wills sufficiently and they wanted a change in Government for altogether different reasons.

It will probably be seen that the action of Sir William Hearst did actually take prohibition out of party politics and it should never be allowed to enter that realm again. If this proves to be the case, or in any other event, Hearst will be remembered for his connection with temperance legislation after all other acts of his are forgotten, with the possible exception of his unceasing loyalty in supporting all measures that had to do with running the war.