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That time police raided five local hotels over booze (3 photos)

This edition of Remember This looks back on the city's 'morality squad'

From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:

On March 21, 1940, the morality squad raided a series of Sault Ste. Marie hotels. The police had been fielding dozens of complaints from steelworkers’ wives, who were concerned about the actions of their husbands.

On payday, a common practice was for workers to stop at nearby hotels on their way home from work, cash their paychecks there, and drink away a chunk of their earnings in the beverage rooms.

In response to these complaints, police raided a number of hotels, co-ordinating their timing with payday and the end of the night shift at the steel plant. The raids began before 8 a.m. near the plant, and they moved swiftly eastward from there.

The raids were led by officers of the “morality squad,” a police initiative founded in 1937 to address illegal alcohol activity in the city. The squad regularly laid charges for violations of the Liquor Control Act.

In this case, the L.C.A. violations involved the time of day that the hotels were selling beer. In order to be in compliance with the law, they were to wait until 10 a.m. to start serving their customers alcohol. However it was alleged that patrons were being served alcohol more than two hours earlier than the law allowed.

Patrons from the beverage rooms followed the raids across town, bemoaning their lack of an early morning drink. By the time the police reached their last location, a large crowd of would-be drinkers followed in their wake. One man lamented to a Sault Star reporter that he could only consume pop for the next couple of hours!

By the time the raids were completed, five hotel operators were charged under the Liquor Control Act for serving alcohol outside of legal hours. The hotels involved were:

  • The New Toronto Hotel at the corner of James and Cathcart, now a vacant lot next to Spadoni’s.
  • The Soo Hotel at the corner of James and Cathcart, which later became the Empire Hotel and was located in the building that now houses Al’s Hotel.
  • The International Hotel at the corner of Huron and Albert streets, now a vacant lot across from the Nicolet (not to be confused with the International Hotel on Queen Street, which burned down in 1916).
  • The New Ontario Hotel on Hudson Street, where Studio 10 is now located.
  • The Central Hotel on Queen Street East, where Reggie’s Place is now located.

The five hotel operators appeared in court the following month, before Magistrate James McEwen. One of the five hotel operators hired a lawyer to plead his case.

While alcohol may have been provided outside of legal hours, the lawyer argued that hotel operators should not be held responsible for the decisions their bartenders made. His client, for example, “had a late night, was in bed at the time this was all taking place, and claimed to know nothing of what the bartender was doing.” The lawyer advised that in his opinion, the bartender should be held to account for serving drinks illegally — not the hotel operator.

The Crown Attorney prosecuting the case appeared to agree with the defense lawyer’s logic. Not wanting to place any hotel licenses in jeopardy by blaming the operators, he suggested that justice would be served if the bartenders were fined instead.

While Magistrate McEwen believed that this would be a case of the bartenders “[taking] the rap,” according to a Sault Star article, he agreed to change how the case was approached.

The hotel operators pleaded not guilty, and the charges against them were amended. 

Each hotel operator provided the name of a beverage room employee. The beverage room employees were then fined $67.75 each — equivalent to over $1,000 by today’s standards.

Sault police had hoped that the raids would put a stop to workers cashing their paychecks at hotel bars. The Crown Attorney felt that the hefty fine could be used as a deterrent. However, even after the raids and the fines, the magistrate said he knew of no way to legally prevent hotels from cashing worker’s paychecks.

Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provides SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.

Find out more of what the Public Library has to offer at and look for more Remember This? columns her