Punched Drunk: Alcohol, Surveillance and the LCBO, 1927-1975

LCBO Surveillance Technologies

Punch Cards, IBM & Statistical Analysis


Since its inception in 1927 until the 1970s, the Liquor Control Board Punched Drunk book coverof Ontario (LCBO) used a complex system of surveillance in order to track, analyse and assess drinking within the province. Since the LCBO was developed directly after Ontario’s 1916-1927 period of prohibition, temperance values lingered. Specifically, the politically disastrous potential of being seen as making money from “from the ruination of families or creating drunkards” pushed the Board to develop a system of surveillance as a means of knowing “exactly who is drinking and how much, and what disposition is being made of it” (Willison 1924; Ferguson 1926).

Under this surveillance system anyone who wanted to drink needed a licence – like the licences we have for driving today – which identified them and kept a record of all of their purchases. When they bought alcohol they had to show their licence, the LCBO vendor checked it to see that they were not “abusing their privilege,” and a form was filled out detailing the purchase (Regulations of the LCBO 1927 s.35, s.66; Liquor Control Act 1927 c.70 s.43). If the LCBO thought that someone was drinking too much or could not afford to drink (or the Police, a Judge, a relief worker or a member of the general public told them so) the person was added to the list of known drunkards – the interdiction list – and it became illegal for them to purchase, drink or possess liquor of any kind. This list, however, was not evenly applied, and First Nations peoples, women, the poor and working class found themselves more likely to be listed. In addition to this LCBO inspectors staked out bars and taverns to ensure that there was no singing, dancing or swearing, and were active in ensuring that women stayed within the separate “ladies and escorts” rooms, accompanied by a bonafide male escort. Between 1927 and 1962 the LCBO kept records on every licenced drinker, every purchase made, every employee, every drinking establishment and every bottle of booze in Ontario.

This web page is separated into twelve sections:

LCBO Surveillance Technologies shows the various surveillance tools used by the LCBO between 1927 and 1975

Why Surveillance addresses the motivations behind the adopting these technologies

Surveillance As Liquor Control investigates the LCBO’s mandate of liquor and social control

Liquor Permits highlights the technology that tracked individual drinkers

The Purchase Process details the regulations and technologies which allowed to the LCBO to track every purchase in the province

Interdiction describes the history surrounding the LCBO’s list of “known drunkards”

Surveillance of Licensed Establishments details the LCBO’s oversight of the reemerging cocktail lounges and standard hotels

LCBO and First Nations Peoples details the specialized regulations, laws and procedures which singled out and distinguished this population from others, developing stereotypical associations between “Indians” and drunkards

Punch Cards, IBM and Statistical Analysis reviews the LCBO’s use of this technology

Original Documents in which copies of the original LCBO circulars, forms, Reports and other documents cited can be found

Information presented on this site comes from the book “Punched Drunk: Alcohol Surveillance and the LCBO 1927-1975” by Scott Thompson and Gary Genosko.