Booze: A Distilled History


407 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-896357-83-0
DDC 394.1'3






Reviewed by Steve Pitt

Steve Pitt is a Toronto-based freelance writer and an award-winning journalist. He has written many young adult and children's books, including Day of the Flying Fox: The True Story of World War II Pilot Charley Fox.


For most of its history, Canada has had an uneasy relationship with
alcohol. It has been vilified by politicians and religious leaders as
the “Devil’s Own Brew.” It has been extolled by merchants as a
surefire tonic for women, children, and invalids and as the “Water of
Life” for working men. Booze has been the secret foundation of some of
the largest fortunes ever amassed in Canada, and it has been blamed for
bankruptcy of the working poor. This book, by veteran historian Craig
Heron, is an exhaustive look at how booze has been used and abused by
Canadians over the past 400 years.

In his opening chapters, Heron gives a quick overview of the history of
alcohol and its introduction into North America by the Europeans more
than four centuries ago. From there, he discusses how alcohol became an
integral part of the colonization process—first as a commodity used in
trading with the First Nations peoples, and later as a valuable product
that could be made from surplus crops. Heron’s middle chapters examine
why certain Canadians, from the early 19th century onwards, began
calling for controls on alcohol—a phenomenon that eventually led to an
unpopular and short-lived outright ban on booze in the early 20th
century. The book finishes with a discussion of why that ban failed and
how booze has slowly fought its way back into respectable Canadian

Heron maintains high academic standards throughout this book, yet the
prose remains informal and highly readable. Scores of fascinating period
photos, newspaper illustrations, and advertising posters interspersed
throughout often lend a humorous and sometimes even disturbing tone to
the text. An index, a bibliography, and extensive notes are included.
Whether you are a serious student of Canadian history or merely looking
for a fun read on a controversial subject, this book will hit the spot.


Heron, Craig., “Booze: A Distilled History,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 12, 2024,