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Did you know that Somerville is a Dry Township?

December 12, 2022

Fred Dettman's Dunbar House

By Guy Scott

Kinmount has had many hotels over its history. At the zenith of the hotel era, 3 huge hotels (Dunbar House, Bowies Brick Hotel & Northern Hotel) were the main businesses in town. And a key part of these businesses were the beverage rooms. ‘Overindulgence’ of alcoholic spirits was a problem from time to time, especially when the river drivers came through in the spring. For the thirsty loggers, Kinmount bars were often the first stop after a winter in the bush and they enlivened the local social scene. The village often employed a constable to keep order, and it is no coincidence that the town hall contained 2 jail cells. Such scenes led to the formation of a local branch of the Temperance League and a detachment of the Salvation Army.

The temperance situation came to a head in the early 1900s. Under pressure from Temperance organizations, the Government of Ontario passed a ‘local option’ law whereby municipalities could ban the sale of alcoholic beverages within their boundaries by a plebiscite. Thanks to pressure from the local ‘dry’ forces, Somerville Township held such a vote in 1908. The publicity battle was joined with great gusto by both dry & wet forces. The hotel keepers & their wet allies may have underestimated the strength of the dry forces until it was almost too late. The night before the vote, hotel keepers James Simpson & George Dettman met to plot strategy. On voting day the turnout was brisk as both sides cast their ballots. The final result was very close, but Somerville voted dry. If the wet forces had brought in the denizens of a nearby lumber camp to vote, the final result might have been different. But history is filled with ‘might have beens,’ and Kinmount village on the Somerville side went dry.

The hotel-keepers were ruined. The profitable part of their businesses were the beverage rooms. To this very day, Somerville is still a ‘dry township.’ This does not mean all alcoholic beverages are forbidden, just bars and beverage rooms. Alcohol may still be served with meals and the local LCBO outlet is permitted. It is not a coincidence that the Legion is on the Galway side of town. Galway is a ‘wet’ township. Several attempts to lift the dry ban since 1908 have been unsuccessful.

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