The Days Of Prohibition


How the HELL am I supposed to be able to watch movies like this at the Rio Theatre with this ridiculous restriction in place?

The historic Rio Theatre, that sits on East Broadway next to Commerical Drive has her lights dimmed, in what I hope, is a temporary capacity. After a hard-fought battle to have a liquor licence, the LCLB have added an addendum stating that if the Rio is going to have licensed live events, they can no longer show movies.

I think I can safely speak for all of us when I say, what the fucking fuck?

The Rio Theatre was first built in 1938, and while it enjoyed popularity in her early Art Deco heyday, she later closed her doors and sat vacant. That is, until Corrine Lea and others came forward to purchase and breathe new life into her, as well as give Vancouverites on the east side a local cinema that also would host live events. Over the years it has proved itself an institution to the arts community and the surrounding area. If your in Vancouver and have been following the news, you’ll know that Corinne managed to get the Rio a liquor license, only to find that the LCLB added on that as a result of having this license, she can no longer screen film of any kind. Page 30 of the British Columbia Liquor License outline booklet.
“You may also: …
• Show movies, provided the primary focus of your establishment does not shift to that of a movie theatre, and that all movies are shown in accordance with the Motion Picture Act and its Regulations.” So if this is the case, what’s the big kerfuffle all about? I think this dates back to earlier times in Vancouver history…

In 1949, Mayor McGeer had returned to office in Vancouver and with Chief Constable Walter Mulligan they declared a ‘War On Vice” in Vancouver. Mayor McGeer was known for his platform and promises to ‘clean up this town’. One of the arms of this octopus of righteousness was the campaign against alcohol. Being a port town, Vancouver is considered an able gateway to things that could be easily perceived as vice: booze, drugs, sex, etc. While Prohibition started in the 20?s is had trailed off in the 30s. However, the moral watchdogs holdover were the laws of the day that banned ladies from men’s drinking spaces (1927) and only some beer parlours would provide “Ladies and Escorts” lounges, separate from the men. In the 30?s some of the regulations included:

No food with alcohol

No music where alcohol is served

No mixed couples

Bob Campbell was quoted as saying, “there was little to do except drink”. From what I have gathered from reading Vancouver Archives, the history of metropolitan Vancouver, and Vancouver Noir, published by Anvil Press (all excellent historical sources) was that the largest element at play in legislation against alcohol was great beating about morality. The fear-mongering that if people were left to make their own choices, they’d make an immoral one.

It’s against BC laws to serve liquor in a movie theatre, so the LCLB has stated in regards to the Rio. Owner Corrine Lea talks on CBC’s On The Coast about the runaround and, dare I say, persecution she’s come across with the LCLB for asking questions regarding why the Rio can’t function as a multi-purpose venue. Councillor Heather Deal has been a staunch supporter to aid the Rio, but the Province is slow to act, which will wind up hurting the theatre due to loss of revenue. More from CBC here. So the regular movie nights, the special film screenings and anything to do with the screen having projected images are at a standstill and the Rio employees are left to wonder about their future.


I was pleased to note that Corinne isn’t the only one trying to modernize and update these laws. One of the steadiest growing industries in BC, wine growers, would like to see their wares available for purchase in grocery stores. Full story from CBC here. So if a large, growing industry is also lobbying to change some legislation, then hopefully this bodes well for the Rio. The push to include BC wineries and breweries products in grocery stores would provide more money to put back into BC businesses. The only two groups that are vocal in regards to opposing it are some union members who fear job threats and a handful of people who say that by making alcohol more readily available, you’ll have more people out of control. Which *might* be a potential argument, until you go to Berlin and walk around drinking a beer in the street. After travelling throughout Europe where it is legal to consume alcohol in public, I can assure you, the EU have not flushed their moral turpitude down the proverbial crapper. Interestingly enough, in May of last year, Ontario agreed to relax liquor laws for festival-goers, which also seemed one-sided when stated ‘Municipalities and police still have the right to say no. The province intends to enforce ‘responsible behaviour’ says Chris Bentely, Ontario General Attorney. Kind of takes the initiative to act responsibly if it’s just going to be ‘enforced’ on you anyways.

The Rio, however, has no desire to serve alcohol during film screenings. That was NEVER the intention. But for some reason, that seems to be the only reason the LCBC can really give and just to repeat that the Rio is ‘just a movie theatre’. So, I’m not terribly sure where this fear that people will be bombed watching films comes from (though, frankly that would be the ONLY way to get me to watch some of the Hollywood drivel, but I’m not advocating it) but this boogeyman seems to be the only thing the LCBC has to go on. The whole trying to save us from ourselves seems such a ridiculous argument and that the LCBC is simply penalizing Corrine, her staff, and the Rio patrons. If you feel that the Rio deserves your support, you can email to the LCBC and Provincial government at and

I truly hope that the lights don’t go down on this much-needed, much loved magical space.


Little Miss Risk

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