Log Cabin Chronicles

Royal Orr

Temperance, then and now


There wasn't much going on for kids in the village of Milby when I was growing up. No hockey rink, no baseball field. No Scouts, no Guides, no drop-in centre.

In fact the only organized activities for children happened three times a year and were all sponsored by the LTL.

A Christmas pageant, a sliding party mid-winter, and a summer field day on the lawn of the Anglican Church. That was it.

That photo sent in by Journal reader Allan Banfill last week, well, that's me at the starting line of the LTL sack race, circa 1961. I think that Valerie Smyth is beside me, hiding her face. And maybe one of the Raymond girls - there were several of them.

The connection to Mr. Banfill is an easy one. His cousin, Doris, single-handedly made sure that kids had at least a semblance civic attention in Milby. She worked full-time in Sherbrooke and labored as hard as a hired man on her father's farm on the ridge above the village. Somehow, she had a bit of time for us too.

A boy once asked Miss Banfill what the initials LTL stood for.

"Little Tiny Laddies," she said. "If you're a girl, it's Little Tiny Ladies."

Truth is, that's not what LTL stood for. Miss Banfill was protecting us from a more sobering reality.

The LTL, or "Loyal Temperance Legion", is the international youth wing of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). The LTL plan was when I got to be about 12, maybe at a sliding party or between sack races, that I would take The Pledge.

My father took The Pledge as a boy. I cannot say whether he would have drunk more had he not, but I certainly can say that he didn't keep it fervently in later life.

The modern version of The Pledge goes:

"That I may give my best service to home and country, I promise, God helping me, not to buy, drink, sell, or give alcoholic liquors while I live. From other drugs and tobacco I'll abstain, and never take God's name in vain."

The "alcoholic liquors" sounds suitably Victorian. I suspect the "other drugs and tobacco" is a late 20th century addition and the rhyming of "abstain" and "vain" is also suspicious.

The WCTU began in the 1870s and quickly became the biggest, most powerful women's organization in the world. Demon liquor was the target. And youth were to be enrolled in the fight through the White Ribbons (for tots) and the LTL.

It's easy to make fun of the temperance ladies and their moral crusade. But we forget how devastating alcohol was to North American communities and families before strict controls were placed on its manufacture and sale.

The WCTU was born out of the frustration of local women activists confronted by corrupt politicians unduly influenced by wealthy brewers and distillers. They dismissed the women's call for reform and mocked their involvement in public life. Canadian women responded famously with the Dominion WCTU, sending a petition with nearly half a million names to Ottawa in 1874 and enacting Prohibition in 1916.

The WCTU became a training ground for the first generation of female political leaders in Canada and the U.S. In the historic "persons case" in Canada about a woman's right to vote, four of the five plaintiffs were activists from the WCTU as were the first women MPs and senators.

When I was a boy, the WCTU and the LTL were already a pale shadow of their former selves. But they were once a powerful force for positive change in Canada.

So raise a toast to the LTL, but make mine a lemonade as it would have been after the three-legged race in Milby in 1961.

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