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Whiskey and Wickedness: A wild look at Wellington County history

by Kelly Waterhouse

FERGUS - Canadian whiskey adds flavor to a new book that explores the wild side of Ontario’s history.

Whiskey and Wickedness, Grey County 1840-1885; Wellington County 1825-1885 is the work of historian Larry Cotton.

After nine years of research, Cotton self-published the book, his fifth in a series featuring Georgian Bay and surrounding areas.

“The book looks at the role that whiskey had in the social and economic development of communities,” Cotton said.

He explains, “Booze was very cheap and very plentiful because most farmers produced grains and took them to a grist mill, where the miller would barter ... and convert the bushels to whiskey. There was a huge market for it. Whiskey was a social lubricant.”

On the other side, Cotton explains whiskey caused many families to lose their farms, an equally relevant piece of the historic puzzle.

It is also an examination of the rise of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

“There is a morality thread that weaves its way through,” Cotton said, “like the impacts on women and their families. There was a lot about domestic violence.”

The whiskey business infiltrated many issues such as settlement, laws and elections. It also stimulated incidents of violence, riots, deaths and tragedies. All this makes for sensational stories of regional history.

Cotton hopes his book will present a look at the history of the vice in the culture and heritage of early Canadian settlers  by telling their stories through research, anecdotes and personal accounts.

“I hope it is a cornerstone of local history, looked at from a different perspective,” he said. “It’s one piece of the big puzzle and I hope it inspires other people to research and write history.”

Cotton’s personal connection to the research stems from his 1827 family roots in Guelph, where his ancestors opened a tavern.

“I have a local tie to this community and the whiskey dispensing business,” he said.

Though Cotton currently makes his home in the Ottawa region, he will continue to further his research in this area.

His next book, 100 Taverns in 100 Miles will take readers from Toronto north along Yonge Street.

“In Canada, it seems only important people write about what they deem important ... the average Canadian in the bush have no voice. Maybe this book is a voice for the women and children of that time.”

Whiskey and Wickedness, Grey County 1840-1885; Wellington County 1825-1885 is available through Chapters Indigo, and locally at Roxanne’s Reflections in Fergus, The Bookshelf in Guelph, Millenia in Hanover and Print One in Mount Forest. 


December 16, 2011


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