Museum at Anvil Centre opens exhibition on New West’s history of drinking
By Jillian McMullen, Staff Writer
The New Westminster Museum and Archives, located in Anvil Centre, opened the exhibition Bottoms Up: The Cultures of Drink in the Royal City on November 6, exploring the city’s former and current drinking habits, drinking places, and the people who frequent them.
The exhibition focuses mainly on the social aspects of drinking—most significantly, of course, alcoholic drinks. According to the welcoming infographic, New West was one of the country’s national drinking capitals, with the most bar seats per capita. This helped to strengthen identity in the city by reinforcing camaraderie among social groups. However, the exhibition highlights the important distinction that only citizens who already belonged to these established social groups were brought together, as outsiders were not allowed past the threshold of certain establishments. Age, class, gender, and race have all socially limited citizens from drinking parlours.
The exhibition covers familiar historic moments affecting communal drinking habits, with examples of drinking wares that were common to each one. Prohibition, probably the most notable of these periods, did not stop drinking, but merely slowed the process by which people accessed their drinks. Saloons and parlours, according to the exhibition’s text, “were predominantly white male spaces,” so women responded with establishing a new type of venue: Teahouses. Despite men and women having their own spaces, young citizens found ways to interact, allowing women into prescribed men’s sections granted they had an escort.
The centrepiece of the exhibition explores the memories of various citizens’ participation in the city’s drinking history via sound clips. The exhibition contains a table on which there are about eight to ten copper disks and a cup that the curators of the exhibition have hooked a speaker into. When guests place the cup-speaker on one of the disks, a clip is played. One in particular describes how men would attempt to meet women despite the gendered sections. \
“Yes, there was a men’s side and a women’s side—women and escorts,” humorously reminisces one of the men in the clip. “And it was a regular thing if a bunch of us were over on the men side. We would look over into the women’s side to see if you knew anyone. If we did—we saw one friend with one lady—we’d all go over. ‘Women and escorts’ didn’t say how many, so you were always looking over for somebody who you could join.”
While New West was definitely a drinking city, the exhibition shows most importantly the changing physical and social landscape of public spaces throughout the city’s history. Photos of old storefronts are a fascinating way to look back on the history of the streets on which we travel day-to-day and how we as citizens interact “in place.” Bottoms Up is scheduled to be in the New Westminster Museum until March 25 next year.