A look at the evils of pool in ‘River City’

The conduct, or perhaps more accurately, the misconduct of teenagers and young adults have been an age-old issue. In 1922, Principal C.D. Locke, of the Red Deer High School, complained to the Public School Board that students were attending dances and loitering around the hockey rink, or on the streets, until very late hours, much to the detriment of their school work.

Later, there were problems about older students smoking outside the school.

The Board passed a resolution that stated, “The use of tobacco in any form by pupils of the school, in or about the school premises, or on their way to and from school, is strictly prohibited.”

When students continued to smoke away from school property, the Board asked the Chief of Police to crack down on smoking by minors.

One issue, however, that really flared up, involved pool halls and billiard parlours in Red Deer.

People had long considered these establishments to be places of “dens of iniquity” that could corrupt the young if they were allowed to visit them.

An illustration of those fears can be seen in the famous movie, The Music Man.

The con man, Harold Hill was able to convince the townspeople to support his phony boys’ band proposal on the warning that a new pool table was coming to town and that would spell ‘trouble for River City’ by corrupting young men, unless there was something else to occupy their time.

The spark in Red Deer came with proposals to tighten the Provincial Government’s regulations on pool rooms.

Prohibition had come into full force in Alberta on June 30th, 1916. There was a worry that pool halls might become places where the illegal sale and consumption of alcohol might occur.

In May 1918, the local Social Service League met to discuss the new regulations.

A motion was passed congratulating the Government on its actions as, “There was a great danger that pool rooms in the province could be turned into bar rooms,” and thereby become “blind pigs” for, “The illegal distribution of liquor.”

Most would have presumed this would be the end of debate on the issue.

However, letters began to appear in the local newspapers about whether pool halls were still places where gambling took place, where profanity and rough language were frequent, and where boys under 17 years of age were still able to slip in.

Eventually, in June 1919, a public meeting was held at the Gaetz Memorial Methodist Church to discuss pool rooms and other issues of morality, particularly as they applied to the young in the community.

While many wanted to discuss creating clean and healthy attractions for the children and young adults, such as a public recreation centre, some very strong statements were made which heightened the controversy.

One letter to the editor stated that boys, the day after they turn 17, can legally go into a pool hall, “And use the filthiest language and express it in a modern and scientific way that will take the breath away from the most seasoned in the place.”

Tempers began to boil over what the local pool hall owners felt had been said about their establishments by a local member of the clergy.

The owner of Lyric Theatre also chimed in as he felt that he had been criticized for the “immorality” of some of the movies he had been showing.

One pool hall owner did not particularly help matters when he wrote that if the minister in question wanted to “look around,” he, “Would be able to find places (other than pool halls), where he could see real gambling which would make his head swim.”

City council, always being sensitive to public opinion, asked the Chief of Police to ensure that all laws, including the new provincial regulations, were being strictly enforced.

When he reported back that he found all of the billiard parlours and pool rooms had been fully following the law, people began to be satisfied that the issue had become overblown.

There might still be some “trouble in River City,” but pool halls were not a real problem.