We’ve been going to Stratford, Ontario, for the Shakespeare Festival since the 1960’s, and one of our family traditions was to pack a picnic lunch and sit on the banks of the Avon River or on Tom Patterson Island and enjoy the food and drink before a matinee. We always find some excellent cheeses and bread and other goodies, and it always has included a nice bottle of wine that we’d share. Yesterday was our day to do that, so we found a nice shady spot, opened the picnic hamper, uncorked the wine — a nice bottle of Pouilly Fuisse — (I had a Diet Pepsi), and ate our sandwiches lovingly prepared by the York Street Cafe. We finished up and put away our picnic things and sat reading (me doing the crossword puzzle), waiting for the time to head up the hill to the Festival Theatre for our matinee.
The people at the next table, a nice elderly couple, had the same idea, but they did not put away their picnic goodies, including a bottle of red wine. A few minutes after we put our stuff away, a Stratford police officer approached their table, told them that it was illegal to have an open bottle of alcohol in a public place. He took the bottle and wrote them up a ticket for $125.
Needless to say, we — and they — were aghast. They were from Toronto and regular visitors, and like us, they had always had a pre-show picnic that included a bottle of vino. (Fortunately for us, our nearly-empty bottle was out of sight.) The gentleman said he thought that the open container law had been repealed a long time ago. The constable politely but firmly said no, the part of the law that had been repealed was the prohibition against having an open container of alcohol in your own backyard. There were no signs anywhere in the park or along the road where the picnic tables are placed and there is nothing in any of the literature that says anything about the prohibition. In fact, the city tourism website promotes the parks as the ideal place to “[s]troll the banks of the Avon watching the flirting swans in spring and families in the summer and fall. We have hundreds of benches for spooning and tables for picnics.” It might not be a bad idea to say “leave the booze in your hotel” as well.
I’m all in favor of discouraging public drunkenness or drunken driving, which is apparently the point of the law, but I also think it might be a good idea to let visitors — Canadians as well as anyone else — know about it. In the meantime, lemonade, anyone?