Next Saturday, Port Alberni resident Glen Mofford will be holding a book launch for a project that has been his labour of love for many years. His first work of non-fiction, Aqua Vitae, will be of interest to history buffs, saloon enthusiasts and those with a general interest in the lives of people in the 1800s to early 1900’s.
Glen, born in Victoria, where he spent most of his life, acquired his history degree from Simon Fraser University. At the time, his main priority was to get a job and pay off his student loans. He was able to be hired for a clerical position with the provincial government. He stayed there for 14 years and at the same time, trained for triathlons, which became his dedicated hobby. Eventually, he decided to sit down and focus on his writing.
“I have always loved pubs, parlours and history and was hearing stories from older people who were hanging out in them,” Glen said. “That combination seemed perfect to put into a non-fiction novel.”
The book is an easy read, with snippets of original pubs in Victoria and anecdotes of their patrons. When he pitched the book to his publisher, he was encouraged by the response.
“They loved it and said it was a unique book because it had never been done before,” Glen said.
After 17 years of research and writing, Glen said his job was to dispel the myths of some of the stories he heard. Although liquor licenses were not required by saloons until 1853, the first one in Victoria opened in 1851.
“It was the Ship Inn built by James Yates,” Glen said. “They were open 24/7 back then. Drinking was a part of life and they thought that if it was done in moderation, it could be healthy rather than detrimental.”
The other main difference was the cost. Beer was five cents and spirits 12.5 cents, whereas the price of a glass of water was hiked up to 50 cents.
The book is broken down into five chapters, featuring a variety of lifestyles. It starts with the pioneer saloons, moves on to Victoria’s “tough edge of town” on Johnson Street during the Gold Rush and highlights the first class, prestigious hotels, like the Empress. From sailors in the Navy to female entrepreneurs, Americans and minorities, the book has stories on a wide range of characters.
There is also a Port Alberni connection.
“William McAllister was the head bartender at the King James and he came to Port Alberni to own and operate the new Alberni Hotel from 1912 to 1918, when it was changed to the Somass Hotel,” Glen said.
Glen ends the book just prior to prohibition and one day hopes to continue where he left off for a sequel.
He spent countless hours in archives and libraries scouring newspapers and online documents and is happy to now have the print copy in his hands and ready for sales.
“It took a long time because I wanted to get it right,” he said. “I want people to read it and say, ‘Hey, I didn’t know that!’”
Glen will be at Boutique Belles Amies for his book launch on Saturday, Oct. 15 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.