From the insidious to the insightful, Glen Mofford’s debut book, Aqua Vitae: A History of the Saloons and Hotel Bars of Victoria, 1851-1917, tells true historic tales of Victoria’s drinking establishments prior to prohibition in B.C.
Aqua Vitae—the water of life—brings the reader back to a time of five-cent-bars and smoky saloons with non-fiction descriptions of what actually went on in Victoria’s historic watering holes. Everything from murders and suicides to who opened and operated the establishments is revealed.
“They’re all true stories, none of this is made up or fiction or exaggerated,” Mofford said. “Each chapter talks about each place, who started it, where they came from, their history and what happened there.”
Moving to Port Alberni from Victoria three years ago, Mofford, who has a history degree from Simon Fraser University, said many years of research has been poured into his book.
“I really liked the old period from the pioneer days so I started researching. I started making lists from A to Z of every saloon and hotel bar that operated in Victoria,” Mofford said. “I’ve been working on this for 17 years on and off…it’s really well researched.”
Much of Mofford’s research is derived from B.C. archives and old newspaper articles but also simply from having a beer and listening to anecdotes from pub patrons.
“They would talk about when they were young and where their fathers went, I thought this is fascinating, so I started carrying a notebook around and started writing all the stuff they were saying,” Mofford said.
Beginning by writing articles for newspapers about the history of various drinking establishments in B.C., Mofford didn’t anticipate he would end up combining his love for beer and history into a book until about five years ago.
“I love history and then I loved drinking beer and it took me about 10 years to put two and two together,” Mofford said. “I always liked going to the pub, especially when I was young, we grew up at that age. I mean it’s not in vogue now but it was in vogue then.”
After months of studying the process of getting a book published, Mofford sent his proposal to a publishing company—TouchWood Editions—in Victoria.
“I knew [TouchWood] liked non-fiction history and cookbooks… so I sent [the proposal] to them with one chapter and they phoned me and said it was the best proposal they’ve had in two years,” Mofford said.
After finding out his book was picked up last September, and only having written two chapters at that time, Mofford began vigorously writing the remainder of Aqua Vitae.
“When someone picks a book up it’s a great moment. It’s like getting married, buying a house or having a child…so I was just bubbling with enthusiasm,” Mofford said.
Although the book primarily focuses on Victoria saloons and bars, it does mention other historical drinking facilities on Vancouver Island, including connections from Port Alberni.
“No one’s actually written a book specifically about the saloons of Victoria, no one. That’s why I think it’s unique, it’s original. Hopefully interest is not just in Victoria,” Mofford said. “I hope it will interest people from all over B.C.”
Aqua Vitae officially hits book stores and will become available online on Tuesday, Oct. 18. Mofford will also be at Boutique Belles Amies, 5344 Argyle St., on Saturday, Oct. 15 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to chat about his book.