Drug History Canada

Musings on the history of drugs in Canada.

Tag: Canada

Good drugs and their bad tendencies

After several decades of working on this (ok, worked on it in the 90s then took some time away) my book, When Good Drugs Go Bad: Opium, Medicine, and the Origins of Canada’s Drug Laws has been released.

You can order a copy of the hardcover here.

And for reference, here is a picture of the cover.  Below I will tell you more about it.

Malleck - Good drugs - cover image

In this book I look at the origins of Canada’s drug laws, the century or so before the creation of the Opium Act, 1908, and the Opium and Drugs Act, 1911.

My main question was simple: where did the idea come from that some drugs were bad and needed to be regulated. It may seem simplistic, but beneath this question are a bunch of related issues: Why is addiction considered a problem?; what is wrong with recreational drug use? How did the idea that government should be involved in the regulation of drugs come about?

These may seem odd questions, but they really are fundamental to our understanding of current debates over drug laws and drug use.

For example, we seem to have this idea that recreation is an illegitimate application of chemicals.  That is, you can take drugs for pain killing, to heal, to allow children to focus, to reduce coughs, and to get rid of the sniffles, but once you enjoy them purely for the sake of enjoyment, you are misusing drugs.

Here we get this idea of “drug abuse” which is linguistically connected to things like child abuse and spousal abuse, but in this way we’re really considered to be abusing ourselves by using drugs in a way other than one medically acceptable.

Why was medicine the only legitimate use of such substances?  How did physicians get that kind of power?  Why are pharmacists the ones who should be managing the sale of drugs?

The book takes a long view, stretching back to pre confederation, to look at the various uses of drugs, and the different ways that people began to suggest there are legitimate and illegitimate uses of them. It traces the creation of provincial pharmacy laws, which I argue are Canada’s first drug laws.  Here the idea emerged that the trade in certain substances should be governed by small groups of educated men rather than allowing the free market to do its thing.  Once you establish the idea that some things should be controlled by government pronouncement, and you deputize groups of professionals to do the controlling, that scope of control can be broadened. The idea of controlling drugs that could kill you broadens to include controlling drugs that could hurt you. Then the idea of “hurt” expands to include not just maim or debilitate, but perhaps just make you need them all the time (habituation, or addiction).

It’s a complex story, and one that needed to be told for Canada.

I hope you enjoy it. Buy multiple copies.  Christmas is coming, after all!

Media II: the morning after the referenda

Two more states voted for various forms of cannabis legalization. The District of Columbia also voted to permit marijuana possession. Several municipalities in New England passed similar initiatives.

These are big deals. How they will play out in Canada (if at all) is a good topic of debate.

I spoke to Yahoo News about this, and they published an article reflecting on the potential impact.

It is available here

As noted in the article, I think that the most interesting part of these outcomes is in Oregon, where the existing Liquor Commission will take on the role of regulation. (In Alaska a similar situation would be temporary, with a Marijuana Control Board possibly taking over). Since we have liquor commissions or liquor boards in all provinces, it makes for a good template for a legalization framework.

I should note, with due diligence, that I mis-remembered the Washington State law. It also puts the regulation of cannabis in the hands of the state liquor control board. Don’t ask me how I misremembered it, ok? These things happen on busy days when you’re asked to respond quickly.

Other links

Some of the answers to questions bout Oregon’s marijuana laws

Oregon’s Measure 91 – Cannabis legalization framework

Information on Alaska’s measure

Colorado’s Marijuana Amendment 64

Washington State’s marijuana initiative

Digital newspaper databases–first try

I have been attempting to compile a list of online searchable digital newspaper databases. It is more difficult than you may think.

What follows is the first draft, I suppose, of the results.  Most of this is English language material (except the general clearing house databases, many of which contain links to other language papers).

**I have created a separate page with this information. I will change it when necessary.  Note: this post will not be updated again, so check that page for the most up to date information.**

Many of the entries on the following list come courtesy of the good contributors on the H-Canada list.

I indicate where I can whether these are paid or free sites, how searchable they are, and what search results look like.

If you have found others, please let me know.  I have a feeling this is not exhaustive.

General clearing houses of newspapers

Paper of record.


This is a clearing house of a fairly random collection of digital newspapers. They are far from complete, and I can’t tell if they are expanding their site. I understand that it used to be an independent site, but apparently was purchased by Google. However, there still seems to be a decent collection if you’re willing to pay. I am.

Google Newspaper Archive

I understand that much of the original paper of record database is now part of Google News. For historians, this seems to be a pretty crappy source, since it is difficult to search historical records. The “date” fields are not the dates of the sources, but rather the dates they were added to the database. How dumb is that?


However, there is also a list of all the newspapers Google has in its digital archive. These are not easily searchable, so if you know the date you’re looking for you can browse, but good luck searching for specific words


This is all newspapers from everywhere, so unless you know the specific paper you’re looking for, it can be quite the slog. But it is something.

Newspaper Archive


This is a subscription service, but pretty good for western Canada papers (okay, Manitoba and Alberta mostly, but some Saskatchewan too).
I have used this for Manitoba, and I also had this one recommended to me by Sean Kheraj, who has a good blog in which he covers some of the same territory. http://www.seankheraj.com/?p=1036

I’m not going to reproduce everything Sean has on his site, so go there for a few that I don’t have. It’s only fair to him.



The International Coalition on Newspapers has a clearinghouse type site that links to newspaper databases around the world. It is not specifically historical, but does include many historical newspapers, as well as things like the Canada Gazette and various university newspapers.

Provincial newspaper databases

Alberta Heritage Digitizaton Project


This site is a free digital archive of select Alberta newspapers. However, it is not searchable by word. You can browse by year and by location. After that, you’re pretty much on your own. If you like going page by page (like the olden days with microfilm!) you’re gonna love this site.

Peel Library (Alberta)


Another good clearing house of Alberta newspapers. You can select the community. It does not give a snapshot of the page, but does give a title of the article (which is normally not all that useful, to be honest). But still nicer than a microfilm.

British Columbia Newspaper database


Another good one. It gives a little snapshot of the page so you can determine if it’s the type of thing you need to read.

New Brunswick Newspaper Archives


When I checked this was linked to only two newspapers, but it is searchable and gives a blurb for each page so you can decide if you want to look further. I like that quite a bit.



This is a community newspapers collection by Art Rhyno from the University of Windsor. It is a great site of Ontario’s searchable digital newspapers. It seems too good to be true, but it’s both true and good.

Quebec Newspapers at Bibliothèque et Archives Nationale du Québec


This does not appear to be searchable by text, only browse-able.  However, my French is pretty weak, so I may be misreading the site.

Specific newspapers or communities

British Colonist


I dream that all digital archives work like this. Free, word searchable, and it gives you a little chunk of the results before you have to look at the entire page. Thus, it makes searching a little quicker.

Globe and Mail: Canada’s Heritage

This is a ProQuest database so I am not going to point you to it. It is awesome and searchable and browsable and the entire Globe then Globe and Mail (no Mail archive) lifespan. However, as a Proquest joint, it’s expensive for individuals, and therefore best accessed through university libraries.

Quesnel Cariboo Observer


Through the Quesnel museum. Very nice searchable database of this regional newspaper in BC. Dates begin 1908 and search results give you a phrase in which your search term appears. Very nice.

Peace River Project


This is the same search format as the New Brunswick archive. Unfortunately for me this paper’s database begins in 1914, so after my period. But it still may be good for you.

Prince George Newspapers


This has a so-so search engine. But it does let you select or deselect options after it finds lots of stuff. On the right hand side of the page of search results it allows you to remove or focus on specific dates or locations. That’s handy.

Prince Rupert Digital Newspaper Archives


Another regional paper archive. This one is a tricky search engine and I don’t think you can specify by date.
Pay close attention: You need to get to the advanced search page by putting a search term in the field on the left. This will take you to another page, which includes an advanced search option. Click the “digital repository” tab before searching again. Otherwise, you will not see everything.

I tried “opium” and got nothing, then “minister” and got nothing. I knew this was not possible, so then I realized you need to “digital repository” tab… lots of hits after that.

Toronto Star: Pages of the Past.


This is also a ProQuest joint. It is also fully searchable and for the full life of the Star. It is also best accessed through a university library. However, unlike the Globe and Mail, it’s actually possible to get individual subscriptions. They vary (from 1 hour to 1 year) and therefore not terribly prohibitive.

Winnipeg Free Press


This is a format quite similar to the “Newspaper Archive” site listed above.  If you want to search only the WFP, use this, but the Newspaper Archive site will get you more papers.

Okay? Okay!

That’s it for now.  Thanks to the H-Canada contributors for this list, especially to Sean Kkeraj and also to Jonathan Swainger.

I did get an excel file from one researcher, but I do not want to post it here because he got it from an archive and I am not sure whose proprietary material it is.  Sorry.  It was pretty comprehensive.  I will go over it eventually and post links that are not available here.

If you know of any other sites, let me know and I will post them here.

(c) 2012 Dan Malleck