Aubin-Edmond Arsenault, the ultimate Acadian Foodie, Part 4 of 4: Around the World in 80 Drinks


For Aubin Edmond Arsenault, it was not so much the destination that mattered, but the journey. As he made his way to England, South Africa, Louisiana, and other locales, he would leave behind a trail of uncorked bottles and empty glasses. He shared drinks with classmates, politicians, priests, and businessmen as well as with a wide variety of characters ranging from "rough looking" men to "the finest man [he'd] ever known".

It is hard to believe that he was in office during Prohibition as the Premier of the first Canadian province to be completely dry, which would remain so well into the 1940s. Arsenault strongly opposed Prohibition and thought the law caused more ill than good:

"Prohibition, wherever it has been tried, has proven a curse rather than a blessing. It has brought in its wake smuggling, rum-running, high-jacking, illicit distilling, bootlegging, and other social evils." [p. 106]

Rum-running, bootlegging, smuggling illegal goods - he agreed that they were all bad, but Prohibition also brought to the Island what he believed to be "a very fine brand of rum aged in wood".


Unlike the fishermen waiting for "the dirty sails" of the Nellie J. Banks, a fishing schooner turned rum-runner that carried liquor for many years from Saint-Pierre et Miquelon to the shores of Prince Edward Island, he - as the Premier, and then a judge - had no sympathy for the bootlegger. In one of his judgements, he even used poet Thomas Moore's words - cleverly changing one - to make a point: "You may break, you may shatter the vase if you will, but the scent of the roses moonshine will hang round it still"

He may not have agreed with the laws regulating the sale and consumption of alcohol, but he did respect and uphold many unwritten customs surrounding drinking.

For instance, he believed that offering liquor was the highest compliment someone could make to another. He respected men who provided drinks for their guests - even when they themselves did not drink a drop. In England, Russell would provide claret - a red wine from Bordeaux - and champagne for those around the table. In Ottawa, Sam Hughes, Canada's Minister of Militia and Defence during World War I and the "finest man" Arsenault ever met, was held in high regard for inviting him to the House of Commons's "boozorium" despite abstaining from drinking himself. In New Orleans, he quietly sipped mint juleps prepared by his host's housekeeper to beat the heat.

Mint Julep
There were potential faux pas when ordering a round. While he was teaching at St. Dunstan's College, he welcomed a fellow professor to Charlottetown sometime after Christmas.  To warm up from the cold, they headed to the neighbouring tavern for mulled beer. A matronly woman who had once worked in the College's dormitory brought over their drinks, but Arsenault was embarrassed when his guest asked her - and not the man behind the bar - for a second round. He felt guilty for not "wising" him that such a request was inappropriate.

Arsenault especially did not want to offend anyone with drinking as he thought it an enjoyable way to socialize and pass the time. On his second cross-Atlantic voyage, he waited until the clock struck noon to ask a fellow traveller if he would be offended if they were to continue their conversation over an aperitif. He was relieved when his new friend - "he was Irish" - responded "would a duck swim?" and ordered a glass of Canadian rye and Italian vermouth.

This worry of offending grew stronger while surrounded by questionable men in a land he barely knew and whose growing tensions would soon break into the South African War. Arsenault was in South Africa the summer before the outbreak of the war to carry out a task for his employer in London. The voyage to Cape Town took sixteen days, and the ship would make a quick stop in Madeira where he sampled wine and admired the profusion of fruits and tropical trees.


This image of paradise was soon replaced by that of an expedition embarked on "bone-wracking carts" to the interior of Cape Colony with two "rough looking men with full beards". After a four-hour drive, his two travelling companions led him to a barroom where the bartender handed him dice, which he had to shake for drinks:

"I lost, and one of the men said, "He was a stranger and we took him in." It isn't clear whether losing the drinking game meant he could or could not drink. Neither does he specify whether he was a little drunk or just tired when he went to bed soon after:

"I was young and I was tired and so, though afraid of the rough men I saw all about me and the crudeness of the accommodations, I was soon in dreamland."

By the time he arrived in Kokstad, the strangers had become friends and gentlemen in his eyes for taking care of the bill for his weeklong stay in the village.

Although some journeys are bumpier, and some memories better off forgotten, there is one lesson that seemed to ring truer for Arsenault than anything else: whiskey fixes everything. When he and his classmates were almost poisoned by a gas leak, a doctor was called and rushed over to St. Dunstan's College, a case of whiskey in hand "with which we were liberally dosed". After a long excursion with rugged men in South Africa, he was given a "generous drink of whiskey" and chugged it since he "really needed it". Finally, during Carnival week in New Orleans, he would have a glass of whiskey and ginger ale waiting for him in his room before bed in order to unwind after a long day of watching parades from a private balcony and taking in the city's joie de vivre.

As he concludes his memoirs, Arsenault remarks that he has seen "a little of this great world" and acknowledges that he was fortunate to have these experiences around the globe. In his own way, he tried to drink it all in.


Aubin Edmond Arsenault, the Ultimate Acadian Foodie

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