The LCBO strike, and The Midnight Ride of Red Dog Ray

So I gather that even as I type this, much of Ontario is aghast at the prospect of a strike by workers at the LCBO (the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, the odd – when you think about it – name for the provincial-government-owned chain of stores selling wine and liquor). There are news reports of crazy lineups at liquor stores as people stock up for the long weekend, fearing that today is their last chance. (The deadline for the contract talks is midnight tonight, I believe.)

As I was reporting all this to Raymond while following the news on Twitter during our commute home from work tonight, I pointed out that should the strike kick in tomorrow, we will be in the fortunate position of starting our long weekend (to be spent at the Manse in Queensborough) here in Montreal. Which means we can buy a long weekend’s worth of red and white wine before we leave the province. (Don’t tell the Ontario Provincial Police, by the way. I think it’s still, quaintly, technically illegal to transport alcohol across provincial boundaries.)

Anyway, it all reminded me of a funny song that a legendary Peterborough, Ont., band named Reverend Ken and the Lost Followers used to perform back in their heyday. (Reverend Ken subsequently left the band and it morphed into Hank and the Honkers, the new leader being a legend in his own right, Washboard Hank. Hank played – and continues to play – not just washboard [and guitar, trombone, etc.] but also the kitchen sink. Really.)

But back to the song. It was inspired by what the lyrics fittingly call “The Great Ontario Beer Strike,” which an internet search tells me happened in 1985. Employees at the province’s Beer Stores and breweries struck for quite a long time, as I vaguely recall; since I’m not much of a beer drinker, it didn’t have a large impact on me. (Besides, I think one could still buy imported beer at LCBO stores. But many Ontarians turned up their noses at Heineken and Tuborg [remember Tuborg?], considering Molson Export and Labatt’s Blue infinitely superior.)

The bar where Revend Ken and the Lost Followers played most frequently was Peterborough’s famous Red Dog, a dingy-but-cool place frequented by both your typical beer-parlour crowd and the young people who attend Trent University. I think it was the latter set that favoured the band. (And how do I know all this? People, I confess that I have darkened the door of the Red Dog once or twice. Or, you know, maybe more.)

So apparently – or so the song would have it – the proprietor of the Red Dog, a chap named Ray McGregor (whose death in 2001 prompted many tributes from the Peterborough community – and who, according to his obituary, was born in St. Thomas, Ont., not Scotland as the song suggests) decided to make a daring run across the border into Quebec to acquire some domestic beer for the bar’s regulars (who in the song have the nickname “chubbies” – perhaps someone who knows the Red Dog [you know who you are] can explain that to me), who were suffering mightily because of the strike. (Doubtless Ray was sufferering too. Financially.) Since, as I’ve already mentioned, it’s illegal to transport booze across provincial borders, Ray was engaging in risky behaviour.

But it all turned out all right in the end, as you’ll hear from the song. Have a listen to the video (is there anything one can’t find on the internet?) – and just in case you have trouble making out the lyrics, I am going to helpfully provide them for you. Hooray for Red Dog Ray!

The Midnight Ride of Red Dog Ray

Well the Great Ontario Beer Strike was in its 21st day
And all the Red Dog’s chubbies were fadin’ clear away
For weeks they’d been denied the drink they loved so dear
So they turned to Red Dog Ray and said, “Could you get us some more beer?”

Well Red Dog Ray he swore, “By gosh by gum by heck
I’ll get my chubbies beer if I have to go to old Quebec!”
So Percy the French waiter, he told him what to say –
And thus began the famous midnight ride of Red Dog Ray.

‘Twas the midnight ride of Red Dog Ray
‘Twas the midnight ride of Red Dog Ray

He drove down Highway 7 to our nation’s capital
And he slipped across the river to the town that’s known as Hull
And he tried hard to remember the words he had to say:
“Pardonnez-moi, mon dieu mon frère, I need some beer today.”

Well René Lévesque gave him some but still he wanted more.
Said, “What the heck? I’m in Quebec! I’ll go to the corner store!”
He filled his station wagon till the springs were sagging low
And he headed down the highway to thirsty Ontario.

‘Twas the midnight ride of Red Dog Ray
‘Twas the midnight ride of Red Dog Ray

[Bridge featuring highland-fling-type music]

He was singing a song about Scotland, the homeland of his birth
When the cops they pulled him over just the other side of Perth
And ever so politely Ray asked was there anything wrong
And the cop said, “Roll your window up if you’re gonna sing that song!”

Well the OPP he turned away, his fingers in his ears
He didn’t even notice that carload full of beers
So Ray just kept on singin’ until he reached his bar
And the chubbies shouted out for joy when they saw the beer-filled car.

‘Twas the midnight ride of Red Dog Ray
Well Red Dog Ray, he saved the day
And you can hear the chubbies say,
“Hip, hip, hooray for Red Dog Ray!”

4 thoughts on “The LCBO strike, and The Midnight Ride of Red Dog Ray

  1. Great story well delivered. Your ability to string all the parts and pieces together really kept me involved. Sure seems this is an epic that our Raymond should begin to emulate. Red Dog Ray is too good a nick name to let pass. May be time for him to share some college stories… to stretch some college stories to pad out the early legend.
    On a different tack the situations you described reminded me of the stories about my dad when he was a kid living in the ‘dry’ west Texas town of Ballinger and his scrapes with the law as he tried to help his friends out by bringing in hooch over the back roads from the big city of San Angelo.

    • Gotta tell you that Raymond is totally warming to the “Red Dog Ray” – or maybe “Red Truck Ray” – moniker. Meantime, you should write about your dad’s West Texas escapades. It sounds like great material for a Guy Clark song!

  2. When my son was a student at Queens, he had a cat which he named Tuborg, after his at-the-time favourite beer!

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