Rule Book: A drink in the park

A place where millions of people’s lives overlap needs to lay down a few ground rules. At the core, I think most of us implicitly understand that we should to behave in a way that is safe, courteous and respectful of others. Given how close others are in the city, we may need to reign in our wildest impulses now and then.

We all know that you have to stop at red lights, put the garbage out on the specified day, and turn the music down after 11 (unless you’ve struck a deal with the neighbours). But the letter of the law often remains hazy: most of us can’t begin to guess how city officials have drawn the line between harmless fun and public nuisance.

Inspired by Rules issue of Spacing Magazine, I thought I’d start putting together a rule book that would clarify a few questions that have nagged me over the years.

With spring-time here and semester’s-end celebration right around the corner, there are few things I am looking forward to more than laying down in a patch of juicy green grass and tilting back a long-awaited beer. The ultimate question becomes: can I do both at once?

I telephoned the city’s Réseau accès at 311 to clarify the drinking in the park question once and for all. The answer is that one is allowed to consume wine or beer as part of a picnic in public parks in all Montreal’s boroughs. The bad news is that the 311 operator told me that this rule and others were not available to check online.

Now what exactly constitutes a picnic is a bit of a grey area and I suppose it is left to the discretion of the law-enforcer. I am guessing that a bunch rowdy folks with a 2-4 and a bag of chips could merit a police warning. On the other hand, a baguette and cheese would be a welcome compliment to a bottle of wine or two in the afternoon sunlight.

Take home message: Montrealers shouldn’t be shy to enjoy a drink in the park but the city asks that we be make a day of it and bring along some food to help absorb the alcohol.

Photo: / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


  1. I grew up in the anal retentive atmosphere of Ontario where anyone wanting a drink is forever treated like a teenager who is likely to turn into a raving lunatic without a million idiotic restrictions placed on the sale and consumption of alcohol. I find the relaxed attitude here refreshing to say the least (pardon the pun).

    I like to stop at a dep and grab a traveller during my lengthy explorations and I’ve never had a problem either in a park or walking down the street. I imagine that you’ll only ever have a problem if you are acting like a jackass, which is the only time you should be ticketed.

    I really think that we should make drinking in public officially legal. It already is at all festivals – and not simply in some ridiculous ‘beer garden’ – but throughout the entire site. SAQ had take-away bistros on St-Denis during Nuit Blanche, Juste Pour Rire etc., and beer sellers work the crowd during those and Jazz, Festival en Lumière, Francofolies, Pride, Nuits d’Afrique, Divers/Cité at Place des festivals, Vieux Port, Berri Square etc. etc. The police completely ignore drinking anywhere during the St. Pats parade, St-Jean weekend et al and the world does not come to an end!

    Make drinking in public legal, do away with last call, and only hassle people who are causing problems. It would be the Montréal thing to do!

  2. I see people carrying bottles of wine away from the SAQ unbagged all the time. And people with beers from the dépanneur. It is not very practical to carry twelve bottles of beer with no bag or box though! There is no such law here in Québec.

    I suppose we can be fined if we take home unfinished bottles of wine from a byow with a cork stuck in or the cap screwed back on…

  3. A few months back, I looked at the public drinking question in the bylaws for many boroughs and non-boroughs on the island. Basically, the English ones say ‘no alcohol’ and the French ones say ‘no disruptive behaviour’ (none of them mentioned ‘alcohol’).

    In my travels, I have noted that it’s not uncommon to see adults sharing a nice civil glass of wine along the St. Lawrence in Lasalle and Lachine (with no evident food). One the other hand, I have heard of fines in Westmount for open liquor. In summary, if you drink along language lines, you’ll probably be fine…..

  4. bring your wine and food in the park, but please leave the bongo drums at home, these are a real disturbance of the peace and tranquility that I seek in the park.

  5. thanks for your answers, i guess my dep really wanted me to take that plastic bag (for taking 2 single bottles round the block!)

    i agree whole-heartedly with Todo’s comment: there is no reason why public drinking should not be allowed as long as it’s not disturbing anyone.
    but i’d not be surprised if terrasse’s owners wouldn’t lobby against that – as they profit from that law.
    the only issue i have with drinking at festivals is the millions of plastic cups that get used (even if recycled, that is a major energy depense!). but using bottles is just not possible with major crowds and disrespectful behavior (getting drunk AND then crashing the bottles).

    in austria, we have a much larger festival (~1 million visitors per day for a weekend) where you pay at the kiosk also for your relatively solid plastic cup ($1.5-$3) and then refill it or return it. i’m not sure if they are reused after the festival but at least it’s only 1 per person. and the cups are sufficiently nice to take home for reuse too for that money.

    aside from festivals if bars have larger outside spaces (i.e. green spaces, river-, canal-side) they will make you pay $2-3 for the glass or bottle and you can return it (later, or even another day if you miss closing time). there is only limited breakage and it is either the bar or the city who cleans it up, so the next day when kids play around, there’s no problem.

    in the last years though, we have seen implementation of a few by-laws in smaller cities’ centres, where a lot of young people gather (of lack of other meeting spaces) and then there are noise complaints from the people who pay a premium to live there. so i guess just prohibiting drinking in certain places is not really solving a problem.

    it’s really a different life-style that comes with relaxed drinking outside:
    in the summer after work at 5pm take out some beers, meet your friends in the park and relax in the sun without being afraid that someone will judge you, having a beer on the late-evening train, and so on…
    i remember traversing a central park in Vienna with a friend from montreal and seeing a beer can in the fountain, approaching it to inspect and then being told not in a not un-friendly tone by a nearby man who was sitting on the park bench: ‘hey man, that’s MY beer i’m cooling in here’ …

  6. The reusable cup is a good idea STF. It would would work well at an event such as Osheaga where people have a number of drinks during the festival. I’m not sure how it would work at Jazz, JPR etc. People tend to have only one or two drinks at the street festivals and beer sellers walk through the streets with trays of pre-poured drinks.

    Somewhat related: Piknic Electronik is changing their policy this summer and are no longer allowing people to bring their own alcohol. You will still be able to buy on site, which has people accusing the organisers of making a cash grab. Quite the angry reaction- 6,000 people calling for a boycott on facebook and hundreds of responses on the Piknic website. I hope the organisers change their minds because the BYOB policy was one of the things that made Piknic so unique.

    Oh well, there will still be the Tam Tams!

  7. i call 311 too and they just tell me that if a police officer saw me he can give me a tickets…

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