Excerpted from Everything British Columbia: The Ultimate Book of Lists, a new book written by Vancouver journalists Bethany Lindsay and Andrew Weichel. Now available at Indigo, Amazon and your local bookstore.
Laws can serve a lot of very important purposes, like forcing your noisy neighbours to pipe down after 11 pm or keeping slow-ass drivers out of the fast lane. But these laws? Not so much.
No throwing snowballs
Victoria’s 1887 Street By-Law contained a number of commonsense regulations, including that you couldn’t ride your horse on the sidewalk, or “at a gallop or pace exceeding six miles an hour.”
But to the dismay of schoolchildren, it also outlawed throwing snowballs and a lot of other fun mischief. It barred the use of “any bow and arrow, catapult or slingshot,” and the throwing of “any stone, snowball or other missile.”
No duelling bagpipes
Speaking of Victoria, the city currently has a bylaw that prohibits any street performer from playing bagpipes “at the same time as another street performer whose performance also includes bagpipes.”
Bagpiping is also forbidden before 11 am on weekdays and 10 am on weekends (This law actually makes a fair bit of sense).
No more than four snakes
The City of Port Coquitlam has a bylaw banning people from keeping more than four rats or four non-venomous snakes as pets (Don’t even bother asking about venomous ones).
Graciously, the city’s snake and rat limits do not apply to pet stores or schools.
No yellow margarine
It’s deliciously salty and spreads like a dream, but margarine isn’t butter—and in the late 1940s, BC wanted to make sure everyone could tell the difference.
That’s why the province decided companies should be able to sell only ivory-coloured margarine.
The strange policy was pushed by anxious butter producers, which led to a scathing Vancouver Sun editorial mocking the notion of a “colour monopoly.”
“We see no reason why the housewife should be required to mix her margarine to the desired shade of yellow before putting it on her table,” it read. The law was repealed just a few years later, and cow-milking butter farmers somehow managed to squeeze by.
No bare knees in English Bay
Vancouver’s vagrancy bylaw used to ban people from bathing in English Bay unless they were modestly dressed in a swimsuit “covering the body from the neck to the knees.” And though thigh-concealing swimwear was fashionable in the early 20th century, the law inexplicably remained on the books until 1986—a full 22 years after the debut of the bikini-heavy Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
No spitting in the laundry
Another repealed Vancouver bylaw banned laundromat workers from using the cleaning power of saliva. It outlawed the use of “any water or other liquid that has been in the mouth of any person.”
No loud parrots
The citizens of Oak Bay appreciate their peace and quiet. The scenic Victoria suburb’s Anti-Noise Bylaw prohibits people from riding loud motorcycles, shouting on a wharf or playing a phonograph at an unreasonable volume.
And don’t think they forgot about your noisy-ass parrot. Any bird owner whose pet squawks loud enough to disturb the “rest, enjoyment, comfort, or convenience” of an Oak Bay resident can face a fine of up to $1,000 a day.
No happy hour
Until 2014, it was illegal for bars and restaurants across the province to switch booze prices back and forth over the course of a day—effectively outlawing happy hour specials.
And there have been plenty of other oddball liquor laws in BC over the years. The Liquor Act of 1921 made it illegal to sell booze on election day, but allowed veterinarians to “administer or cause to be administered liquor to any dumb animal.”
No having babies
One of the darkest and most ill-conceived of BC’s now-defunct laws is the Sexual Sterilization Act of 1933. It legislated the creation of a Eugenics Board, which was given the authority to order forced sterilization of inmates who were “likely to beget or bear children who by reason of inheritance would have a tendency to serious mental disease or mental deficiency.”
Other provinces considered similar laws, but BC and Alberta were the only ones to actually implement them—and they weren’t repealed until the 1970s.
No voting while Chinese or Indigenous
Another shameful law was the one that restricted voting rights for non-white British Columbians. The 1875 Qualifications and Registration of Voters Act decreed “No Chinaman or Indian shall have his name placed on the Register of Voters for any Electoral District, or be entitled to vote at any election of a Member to serve in the Legislative Assembly of the Province.” And legislators weren’t fooling around—the punishment for adding Chinese or Indigenous names to the register included potential jail time.
Bonus: No killing a Sasquatch
A number of websites claim there’s an old BC statute that specifically outlaws the killing of a Sasquatch—sadly, Courthouse Libraries BC tried to track down the source of the claims and found it as elusive as the Sasquatch itself.
That said, it probably is technically illegal to hunt a hypothetical Sasquatch—the province is very particular about who can hunt what species, particularly when it comes to big game animals.