If one ambitious band councilor has his way Mistissini might soon be adding a social club, making it only the second community – behind Whapmagoostui – to have a bar on category one land.
Former Police Chief Calvin Blacksmith was quick to point out that his establishment would serve to educate some people on the effects of alcohol and teach them how to drink in a social setting.
“In Mistissini there is a lot of drinking, we can’t hide that,” said would-be owner Blacksmith. “A good way to regulate and educate people about alcohol is a social club. We can show people how to consume alcohol in a more reasonable manner.”
Blacksmith, along with partner Clifford Benac, made the appeal to the band council this summer to open a “Cage aux Sports-like bar.”
The band sent a letter to the duo in December stating that it would be on the next agenda and that it would be brought to the people after that to gauge the interest and willingness to have a bar in the community.
He also pointed out that tens of thousands of dollars are lost each year as patrons head to Chibougamau to spend their hard-earned money at the five bars there. He estimates that the community loses about $800,000 annually.
And that’s not to mention what the community is losing from tourists and the weddings and bachelor parties in the community during the summer.
Eventually he says, alcohol will probably be sold at Meechum and the lodge, but Blacksmith is asking for at least a three-year moratorium so his business can start turning a profit before that happens.
Chief John Longchap could not be reached for comment.
Blacksmith said that the bar would have similar rules to Whapmagoostui’s Social Club, where spitting, swearing, or, in the worst scenario, fighting, would get patrons barred for a period of time.
“The Crees say they want self determination, but if they can’t even control their alcohol how can they determine their future?” Blacksmith asked. “We don’t want to destroy any families. What we want to do is make it more sociable.”
Blacksmith likened his proposed bar to a Cage aux Sports restaurant. He said that there would be pictures of local hockey heroes and championship teams on the wall to “demonstrate the accomplishments the community has done in the past.”
They would also air nightly big events like the Super Bowl and the Ultimate Fighting Championship and other popular sports like hockey and basketball.
“When you go to Chibougamau, they keep on serving the person until they pass out,” he said. “But that’s not our intention. What we’ll do is if they get rowdy or intoxicated, we’ll ask them to leave.”
He said the key is to drink responsibly and most of all, to have fun.
“When we have wine during the holidays, I teach my kids to drink responsibly so when they grow up, they won’t abuse alcohol. Alcohol is not bad, but it can be if you abuse it.”
Blacksmith said that if all goes well, Mistissini might see gaming and, in the longer term, a golf course. It’s time, he said, that his community gives Chibougamau a run for its money – literally.
“We’re not going to solve all the problems, but at least we can say we made an attempt,” he said. “I think it’s time for people to be more open.”