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Anti-Prohibition Backlash


Poster, "The Liquor Traffic Must Go", n.d.Prohibition came into effect in Alberta on July 1, 1916 as a result of a plebiscite, making Alberta the first province to take such action. It ended in 1923, also as a result of a plebiscite, and the long struggle by temperance groups resulted in a disappointingly short-lived victory.

Still in Calder district, Edmonton, Alberta, c. 1919The issue of liquor control dates back to the mid-1800s. By the 1860s and 18'70s, whiskey trading was destroying Aboriginal communities, as well as threatening settlement of the West. The control of liquor was one of the major purposes for which the Canadian government formed the North West Mounted Police in 1873. The first legislation aimed at controlling liquor (though it had very little effect) in the Northwest Territories (of which Alberta was a part until 1905) was included in the Northwest Territories Act of 1875. In 1907, shortly after Alberta became a province, a new act controlling the sale of liquor was established, but it too fell short of the total prohibition that anti-liquor groups hoped for.

Moonshine still, Irricana, Alberta, c. 1922 As early as 1891, liquor control was a major election issue in the Northwest Territories. Prohibition campaigns by women's groups, like the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), and the United Farm Women of Alberta (UFWA) gathered momentum and increased political influence during the early 20th century. In fact, prohibition was one of the major planks of the woman suffrage campaign. Women like Louise McKinney (Superintendent of the Alberta WCTU's Department of Scientific Temperance Instruction (STI), and President of Alberta's WCTU) and Irene Parlby (first President of the United Farm Women's Association) played a significant role in achieving prohibition in Alberta.

Indeed, it may be argued that in 1917, the first year that women were allowed to run for political office and vote in Alberta, McKinney made history as the first woman legislator to be elected in the British Empire largely as a result of her many years of campaigning for prohibition. The Prohibition and Suffrage Movements had worked hand in hand, as female suffrage was viewed as necessary for the achievement of prohibition. As many people supported both causes, it was only natural that McKinney would capture their vote.

Prohibition committee outside Legislative Building, Edmonton, Alberta, 1931As early as 1904, Calgary MLA R. B. Bennett (future Prime Minister of Canada) realized how valuable the endorsement of prohibitionist women's groups could be. He promised support for WCTU goals, and received an endorsement from them in return. The political influence of the WCTU and the UFWA continued to grow, and their support became increasingly important for politicians in Alberta.

Heritage Trail: Controlling Liquor in Alberta, Part 1: Whiskey Traders
The name Fort Whoop-up remains synonymous with the rampant whiskey trade of the late 1800s. And as historian David Leonard explains, present-day legislation had its roots in the effort to control what became known as the scourge of the West. Listen Now
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