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Prohibition

Have your parents ever prohibited you from doing certain things? Things like playing in the middle of a busy road, or with the crazy kid down the street. These are things that parents tell their kids they can’t do! When you are told that you can’t do something, you are being prohibited. Prohibition is the banning of the making, transportation, sale or drinking of alcoholic beverages. Social reform groups including the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), the United Farm Women of Alberta (UFWA) and the Alberta Temperance and Moral Reform League (AT&MRL) lobbied the Alberta government to make prohibition law and raised public support for their cause. They cited drunkenness, physical abuse and demoralization resulting from drinking as reasons for banning the consumption of liquor. Anti-prohibitionists representing hotel keepers, labour unions and other groups who either made money from the sale of liquor or were unwilling to give up drinking were less united and influential. The Alberta government averted pressure from both sides by passing direct legislation by initiative and referendum in 1913. Under the new law, groups who received enough signatures on a petition such as to legislate prohibition could force the government to hold a referendum (vote) on the issue. The WCTU, UFWA, AT&MRL and other prohibition advocates accomplished this in 1915, after getting signatures from all over the province. On July 21, 1915, Alberta's all-male electorate (women had not been given the right to vote yet) voted sixty-one percent in favour of prohibition, and on July 1, 1916, the drinking of alcohol for beverage purposes was outlawed in the province.

Despite its initial popularity, prohibition proved difficult to enforce. Drinks containing two percent or less alcohol and those prescribed for medicinal, scientific or religious purposes were permitted. The use of alcoholic drinks for these purposes came to be widely interpreted. Similar today to the use of marijuana for medical purposes! Furthermore, until 1918, liquor could be transported into and outside the province. The Alberta Provincial Police (APP) were then created to enforce the ban on the importation and manufacture of liquor. In response, "rumrunners" and "moonshiners" came up with new ways to elude the APP. The public, many who purchased alcoholic drinks from these underground traders, were unlikely to cooperate with the police in bringing them to justice.

Prohibition in Alberta finally ended in 1923 when the United Farmers of Alberta government took over control of the sale of liquor. The Alberta Liquor Control Board continued to operate until 1993, when the Progressive Conservatives privatized this retail sector. Now we have liquor stores on almost every block and bars everywhere. Times sure have changed.