An End to Prohibition

By Graham Ruttan

After seven years of prohibition, Alberta held a plebiscite on October 9, 1923 on whether to rescind prohibition of the sale of alcohol.

The vote included four options: prohibition, licensed sale of beer only by private sellers, government sale of beer only, or government sale of all liquors. Of the 162,341 votes cast in the province, 93,680 (57.7%) were cast for the fourth option, and only 61,647 (38.0%) of the total were cast in favour of continued prohibition. Of interest is that the most recent Canadian census counted 588,454 individuals in Alberta, meaning that turnout for the plebiscite of 162,341 voters was only 27.6% of the population. This is a surprisingly low voter turnout given the heated nature of the topic throughout the province, and the turnout rate of 298,177 (50.7%) voters during the 1921 provincial elections just two years earlier.

In Lethbridge, the plebiscite results meant that the breweries could resume brewing regular beers and liquor rather than prohibition brews with 2% or less alcohol by volume. Hotels, clubs and canteens could once again serve alcoholic beverages to their clientele, and alcohol could be bought in licensed retail establishments.

In her new book, Squirrel Whiskey, Mr. R, and Prohibition in Southern Alberta, Belinda Crowson writes, “Prohibition in Alberta was coming to an end, but it would be months before a new Liquor Act was written, and only then would people see what was planned to replace it.” The new Act was passed by the provincial legislature in May 1924. The end of prohibition led to many local hotels being renovated so they could get liquor licenses to meet the new requirements of the Act. Some new hotels were built specifically to cater to a clientele looking to drink in legal and appropriate settings, notably including the Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton, built in 1927.

According to Crowson, “the most famous hotel that was ever built in Waterton was built in large part as a way of getting rich American tourists across the border where they could drink in peace away from their own prohibition.”

You can read more about the effect of the end of alcohol prohibition in Belinda Crowson’s new book, Squirrel Whiskey, Mr. R, and Prohibition in Southern Alberta, available at the Galt Museum & Archives gift shop.

ArticleGraham RuttanComment