Simple History: Alberta’s Prohibition

This Canada Day 2016, marks an important date in Albertan Brewing History: it is the 100th anniversary of the start of Prohibition in Alberta.

In 1915 and 1916 the government of the relatively-new province of Alberta held referendums to determine if Alberta should embrace prohibition. The movement to ban the creation and sale of Alcohol was chiefly led by the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) who argued that alcohol was the main cause of domestic abuse and the breaking up of families in the early 20th century. The referendums to ban alcohol were passed, and the laws banning the manufacture and sale of alcohol came into effect on July 1st, 1916.

Prohibition would last eight years, finally coming to an end in 1924. Breweries in the province survived the 8 long years of prohibition by creating soft-drinks and other non-alcoholic beverages to be enjoyed. The Lethbridge Brewing Company, owned and operated by Fritz Sick, was one of the breweries to successfully survive the Prohibition period.

Also going on at this time: World War I was going on in Europe, Canada was under conscription, and most of the able-bodied men were off fighting in the war. When they would get back in 1918, alcohol would not be available to them.

Prohibition didn’t stop the production of alcohol in Alberta, it simply made it illegal. While it is true that incidents of domestic abuse dropped over this period, there was a distinct rise in boot-legging, the illegal manufacture/sale of beer and grain alcohols, and illegal drinking/gambling establishments called Speak-Easies started popping up.

Prohibition also gave rise to what is now the AGLC. Many police officers in southern Alberta refused to enforce prohibition, claiming instead it was the jurisdiction of Liquor Agency Inspectors to detect, deter, and stop the illegal manufacture and sale of alcohol.

Lethbridge folks were creative about the liquor they boot-legged. Barrels of vinegar were tapped on suspicion they contained beer only to reveal they did contain vinegar. The tin concealed inside the barrel, which didn’t flow through the tap port, however, contained whiskey. There are even stories of eggs that were drained and filled with spirits.

Another interesting fact: The 1916 prohibition was not the first prohibition in this region. In the 1880s another prohibition took place. Interestingly: three of Lethbridge’s breweries were opened during that prohibition. All we can really say to that is….That’s Lethbridge!