The campaign against the sale of alcohol had been carried out by groups in Canada for many years. The main idea behind prohibition in Canada was to reduce alcohol consumption by facilitating the abolishment of all entities that concerned themselves with the manufacture, distribution as well as the sale of alcohol. Significant gains were made towards this end and all the provinces ended up embracing prohibition laws with the last to do so being Quebec. It hence follows that the 1920s were the peak of the prohibition era. In this text, I concern myself with alcohol prohibition in Canada in the 1920s.
By definition, prohibition in Canada can be taken to denote a series of actions instituted to end the sale of alcohol at both the provincial as well as county levels. According to Robert Harrington, the main idea behind prohibition was to cripple businesses which concerned themselves with the manufacture, distribution or even sale of alcohol.
The prohibition drive which went all the way into the 1920s started in the late 19th century and much later, it came to be repelled only to be replaced with rules which outlawed the sale of alcohol to those who had not yet attained the age of the majority.
In the 20th century, alcohol drinking in Canada was a norm rather a rarity. This is perhaps what informed the growing popularity of the dry movement which was largely driven by protestant denominations. Apart from the dry movement and the temperance movement, one other major driving force which facilitated prohibition particularly from the year 1917 was the World War I. The argument in this case was that the soldiers coming from war needed to return home to a better place. Further, there were those who were of the opinion that prohibition would go a long way towards averting instances of inefficiency as well as waste of money. However, it is also at around this time that those who were most vocal against prohibition were muffled. It is also at this time that the pressure to enhance prohibition in a majority of provinces began to bear fruit.
Laying the foundation for prohibition
Originally, what spurred prohibition was the view by the temperance movement that the various societal ills were informed by the drinking establishments which littered provinces in Canada. It therefore follows that the discussion of alcohol prohibition in Canada in the 1920s is largely incomplete without a mention of the temperance movement. The Dominion Alliance for the Total Suppression of the Liquor as well as the Women's Christian Temperance Union Traffic happened to be some of the strongest temperance organizations in the late 18s.
However, what facilitated a majority of the legislative approaches that went a long way to facilitate prohibition in the 1920s was the earlier Canada Temperance Act passage in 1864.
As per the provisions of the Act, it was possible for a majority vote at the county level to ban liquor sale. Other significant moves that paved the way for the prohibition era include the federal referendum on prohibition and the Canada Temperance Act. But perhaps the most significant of all was the federal referendum on prohibition. Indeed, this is what informed the resolve by individual provinces to pass prohibition laws after the decision was made to omit the introduction of a bill (federal) on prohibition. Hence in that regard, the first quarter decade of the 19th century saw the passage of prohibition laws by a number of provinces in their individual capacity with the first province to pass prohibition laws being Prince Edward Island back in 1901 and the very last to do so being Quebec later in 1919.
The key highlights of the 1920s prohibition
Christened the 'roaring twenties' by some, the 1920s in Canada were famous for a number of reasons including prohibition and the repeal of the same by a majority of the provinces. According to Ruth Amdt, prohibition was introduced for a number of reasons which the temperance groups relied on to advance their arguments.
Some of the more common arguments included the need to ensure that too much money was not being used on alcohol as families suffered and the need to reduce the rates of alcohol related convictions.
As already mentioned elsewhere in this text, prohibition was largely informed by the consistent opposition of alcohol sale as well as distribution by a number of temperance groups. According to these movements, the misery during the prewar period was being brought about by drunken behaviors and this is the main reason the temperance groups cited as their primary motivation for closing a vast majority of not only taverns but bars as well.
It is important to note that though there were significant variations of temperance acts at the provincial level, the general principal was the outlawing alcohol sale as well as the closure of establishments where drinking took place. For most part, government dispensaries were allowed to sell alcohol but on prescription only.
Though the prohibition in one way or the other was meant to bring about a number of benefits, it also ended up informing the creation of black market essentially meaning that people could still access alcohol but at a higher price thanks to the so called bootleggers. Indeed, according to Andrew Sinclair, the early 1920s was the period in which a number of crooked Canadian businessmen made large sums of money engaging in liquor smuggling undertakings.
This was also the period when there was a significant proliferation of what came to be known as 'moonshine,' a kind of a home-brewed brew. Though the illegal booze that was now available in the underground market was much inferior in terms of quality as a result of poor brewing as well as storage standards, people still chose drink it for lack of an alternative.
During the early 1920s, people also found ways of bending the prohibition rules by engaging in what came to be referred to as 'legal' drinking which was essentially pretending to be ill so that doctors would prescribe alcohol. Indeed, according to Douglas, Baldwin and Patricia, a number of doctors in Canada during the 1920s took the prohibition restrictions to enhance their personal fortunes by prescribing liquor to some patients at a little fee. Indeed, there is an instance where about 5800 patients were found to have received liquor prescriptions by the same doctor in a span of only a single month.
It is important to note that there existed rampant abuse of the system at this point in time but there was nothing little the government or the provincial administration could do as the goings on in this case were shrouded in significant secrecy.
The Repeal of the Prohibition laws in the 1920s
It is important to note that the 1920s was the period in which prohibition laws were repealed by a vast majority of provinces. Soon, it was becoming obvious to a number of provinces that huge sums of money were being lost in uncollected taxes as liquor selling was still taking place albeit as an underground business venture. It is also during this period that prohibition seemed to be on the receiving end with those against it claiming that people were still taking alcohol illegally in full contravention of the provisions for prohibition which was increasingly becoming hard to enforce.
Indeed, it is during this period that calls for government regulation as well as the observance of the 'moderation rule' were intensified and an even stronger move was created by the merger of Congregationalism, Methodism and Presbyterianism. Provinces like Ontario too began to realize they were loosing out on revenues and hence argued their case out by proposing government control as far as the manufacture, distribution and sale of alcohol was concerned. On the repeal of the Ontario temperance act, a referendum was undertaken on October 23rd 1924. The Ontario Temperance Act repeal was narrowly defeated by the referendum which came to be known as the Ontario prohibition referendum.
Indeed, the Ontario government soon after taking power on the platform of the Ontario Temperance Act repeal allowed the sale of liquor provided its alcohol levels were significantly low. It was however not long before the Ontario government officially ended the prohibition amidst heavy regulation after the establishment of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. The board which was established in 1929 was meant to inform the easement of the temperance regime in the province.
The move to repeal the prohibition was intensified further between 1920 and 1925 with a number of provinces (five to be exact) voting in favor of the repeal.
It can be noted that the repeals between 1920 and 1924 set the ground for the passing of the Liquor Control Act which set the ground for more revolutionary changes as far as the sale of liquor was concerned. This act went ahead to reintroduce saloons which enabled people to enjoy their drink in a social setting. Other provinces that sought…