Few Alberta towns were actually dry during prohibition, much to the dismay of the “Drys”.

Contrary to legend, prohibition was not dropped on an unsuspecting public by fuddy-duddy women who had recently been given the vote. The campaign for a "Dry Alberta" was led by women and men as a response to the rampant public drunkenness and domestic abuse of the time.

Women’s groups like the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union moved to ban booze alongside the Protestant ministers from the Alberta Temperance and Moral Reform League, who lead a Dry campaign to “Banish the Bar”. Meanwhile the United Farmers of Alberta amassed enough (male) signatures to force the Alberta government to hold a referendum on prohibition in 1915, and it was men who voted it in. Women did not yet have the vote.

The legislation, when it came into effect in 1916, was enormous, difficult to interpret, and impossible to enforce. Doctors, for example, could provide 150 prescriptions for alcohol per month, and many doctors made a booming business of flirting with the law. In one Calgary case, a doctor was tried for prescribing a quart of scotch as a chill preventative for patients travelling to Banff on a fishing trip.

Illegal stills popped up all over Calgary. In May, 1923, Calgary City Police received a tip that a prominent residence in Mount Royal housed a still. Doubtful police approached the quiet, peaceful neighborhood, peered through the basement window, and found Mr. George Packwood and his son happily sampling their latest batch. As he was led away Packwood reportedly said “Yes, I voted for prohibition, and I’d vote for it again. I went broke farming.”

Even churches were not immune to the booze trade. Joe Salini, the caretaker at Calgary’s Baptist Church turned the organ loft into a winery, fermenting raisins in his spare time. He spent six months in jail for his illegal hobby.

Prohibition in Alberta came to an end 93 years ago, after eight years of heated campaigns by the “Wets” and the “Drys”, political and legal wrangling, bootlegging, rum running, and police raids. Albertans chose “Clause D” for government sale and regulation, much to the chagrin of the Drys who continued to lobby what they saw as a temporary setback.

Want to learn more?

Read Brownlee and The Triumph of Populism, 1920-1930, Editor: Ted Byfield, The Rumrunners: Dodging the Law During Prohibition by Frank W. Anderson, The Roar of the Twenties by James H. Gray, Booze: When Whisky Ruled the West by James H. Gray.

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