Rise And Fall Of Prohibition In Canada

Essay, Research Paper

Rise and Fall of Prohibition in Canada”Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play uponthe earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously bylicensing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her andFalsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in afree and open encounter.”- Areopagitica Canadian Temperance groups began to rally for prohibitionduring the 1840’s and 1850’s. It was not until after World WarI began in 1914, that the temperance groups’ support forprohibition grew. A need for grain for the armed forces wasviewed as a major catalyst for Canada’s Prohibition Law.Although Canada’s Prohibition Era only lasted two years from1917 to 1919, it created the stage for many historic successesand failures in Canada. This paper looks at the emergence,successes, and failures of Prohibition of Alcohol in Canada.Particular emphasis is placed upon Nova Scotia that, along withManitoba, scored a large majority in favour of prohibitionduring the national plebiscite on the matter held by the LaurierFederal Government in 1898.1 This national support ofprohibition, when provinces in Canada were only moderately infavour, and Quebec strongly opposing,2 created an interestingparadox in the shaping of Canada’s history. Though largely seen unfavourably today, prohibition didhave some partially successful facets in its overall focus.Prohibition forces argued that alcohol led to an increase incrime and other anti-social behaviours. Substantial reductionsin the amount of alcohol consumption and a decrease in the crimerate were two measures of prohibition’s success. Statisticalevidence supported prohibitionist’s thoughts regarding crime andalcohol. Following 1919, when the spread of alcohol controlexpanded to the provinces, crime increased. In 1922, there were15,720 convictions for indictable offences and in 1928, 21,720convictions. This was an increase of 38 per cent and more thanthree times the increase in Canada’s population. From 1922 to1928, the number of criminals who were moderate drinkers rose atthe same rate as the total number of convictions. The number ofcriminals who drank in excess, however, increased by 64 percent, or nearly twice as fast.3 Along with crime, alcohol waslinked to other negative occurrences such as insanity, vice,wife and child abuse, family destruction, poverty, and economicinefficiency. It was believed that money that spent on alcoholshould have been spent on things such as housing and clothing.4Supporters of prohibition claimed it was better for society andthe economy as a whole as well as improving health anddecreasing crime. It should be noted, however, that prohibitionwas not entirely about alcohol and its use. It was a vanguardthrough which society attempted to ‘purify’ itself of all itsevils. If liquor was banned, then the money it used could bespent on other industries, benefiting society as a whole.Unfortunately for prohibitionists, this was not the be the case. Much time and effort were spent by anti-prohibition forces inavoiding and breaking the law.5 Professional smuggling fromCanada turned out to be a big business. For example, in thefirst seven months of 1920, approximately 900,000 cases ofliquor were transported within in Canada to border cities in theUnited States.6′Scientific Temperance’ was another claim prohibitionistsused in their fight to legalize their stance. Arguments of thisgenre sought to persuade listeners with scholarly academics whoadded an air of authority and prestige to the movement. In 1906two German scientists, August Forel and Emil Kalpelin, even wentso fart as to label alcohol poisonous.7 Other scientifictemperance claims included alcohol being responsible for manyaliments such as heart failure, flabby muscles, troublesbreathing, etc. … This aliment list is endless.8 It is nowknown that alcohol in moderation is not a direct cause ofseveral of these claims. Even though many of the allegationsagainst alcohol were on the extreme side, there is some merit toa few of the accusations. Much of this harm linked to alcoholconsumption, however, stems from its abuse father than itssimple use. Alcohol, during the years leading up to and includingprohibition, presented itself to be a convenient scapegoat forsociety’s problems and woes. At a time when society was”stimulated by accelerating technical progress and jolted by theintensifying social problems created by industrialization, manyNorth Americans were convinced of the need and the feasibilityof reform.”9, it is ironic that prohibition is deemedresponsible for the advent of organized crime in Canada.Regardless of the pros and cons of prohibition, it cannot bedenied that the Canadian response to prohibition helped makethis nation among the largest liquor industries in the world,with distilled liquors being the sixth largest of Canadianexports. Temperance in Nova Scotia had a strong tradition datingback to Beaver River, Yarmouth. It was here, in 1828, the firsttemperance society was formed.10 Like the other temperancesocieties that followed, alcohol consumption was forbiddenexcept for medicinal purposes. The influx of Americantemperance societies in the 1850’s affected the Nova Scotiatemperance movement as their aim became a position of totalabstinence.11 An influential Sons of Temperance Society fromthe United States established its local division in Yarmouth in1847. It was not until 1858 that this society opened a divisionin Manitoba.12 Both of these chapters resulted in a closeconnection with temperance workers between Canada and the UnitedStates. The Dunkin Act, passed in the United Provinces of Canada(Ontario and Quebec), of 1864 permitted the residences of Canadato declare their counties dry under prohibition by a localoption. This system fell into disregard following Confederationbut was brought back fourteen years later in 1878. At this timeCanada passed the Canada Temperance Act (or the ‘Scott Act’ asit came to be known). The Scott Act provided individuallocalities the right to decide for themselves the advisabilityof permitting the sale and/or making of liquor on presentationof a petition signed by 25 per cent of the electors. The resultof such ambiguous legislation was a widely varying pattern oflegality. Prince Edward Island went completely dry and NovaScotia almost so by the early twentieth century. Despite itsacceptance in the Maritime Provinces, the Scott Act was quiteunpopular in Ontario and Quebec. Their dislike of the Act doesnot stem from a disapproval of prohibition; rather, that bothprovinces were in the process of trying to assert theirprovincial independence from Canada’s central government.13 Thefederal government could impede the making of alcohol withinCanada and hinder its migration across national or provincialborders. Only the provincial government could thwart the saleand transportation of alcohol within its provincialboundaries.14 Such dividend responses caused much indecision onboth the provincial and federal level, making definite, decisivelegislation hard to realize and enforce. The Dominion Alliance, formed in 1876, became Canada’sfirst national temperance organization. The alliance wasfounded on “… the principle that … ‘the traffic inintoxicating beverages is destructive of the order and welfareof society, and therefore ought to be prohibited’.”15 ThisDominion Alliance funded a prohibition movement that was vocal,well organized, and closely connected with the conservative andprogressive components in society in the fight alcohol.16 Prohibition forces were not the only side of theprohibition debate to be funded. The anti-prohibition movementwas funded by liquor companies who obviously had massiveinvestments in alcohol that they did not want to lose.Financing for this movement was provided through organizationssuch as civil liberties and citizens’ groups, designed to befronts for liquor interests.17 In 1886, Nova Scotia has its own temperance act. The NovaScotia Liquor Act, aimed at tightening liquor regulations inareas not already prohibitory under the Scott Act, was passed.This act entailed three subsets of licences: (1) wholesale, (2) shop for sale only and, (3) hotel for sale only to guests inrooms or at meals.18 While only a few licences were granted,this did not halt the sale of illegal alcohol very much. Theanti-alcohol movement did not just focus their attention on theolder population. Prohibition also gained support in areas ofeducation. After much lobbying, the provincial governmentpassed a mandatory act that required all public schools to offertemperance education to their students. At the risk of losinggrant money, the schools complied, much to the delight of theprohibition movement.19 In a landmark decision during 1895, the Supreme Court ofCanada ruled that a province did not have the right to halt themarketing or production of alcohol.20 This monumentaljudgement, however, was overruled the following year by theJudicial Committee of the Privy Council. This reversal alsodeclared that only when an area was already prohibitory did theprovince’s right not apply. A later upholding by the samecommittee of the Manitoba Liquor Act five years later solidlyestablished a province’s right to block transaction of liquor intheir area.21 Again, prohibitionists rejoiced. The Laurier Federal Government finally bowed tooverwhelming pressure from the public on the prohibition issue.A national plebiscite was held in 1898. While the nationalresults showed a small majority in favour of prohibition, itshould be noted that prohibitionists campaigned vigorously toobtain greater public support, while anti-prohibitionists didnot.22 The fact that a large number of voters did not evenvote was no doubt a factor in the indecision that plagued the

federal government on the prohibition question. Severalinteresting points do emerge from this plebiscite of those whodid vote. The Maritimes and Manitoba emerged as strongly infavour of prohibition, whereas Western Canada was moderate andQuebec vehemently opposed.23 ‘Wet or Dry’ voting patternsseemed very strongly influenced by ethnic origins with citiesvoting wet and rural areas voting dry.24 Prohibition was once again thrust into the arms of theprovinces. Several small bills were introduced in the years1900 to 1905 in Nova Scotia. These were usually private-memberbills dealing with liquor transportation and inevitably failed.A 1906 amendment, however, did succeed in prohibiting the saleof liquor to a dry-area resident. This was followed by a ban onthe marketing and production of alcohol in all of Nova Scotiaexcept for Halifax.25 Ontario, New Brunswick, Manitoba,Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Nova Scotia all had enactedprovince-wide prohibition by the end of 1916. British Columbiafollowed suit in 1917. In 1916, the Borden Federal Governmentadded their support with the introduction of a bill in thatdisallowed the sale of alcohol into a province where it wasprohibited. This was followed with a prohibition on the use offood stuffs or grain in the distilling of spirits and was ineffect for the length of the war. It failed, however, to affectthe wine makers and brewers.26 Other laws under the War Measures Act included thenon-legalization of 2.5% proof imports in 1917 and the 1918measure forbidding the transportation of liquor of any kind forany use into a province where it was prohibited. A further lawin March of 1918 stated that until the end of the war plus oneyear, the production of liquor would be halted as would itstransportation between provinces. Quebec eventually joined the prohibition movement. In 1919Quebec adopted a law prohibiting the sale of liquor with theexception of light beer, cider, and wine. This move came fromthe results of a provincial plebiscite held there. Despite thisplebiscite, Quebec still was the only legal place in Canada foralcohol when American prohibition passed. Nova Scotia’sreferendum in 1920 resulted in the prohibition of import liquorin every county except Halifax, effective 1921. Under this law,alcohol could be made for exportation but not for consumption inNova Scotia. Coupled with the debate on prohibition, this 1920plebiscite was also memorable as it was the first time womencould vote in Nova Scotia. Even with these laws, prohibitionwas still not easy to enforce. The appointment of provincialinspectors working in the individual municipalities seemed likethe right start to enforcing prohibition successfully.Unfortunately, the corruption ran deep. Many Americans reachedout to Nova Scotia for a bootlegged supply of alcohol. Forexample, the schooner, I’m Alone, was purchased from Lunenburgshipbuilders by a group of American bootleggers. From 1924 to1928, the ship carried illegal alcohol to smaller coastal boatsoff the shores of America.27 Revenues secured by fines fromboot leggers tended to create a distressing paradox. Maximumrevenues could only be obtained if rum-running and boot-leggingwere successful. To solve this, occasional fines kept everyonehappy and both the government and bootleggers in business.28 The government sale system, whereby the government wasgiven a commission of the sales and distribution monopoly onspirits and wines, replaced the much violated prohibition law in1921.29 Intoxicating beverages were placed in two categoriesbased on intoxication capacities. The less intoxicating waseasier to obtain while the more intoxicating posed more of aproblem. Beer was bought by the bottle (store) or glass(tavern). Besides being served at meal-times, wine had no limiton the amount available for purchase. Only a restriction seemedto be on hard liquors that could be bought, for privateconsumption, at a government store one bottle at a time.British Columbia and the Yukon soon abandoned total prohibitionin 1921. Following them was Ontario and the Prairie provinces,Newfoundland in 1925, New Brunswick in 1927, and Nova Scotia in1929. Prince Edward Island stayed dry until 1948. Mostprovinces abandoned prohibition in favour ofgovernment-controlled liquor stores. The latter half of the 1920s saw an increased demand forthe legalization of alcohol and a decrease in strength of thoseopposed.30 The end of prohibition was a difficult adjustment,especially for single female parents who were particularlyevident in the retail trade.31 They were aided somewhat by theMother’s Allowance Bill of 1930.32 It has been suggested thatrum-running in the Maritimes was economically based on our ofwork fishermen selling their boats to rum-runners. This “… created a growing market for second-hand boats, and eventually,for new vessels from the boat yards of the region.”33 The collapse of prohibition can be attributed to severalitems. Disillusionment in the extent of preventing crime,poverty and disease, as well as frustration at the difficulty ofenforcing its laws all contributed to its demise.34 Acompromise of sorts spelled the end of an era of prohibition.Citizens wanted to drink and the government needed money. Theintroduction of liquor sales as revenue for the governmentsolved both issues. The public, to whom prohibition forces werepreaching, had also changed during the 1920’s. They were theproduct of the Great War and the Roaring Twenties and wanted nopart of the prohibition movement.35 A lack of revenue to fundsocial programs may also have contributed to the death ofprohibition. Reform groups had to choose between anincreasingly unpopular law and social welfare programs that weredesperately required. Prohibition can be looked at as a struggle between theworking class and the establishment. Prohibition joinededucation as part of a struggle to minimize the influenceforeigners held on the development of a province. The questiondivided Canada in the midst of finding its own identity inturbulent times, adding much to the country’s history. BIBLIOGRAPHY1. Bleasdale, Ruth, Drink and Drugs. Class Notes2. Blocker J. S. Jr., Retreat From Reform: The ProhibitionMovement in the United States 1890 – 1913., Westport, Conn. Greenwood Press, 1976. 3. Cashman, S. D., Prohibition: The Lie of the Land, New York,The Free Press, 1981. 4. Clark, N. H., Deliver Us From Evil: An Interpretation ofAmerican Prohibition, New York, Norton & Company Inc., 1976. 5. Forbes, E., “Rum in the Maritimes” (found in text readingsfor History 2222B)6. Fosdick, R. B. & Scott, A. L., Toward Liquor Control, NewYork, Harper & Brothers, 1933.7. Grant, B. J., When Rum Was King, Fredericton, FiddleheadPoetry Books, 1984. 8. Hunt, C. W., Booze, Boats, and Billions: Smuggling LiquidGold, Toronto, McClelland & Steward, 1988. 9. Kyvig, D. E., Repealing National Prohibition, Chicago,University of Chicago Press, 1979. 10. Merz, C., The Dry Decade, New York, Doubleday, 1930. 11. Rose, C., Four Years With the Demon Rum, Fredericton,Acadiensis Press, 1980. 12. Webb, R., “The Most Famous Rum-Runner of Them All”, CD-Rombrief, 1982. UNPUBLISHED THESIS1. Strople, M. J., Prohibition and Movements of Social Reformin Nova Scotia 1894-1920, M.A. Thesis, Halifax, DalhousieUniversity Department of History, 1974. 2. Thompson, J. H., The Prohibition Question in Manitoba1892-1928, M.A. Thesis, Manitoba, University of Manitoba, 1969. END NOTES1 Prohibition and Movements of Social Reform 1894 – 1920,Strople, M.J., 1974, p. 109. 2 Ibid., p. 1093 Prohibition: The Lie of the Land, Cashman, Sean Dennis,The Free Press, 1981, p. 262. 4 Prohibition and Movements of Social Reform 1894 – 1920,Strople, M.J., 1974, p. 1. 5 Ibid., p. 276 Prohibition: The Lie of the Land, Cashman, Sean Dennis,The Free Press, 1981, p. 31. 7 The Prohibition Question in Manitoba 1892 – 1928, Thompson,J.H., 1969, p. 38. 8 Prohibition and Movements of Social Reform 1894 – 1920,Strople, M.J., 1974, p. 11. 9 Four Years With the Demon Rum 1925 – 1929, Rose, C.,Acadiensis Press, 1980, p. v. 10 Prohibition and Movements of Social Reform 1894 – 1920,Strople, M.J., 1974, p. 2. 11 Ibid., p.3. 12 The Prohibition Question in Manitoba 1892 – 1928, Thompson,J.H., 1969, p. 5. 13 Prohibition: The Lie of the Land, Cashman, Sean Dennis,The Free Press, 1981, p. 264. 14 Four Years With the Demon Rum 1925 – 1929, Rose, C.,Acadiensis Press, 1980, p. vii. 15 The Prohibition Question in Manitoba 1892 – 1928, Thompson,J.H., 1969, p. 7. 16 Four Years With the Demon Rum 1925 – 1929, Rose, C.,Acadiensis Press, 1980, p. vi. 17 Drink and Drugs, Bleasdale, Ruth, class notes. 18 Prohibition and Movements of Social Reform 1894 – 1920,Strople, M.J., 1974, p. 6. 19 Ibid., p. 8. 20 Ibid., p. 101. 21 Ibid., p. 102. 22 Ibid., p. 109. 23 Ibid., p. 109. 24 The Prohibition Question in Manitoba 1892 – 1928, Thompson,J.H., 1969, p. 26. 25 Four Years With the Demon Rum 1925 – 1929, Rose, C.,Acadiensis Press, 1980, p. viii. 26 Prohibition and Movements of Social Reform 1894 – 1920,Strople, M.J., 1974, p. 147. 27 The Most Famous Rum-Runner Of Them All, Webb, Robert,Nova Scotia Historical Review, 1982, p. 30 – 43. 28 Four Years With the Demon Rum 1925 – 1929, Rose, C.,Acadiensis Press, 1980, p. x. 29 Repealing National Prohibition., Kyvig, D. E., University ofChicago Press, 1979, p. 109. 30 When Rum Was King, Grant, B.J. Fiddlehead Poetry Books, 1984,p. 181. 31 Rum in the Maritimes, Forbes, E., p. 86. 32 Ibid., p. 87. 33 Ibid., p. 86. 34 Prohibition and Movements of Social Reform 1894 – 1920,Strople, M.J., 1974, p. 173. 35 When Rum Was King, Grant, B.J. Fiddlehead Poetry Books, 1984,p. 209.


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