FASlink Fetal Alcohol Disorders Society

Prohibition in Canada

A timeline of prohibition and liquor legislation in Canada

CBC News Online | June 30, 2005

Canada is in economic depression, but alcohol is a flourishing industry. Toronto has approximately one bar for every 150 residents and Montreal boasts a bar per 70 citizens. They sell Caribbean rum and locally brewed whisky for high profits. Drink becomes responsible for acts of disorderly conduct, and city jailhouses fill with people charges with intemperance, the act of excessive drinking.

The effects of alcohol becomes the focus of prohibition campaigns by women's groups like the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, and the United Farm Women of Alberta.

A group of churchwomen from Picton, Ont., ask their city council to stop selling tavern licences and ask citizens to abstain from alcohol. Their requests are denied as the profits from liquor sales are too high to ignore.

Undeterred, they take their fight to Ottawa. They get no support from Opposition leader John A. Macdonald, a devout drinker. They potentially find help from Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie, but their cause does not advance as women cannot vote and politicians have little to gain from supporting the cause.

PEI is the first Canadian province to achieve prohibition. The remaining provinces are by the end of the First World War.

April 30, 1904:
A Toronto West End neighbourhood goes dry to end drunken rowdiness. Residents of West Toronto, now called the Junction, ban alcohol to stop fights between men working in the railway stockyards. A series of failed referendums leaves the Junction dry until 1997.

Prohibition is widespread in Canada. Details vary between provinces, but most drinking establishments are closed and the sale of alcohol is forbidden with some private exceptions. Aboriginal wines are also exempt. Alcohol can still be sold through the government for industrial, scientific, mechanical, artistic and medical uses. Distillers can sell their products outside their own province with proper documentation.

The sale of alcohol flourishes nationwide under several different guises. Illegal drinking establishments, known as speakeasies, spring up everywhere. In some provinces, people who claim to be ill can buy alcohol with a doctor's prescription. The prescription system is widely abused, a point noticed most during the Christmas holiday season with long lineups at neighbourhood drugstores.

In 1920, British Columbia votes to make alcohol available through the government. Manitoba and Saskatchewan follow a year later. The remaining provinces vote against prohibition by 1930, with the exception of P.E.I., which stays dry until 1948.

The United States remains under strict prohibition until 1933. The ban is intended to reduce crime, solve social problems and improve the health of American citizens. Instead, alcohol becomes more popular, creating an underground economy of booze smugglers and rumrunners. The U.S. hires 5,000 officers to enforce prohibition laws across the country, which is an impossible task. Some argue that prohibition has made alcohol easier to buy. The U.S. Coast Guard spends its time policing the Canada-U.S. border and routinely sinks boats carrying booze from Canada.

Prohibition ends in the United States.

Dec. 7, 1997:
Ontario liquor stores open for the first time on a Sunday. The new hours are a final change to Ontario Sunday laws regarding alcohol. The government started the process in 1967, allowing a limited number of drinks to be served with meals on Sundays. These drinks could only be served between noon and 3 p.m., and 5 and 9:30 p.m. In order to open their retail doors on a Sunday, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario has to convince the government of a reasonable demand from consumers.

A restaurateur in Osprey Township Ontario is charged for selling liquor in his unlicensed restaurant. Chef Michael Stadtlander and his wife sell meals at their Collingwood restaurant and invite patrons to bring their own wine. They are charged for selling two bottles of wine from their private stock at a $1.20 markup to a couple who fail to bring their own. The pair say they are celebrating a wedding anniversary, but in fact are a team of undercover police officers. The charges are later dropped, and the case suggests that Ontario should consider allowing diners to bring their own wine to restaurants.

June 1999:
British Columbia loosens a series of Byzantine liquor laws. Among them, licensed restaurants can now serve drinks without meals, or with an appetizer-sized food order. Restrictions are also lifted on the amount of television sets in an environment, and their screen size. In retail outlets, shoppers can now also pay for alcohol by credit card.

May 2001:
A series of public hearings are held in Iqaluit in an effort to rethink Nunavut's strict alcohol limitations. Some Nunavut communities are dry, and in others alcohol must be mail ordered in. Air freight costs push the price of drinking much higher than the Canadian average. Some argue that part of the problems stemming from alcohol are based on its tight restrictions. Despite current bans bootleggers runs thriving businesses in the north. Many are a phone call away and can deliver with in minutes.

Natuashish is a new community of 700 Innu people from Davis Inlet, Labrador. The new community is created to escape the substance and alcohol abuse that plague surrounding communities. Natuashish is designated as a reserve under the Indian Act, and is not yet declared a dry town. The band council has the authority to pass liquor laws.

Two years later, old problems take hold of the new town. In 2003, one former band councillor says about 10 per cent of the population participate in bootlegging. By 2004, the small community blames four suicides on alcohol consumption.

December 2002:
British Columbia extends bar hours to 4 a.m. from 2 a.m. Restaurant patrons are also allowed to take home unfinished bottles of wine.

September 2004:
Manitoba bans all-you-can-drink promotions after a Winnipeg student dies from binge drinking. This includes any kind of contest where alcohol consumption is part of the game. Bar employees are also forbidden from roaming through a restaurant or bar with unordered pre-made drinks on a tray.

Dec. 22, 2004:
Hamlet councillors in the Northwest Territories community of Paulatuk want a dry Christmas. They ask Aklak Air, the airline responsible for bringing in holiday visitors, to limit the amount of spirits brought into the small town. Ray Ruben, Paulatuk's mayor, does not apply early enough for a prohibition order, so a ban cannot be legally imposed. He says he wants to informally curb consumption, so more citizens can participate in community activities.

January 2005:
Ontario introduces the Bring Your Own Wine program. It allows diners to bring their own unopened wine to dinner at participating restaurants. Patrons will be charged a corkage fee determined by the establishment.

Feb. 25, 2005:
Ottawa considers warning labels on alcohol. Ontario Liberal MP Paul Szabo appears before a parliamentary committee one day before trying to get it to back his private member's bill, Bill C-206, a cause he has been working on for 10 years. The labels would be similar to ones found on cigarette packages, and warn about the possible effects of alcohol, such as impaired ability to drive, and health issues, including possible birth defects. The beverage industry opposes the plan, claiming it would cost up to $20 million a year to implement. Twenty countries have similar labels, including the United States.

June 29, 2005:
Three rural communities in Nova Scotia vote to have alcohol for the first time since prohibition. Until now, residents of Cambridge and Maitland drove to other towns for their liquor supply. People from Tidnish crossed the border into New Brunswick for a drink.