Your humble narrator finds himself penning this week’s column without the aid of a wee dram or a cold pint.
Yes, gentle reader, your intrepid liquor reporter is visiting the city of Steinbach, also known as Manitoba’s last dry community.
Founded in 1874 by German-speaking Mennonite settlers from Russia who were migrating to avoid military conscription, the town of Steinbach has never been particularly welcoming to boozers.
Bars and cocktail lounges have only been legal in Steinbach since October. Yes gentle reader, if you go back more than 4 short months ago, operating a drinking establishment in this town was against the law.
Just to give you some perspective, Steinbach is not a tiny one-horse town. With a population of nearly 14000, it is the third-largest city in Manitoba, and about the same size as Chestermere.
Just imagine…. not being able to buy booze in Chestermere. Oh the horror! Your intrepid liquor reporter would obviously be required to be running batches of moonshine 24×7 out of my own private still hidden down in the reeds at the end of the lake, just to keep up with the illicit demand.
The city of Steinbach has had 7 different referendums since 1950 about the demon liquor, and it took until 4 short months ago to gather enough of the “wet” votes to allow a bar or cocktail lounge. Granted, none have actually opened up yet, but the closet boozers in town are hopeful.
As you might imagine, the theory behind being a dry town and the practice are quite different. The local golf course went the route of obtaining a “temporary” permit, and obtained a new permit every single week for years.
Other establishments were more clandestine, where an order of Diet Coke along with a sly wink to the server somehow caused your soft drink to be tainted with a generous shot of Captain Morgan.
Finally, the invention of the automobile made any local dry communities effectively wet, as saloons and liquor stores tend to spring up right on their borders. When obtaining a case of beer is as easy as driving to the edge of the city limits, anyone who stays dry is doing so by choice, not because of any local laws.
For those readers in the audience feeling all smug about the progressive community you call home, remember that Alberta has endured Prohibition not once, but twice.
Alberta was a dry province from 1875 to 1892, and again from 1916 to 1924. Unfortunately for the temperance movement, the arrival of the roaring 20’s made an open mockery of Prohibition, and Alberta was a dry province in name only.
Realizing the futility of the law, the Alberta government repealed Prohibition in 1924. Calgary’s own Palliser Hotel was the first establishment to be granted a license to operate a beer parlour.
Sadly, boozing was a gender-segregated affair back in those days, and Alberta had to wait until 1967 before men and women were allowed to drink together in the same room. As I’m sure you can imagine, the burlesque houses of the day paid no heed to that particular law.
The only province in Canada have escaped the spectre of Prohibition throughout history has been Quebec. With their more European culture, and the accompanying laizzez-faire attitude towards alcohol, our Quebec brethren enjoyed increased tourism from both Canada and the USA during their Prohibition era, as thirsty travellers trekked to the only place in North America to enjoy a beer down at the pub.
Puritanical attitudes have been making a comeback in western Canada recently, with both BC and Alberta passing “stealth prohibition” legislation that effectively reduces the legal definition of impairment from .08% to .05% blood alcohol content. Whether Alberta’s new law will survive its first court challenge remains to be seen.
Perhaps our newly elected Premier is channelling the spirit of the late Nellie McClung, Alberta’s first female member of the Legislature way back in 1921, and an avid proponent of Prohibition of the demon liquor.
Alberta has long been considered the most conservative province in Canada, and has even been called the Utah of the north. Luckily, the provincial government is too addicted to the cash cow from liquor taxes to consider any serious attempts at Prohibition again.
Let’s make sure they don’t try – go out and treat yourself to a tipple tonight!