Bootlegging in Canada

Calgary Saloon
One of Calgary's most popular saloons, the Palace Hotel Bar in 1903
Courtesy of the Glenbow Collection

On July 21st, 1915, Alberta's all-male electorate voted sixty-one percent in favour of prohibition, and on July 1, 1916, the consumption of alcohol for beverage purposes was outlawed. At that same time, while citizens of Alberta voted for prohibition, the majority of Crowsnest Pass residents voted “wet.”

The prohibition movement preceded the First World War but gained new force with its onset. Using the language of war, prohibitionists urged Canadians to "use ballots for bullets and shoot straight and strong in order that the demon of drink might be driven from the haunts of men." They emphasized that those at home must make sacrifices just like those at the Front. Citizens should concentrate on fighting the war, not feeding their vices. Further, the manufacturing of liquor used up grain resources which could be used for the war effort — wheat was for feeding soldiers, not for making booze. Lastly, argued the prohibitionists, liquor robbed young soldiers of the vitality they needed to preserve their lives on the battlefield. (The fact that soldiers were given a shot of whiskey before being ordered to go “over the top” was conveniently ignored.) Women prohibitionists especially saw the opportunity to better their domestic spheres if prohibition were enforced, as alcohol abuse seemed to be the purview of men.

Calgary Saloon
The Hillhurst Presbyterian Sunday School
campaigning to win the "Dry" Vote ca. World War I
Courtesy of the Glenbow Collection

The prohibitionists' first victory came in Saskatchewan in 1915, followed quickly by Alberta the same year. Manitoba followed in February 1916. By the end of 1917, every provincial government except Quebec had implemented prohibition legislation.

By 1919, however, prohibitionist's hold was weakening as the post-war state proved unable and unwilling to maintain it. Returning soldiers, with visible and not-so-visible wounds had little tolerance for such puritan measures. Moreover, the law establishing prohibition had been an order-in-council, while prohibition was a wartime emergency. Thus, when the Wartime Measures Act was revoked in November 1919, the orders-in-council ceased to apply. Although prohibition was replaced by the Canada Temperance Act in 1919, it was more flexible than the order-in-council and shrewd Canadians with a taste for alcohol or money effectively exploited the loopholes. Most importantly, support for prohibition had weakened.

In October 1920, British Columbia allowed liquor to be sold by the provincial government. That same month, the three Prairie Provinces still voted "dry" but the majority in favour of prohibition had dropped considerably. Gradually, liquor came back to Canada. On May 10th, 1924 prohibition was abolished ending this colorful era in Alberta history.

Information sourced from Library and Archives Canada – The Canadian West

Italian Immigration to Alberta

Italian ImmigrantsEmigration from Italy began in earnest in the 1880s. The unification of Italy, culminating in 1870, had not improved the lot of the great number of agricultural workers who lived in southern Italy or the Mezzogiorno (literally, the "middle of the day"). This immigration has been described as the "immigration of misery." The Italian government of the time was conscious of this "surplus population" and facilitated emigration, just as Count Leo Tolstoy negotiated with the Canadian government to bring emigrants from the Ukraine to Alberta as the Ukrainian Block Settlement of the 1890s.

As early as 1881, Italian government officials were exploring the possibilities of emigration to Canada. Early Italians in Alberta found work as coal miners and railroad workers. This was work which required little training with a lot of will and endurance. By 1911, a large number of Italians lived in the province, many of them settling in coal mining areas, such as Blairmore and Coleman.

In 1914, the first Italian settlement colony was established north of Edmonton. These communities adopted the names of places in Italy, where many of the community members were from. They chose such names as Naples and Venice. Other communities where a large number of Italian Albertans chose to settle were in southern Alberta, in places such as Grassy Lake, and Iron Springs. Early Canadian immigration policy, which prompted the first wave of emigration from Italy, was interested only in the capacity of men to do heavy work. As "strangers" in the new land, they moved to where real estate was cheapest and that was in inner-city areas where they created, for a time, “Little Italys.” These inner-city areas centered along railway lines, factories and other places of employment.

Restrictive immigration practices as an aftermath of World War I meant that few Italians came to Canada in the inter-war years of 1919 to 1939 and, in fact, after 1929 only farmers were eligible to emigrate. Those Italians who were by now entrenched became assimilated and had more in common with English Canadians than with recent immigrants from Italy.

Following the Second World War, Alberta enjoyed another influx of Italian immigrants. These people who came were generally educated and highly skilled. Many of these immigrants, therefore, moved to the larger urban areas, such as Edmonton or Calgary. As Europe struggled with unemployment and lack of food as an aftermath of the war and the devastation of the economies of Europe, the Canadian economy began to boom and there was an impetus to increase immigration. In 1947, the “enemy alien” designation for Italians was removed. The Italian government supported the immigration and, in 1948, the Canadian government opened a Rome embassy. While reconstruction work had begun in Italy, there were insufficient jobs in both urban and rural communities. According to oral history interviews, for one civil service or teaching job there might be up to 10,000 candidates who sat exams. Thus, emigration did not come just from the pool of unskilled labour but also from educated people who felt that their talents and skills were not appreciated in the homeland.

Information sourced from an article entitled: Albertans: Who Do They Think They Are?

History of the Death Penalty in Canada

Information sourced from the Department of Justice Canada.