Prohibition in Wetaskiwin

History Column

By 1916, growing demand in Alberta resulted in the implementation of prohibition in the province, the same year that the Alberta Provincial Police took over from the Royal North West Mounted Police, which would last until the 1930s.

In Wetaskiwin, the new law would result in the Prince of Wales Hotel closing its doors, while the Wetaskiwin Wine and Spirit Company went out of business.

While some approved of the new law, many did not and while they could not buy the liquor themselves, they would often just make it themselves. For residents in the community, you never knew who would be a bootlegger. One story tells of the Odell family, who suddenly saw the local police rush into the neighbours yard and surround the house. Soon enough, several tubs of alcohol were brought out and poured into the garden, while the neighbour was arrested.

The Prince of Wales Hotel would stay closed for all of 1916 but in 1917, the military reopened the building but it was serving as a hospital, where wounded soldiers could recover after returning home from the First World War. Other hotels were not as lucky. The Alberta Hotel and the Royal Hotel both got in trouble for liquor infractions and that resulted in their reputations taking a hit. The Alberta Hotel would burn down before prohibition was repealed, while the Royal was eventually demolished, with part of the building turning into a boarding house.

The Driard Inn was also forced to close down its popular bar, but it would eventually take on a new life under manager Curt Smith and survived through prohibition.

Prohibition would not go away in the community, or Alberta for several years. For many in the community, it meant changing careers as well. Those who used to make a living with alcohol found other businesses to start, some of which lasted for many years in Wetaskiwin.

The Angus Theatre proved a popular place during this time, especially when comedies like Ten Nights In A Barroom were shown. For many, it was a sign that hopefully better drinking times were ahead.

Eventually, prohibition would come to an end in most of Alberta in 1923, bringing the booze back to Wetaskiwin.

— Craig Baird

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