The temperance movement in Canada began around 1827 in Nova Scotia and Montreal recording the first groups who advocated moderation or total abstinence from alcohol, because of a belief that drink was responsible for many of society’s ills. In the early days the groups tolerated moderate use of beer and wine, but as time went on and the groups spread across the country they began to call for total prohibition of all alcohol.
The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) became the most important temperance society for women in North America. It was an American group whose Canadian counterpart was founded in 1874 at Owen Sound, Ontario. When the WCTU joined forces with the women’s suffrage movement it became the largest non-denominational women’s group in Canada. WCTU believed that alcoholic beverages could be linked to, poverty, unemployment, prostitution and disease. WCTU worked to promote sobriety, thrift, duty, a strong work ethic and family welfare. They were successful in supporting women’s suffrage, sex hygiene and mother’s (family) allowances.
By World War I their voice was heard regarding prohibition and in 1915 Leduc voted 114 to 79 to remain dry! The following year Alberta passed a provincial prohibition act that would stay in effect for another eight years. It was felt that prohibition would improve the war effort by preventing waste and improve efficiency. In 1917 the federal government introduced a national prohibition as part of the War Measures Act. Each province had the responsibility to enact prohibition legislation. An interesting aspect of the laws was that it was illegal to consume alcohol, but it was not illegal to export alcohol.
Above the Smith Brothers general store the Temperance Union held their meetings and discussed their involvement in various projects. During this time Leduc residents often referred the building as the Temperance House. Built in 1900 it remains as one of the oldest building in downtown Leduc. Originally it was two buildings sharing a common wall. Around 1920 modifications were made that lowered the roofline of the Smith Bros. General Store and a common exterior of stucco replaced the horizontal sidings.
By the mid 1920’s the Temperance movement was beginning to run its course as too many people were ignoring the law and drinking illegally and this resulted in the expansion of organized crime and the violence that went with it. Realizing they were in a losing battle the Temperance Union adopted a new slogan “Moderation and Government Regulation”.
As the various provinces repealed their acts of prohibition they listened to the still powerful Temperance Union as many of the acts that replace prohibition were replaced with strict controls on the sale of alcohol. In 1924 Alberta repealed prohibition and introduced the Liquor Control Act. The new act provided for the production, distribution, and sale of alcohol under strict guidelines. The law formed the Alberta Liquor Control Board (ALCB) It would not be until 1992 that Alberta completely privatization liquor retailing.
In the beginning the ALCB required hotels to meet strict standards regarding cleanliness, décor, and even required separate entrances and a designated area for women, and entertainment was prohibited.
Today the ALCB still maintains a monopoly on the wholesaling of wine, coolers, imported beer, and distilled spirits. The board also provides rules on the minimum prices, the number and size of drinks sold and possession after 1am, and the alcoholic content and of course manages the collection of liquor taxes.
One of the interesting sections enacted by the federal government in 1928 was the section that prohibited interprovincial liquor shipments. This allowed each province to develop their own breweries and wine industry. The law is still in effect but recently various provinces have made agreements to allow importation from each other.
The WCTU is still active today providing information and positional papers on alcohol, tobacco, illegal drugs, gambling, and pornography.
The Temperance House building is now home for Fancy Finger, Martha’s Tailoring, Urban Closet and the H & R Block was located in the original site of the Smith Bros. Today if you go in to one of the stores you just might hear the sound of hymns emanating from the ceiling or maybe not.