By 1900 prohibitionists also argued that prohibition would force European immigrants to conform to what the prohibitionists perceived to be Canadian standards of behaviour.
The first temperance societies in Canada appeared about 1827 in Pictou County, NS, and Montréal. These tolerated moderate use of beer and wine, an attitude which was to persist in Québec but soon gave way elsewhere to abstinence or prohibition of all alcoholic beverages. Despite the shift from temperance to prohibition, temperance, abstinence and prohibition groups were all commonly called temperance groups. About 1848 the Sons of Temperance lodge, a fraternal and prohibitionist society modelled on the Odd Fellows, reached Canada from the US. Other such lodges were the Royal Templars of Temperance and the International Order of Good Templars. Though popular for many years, the temperance lodges declined sharply after 1890. The most important temperance society for women was the WOMAN'S CHRISTIAN TEMPERANCE UNION, an American movement whose Canadian counterpart was founded 1874 by Letitia YOUMANS of Picton, Ont, as one of the few organizations through which women could play a political role. In 1875 the hundreds of societies, lodges and church groups committed to prohibition convened at Montréal to form a federation named the Dominion Prohibitory Council. Renamed in 1876 the Dominion Alliance for the Total Suppression of the Liquor Traffic, it became the major organizing force for prohibition campaigns. A decisive figure for much of its history was its secretary, Francis Stephens Spence of Toronto. The predominantly English and Protestant Dominion Alliance discouraged francophone and Catholic participation. Furthermore, Catholics, particularly francophone Catholics, regarded prohibition as an extreme measure. When La Ligue anti-alcoölique was formed 1906 as a counterpart of the Dominion Alliance, it supported legal restriction of the liquor trade, but not full prohibition.
Jurisdiction over the trade was shared by governments, since the provinces could prohibit retail sale, whereas the federal government could prohibit the manufacture of alcohol and retail, wholesale and interprovincial trade. However, neither level was enthusiastic about prohibition, since it would cause losses of tax revenue and party support. Both often put forward compromise legislation known as local option, eg, the Canada Temperance Act of 1878, which gave local governments the right to prohibit by popular vote the retail sale of alcohol. The referendum was also frequently used as a delaying tactic or to shift responsibility for legislation from governments to voters. A side effect was to give prohibitionists political experience, through organizing local-option and referendum campaigns, which led to a major success when in 1900 the PEI government prohibited the retail sale of alcohol.
When WWI broke out, the movement was close to its peak. Alcohol consumption, though beginning to rise after a half century of decline, was relatively low; organization and funding for the movement were substantial; and local option was widely accepted. Finally the Dominion Alliance campaigned for prohibition as a patriotic measure. Such an appeal made further opposition almost impossible; in 1915 and 1916 all provinces but Québec prohibited retail sale of alcohol. Québec prohibited retail sale of distilled liquor in 1919, but only briefly. Prohibition was short-lived. Though the federal government prohibited the manufacture, importation and sale of alcohol by orders-in-council in 1918, these expired shortly after the war. Most provincial legislation was abandoned during the 1920s in favour of government sale. PEI followed in 1948. Meanwhile, Canadian liquor interests found a large, illegal market in the US, which was under prohibition until 1933. There has been a substantial Canadian presence in that market ever since. The assertion that prohibition was ended because it failed is unconvincing. The laws were in effect so briefly and were so inconsistently enforced that their effectiveness must remain a question. As to the claim that prohibition encouraged drinking, the steady rise of alcohol consumption under conditions of legal sale must raise further questions. More likely, changes in Canadian society and within the movement doomed prohibition.
Those self-employed Canadians who saw temperance as an aid to economic success were a diminishing proportion of the population, displaced by urban workers to whom self-betterment seemed a remote possibility. Hence the decline of the prohibition vote in the 1920s. Within the movement, prohibitionism had provided an opportunity for close study of urban problems, leading many to conclude that those problems had more to do with the political and economic system than with alcohol. Many left the movement for other forms of activism. It had been thought that the extension of the franchise to women would sustain prohibition, since it was commonly believed that women were sympathetic to it. However, referenda of the 1920s, in which women had the vote, showed a consistent decline of support. The temperance movement was the creature of a society that was already fading when its prohibition victories were won. However, as a means by which Canadians came to grips with social problems and formulated responses, the movement was valuable.
Author GRAEME DECARIE
M.G. Decarie, "Something Old, Something New," in Donald Swainson, ed, Oliver Mowat's Ontario (1972); The Facts of the Case: a summary of the most important evidence and argument presented in the Report of the Royal Commission on the Liquor Traffic (1973); James H. Gray, Booze (1972); R.E. Spence, Prohibition in Canada (1919).
Links to Other Sites
Canadian Women's Christian Temperance Union Fonds
An overview of the history of the Canadian Women's Christian Temperance Union, an organization that fought to expand the role of women in Canadian society. From the Archives of Ontario website.
Alberta Provincial Woman's Christian Temperance Union fonds
View digitized copies of documents and photographs relating to the Alberta Provincial Woman's Christian Temperance Union. From the website for the Glenbow Museum.
View a digitized reproduction of a 19th century "Temperance pledge" engraving. For historical context, read the "Keys to History" notes below the image. From the McCord Museum website.
Prohibition and the Smuggling of Intoxicating Liquors between the Two Saults
An article about the history of the prohibition movement in Canada, the Ontario Temperance Act, liquor smuggling activities in the Sault Ste. Marie region, and related issues. From the website for the Canadian Nautical Research Society. A PDF file.