Prohibition in Moose Jaw

Saskatchewan became the first province in Canada to ban private sector sale of alcohol.

Saskatchewan Archives R-B3726
In 1915, Premier Walter Scott and his Liberal government brought an end to the sale of liquor in Saskatchewan. In April of that year, all bars had to close by 7 p.m., and, the following July, Scott announced that all bar and club licenses were to be abolished; a public prosecutor was appointed to follow up and charge individuals and businesses for non-compliance. At the same time, the Saskatchewan government took over the wholesale aspects of the liquor industry.

By 1917 all the other provinces except for Quebec joined the prohibition movement.

Ironically, though, Saskatchewan would soon be responsible for sixty per cent of all the illicit still prosecutions by the RCMP in the country, and Moose Jaw would play a major role in the illegal trade. 

There were no laws in the province against manufacturing, storing or exporting alcohol, and soon Moose Jaw had warehouses full of moonshine.

In fact, Moose Jaw, also known as “Loose Jaw” and “Little Chicago,” became defined by whiskey.  The barrels in the city were often leaky and the drink flowed to hotels and backroom bars within the city.  River Street was full of all-night brothels and bootleg joints, of poolrooms and faro games, jazz bands and poker brawls.

But with Canada deep the Social Gospel message of morality, Saskatchewan prohibitionists demonized those who manufactured, sold, and consumed alcohol. Alcohol was seen as a threat to world peace during World War I; it was blamed for violence in families and for high crime rates in Saskatchewan. During the prohibition era the crime rates and arrests for drunkenness dropped.

At the same time, fewer police were needed to patrol in urban centres, and rates of Monday morning absenteeism in the work force fell sharply. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union and other proponents of an alcohol-free society likened the success of prohibition to a social revolution.Bar and hotel owners and employees insisted upon some form of compensation for the loss of revenues and income, at least until they could generate alternative jobs or business ventures; but the government refused to compensate those involved in the sale of alcohol, arguing that the monies could not come from the provincial coffers given that public opinion was overwhelmingly in favour of prohibition. According to Scott, the citizens of Saskatchewan thought that alcohol was unpatriotic and more dangerous than German submarines.

Saskatchewan Archives R-A19421

On April 1, 1918, the federal government prohibited the manufacture, importation, and transportation of beverages containing more than 2.5% alcohol. Provincial governments regulated the sale of alcohol within the province, while the federal government regulated trade in alcohol between provinces. Canada became a “dry” country, the only exceptions being the alcohol needed for medicinal and religious purposes.

The Canada Temperance Act of 1919 replaced prohibition as public opinion was moved toward greater tolerance of alcohol consumption. The Saskatchewan government abandoned the prohibition and temperance movement in 1925, but continued to control wholesale outlets for selling and distributing alcohol.