Small Alberta town votes to stay dry, but other towns are choosing to bask in booze

Small Alberta town votes to stay dry, but other towns are choosing to bask in booze

A small Alberta town has decided that after 109 years of banning the sale of alcohol anywhere in the community, that they should continue to ban the sale of alcohol anywhere in the community.

The Mennonite town of Cardston, Alta., held a plebiscite this week to consider several modern advancements. But those who hoped the town of 3,500 folks would embrace booze were sorely disappointed.

The Canadian Press reports that the town, which also bans the drinking of tea and coffee on religious grounds, voted overwhelmingly to keep the town dry.

"I am not surprised because at the end once the people have had the chance to really consider the outcome of the prohibition law, it’s very difficult to have a middle ground," Cardston Mayor Maggie Kronen told CP.

"At this point I would say this puts it to rest. I think perhaps you would have to have a new generation of people before that happens again."

The non-binding vote asked if the sale of alcohol should be allowed, as well as whether alcohol should be served at town restaurants, and at the golf course. But even that slight bend was too much break for the community.

The community was overwhelmingly opposed to alcohol sales – voting 1,089 to 347 in opposition to allowing the direct sale of alcohol. On the question of allowing alcohol to be sold in restaurants and recreational facilities, the town voted in opposition 956 votes to 456.

But perhaps more shockingly, at least for those not from Cardston, is that the town isn’t alone. There are many Canadian communities that still ban the sale of booze. Usually, those towns are small prairie towns, predominantly comprised of Mennonite residents. Though the number continues to dwindle as time passes.

Last year, the town of Hepburn, Sask., held a referendum of its own and voted to allow the sale of alcohol in the local Co-op grocery store. Winkler, Man., also opened its first liquor store last year.

Also in Manitoba, the Rural Municipality of Hanover discovered earlier this year that it had never been a dry community.

The community held a referendum in 2006 and voted against allowing the sale of booze. And then someone checked the community records and realized a ban on alcohol was never actually enacted. The reeve of the community told the Canadian Press that it appears residents of the Mennonite community just assumed it had always been official.

The issue of alcohol sale has a colourful history in Canada and many of the towns that remain alcohol-free owe their existence to the prohibition movement of the 1800s.

According to the McGill Law Journal, many towns passed laws at the time cracking down on the drinking of alcohol - everything from prohibiting games and gambling inside taverns to barring those who hold liquor licences from running for public office.

In 1855, New Brunswick enacted an outright prohibition on alcohol, and even tried to enforce it for a while. Other areas of Canada followed suit.

In the 1870s, the federal government introduced the Canada Temperance Act, which gave local communities the option of banning booze.

Reads the McGill Law Journal:

If one quarter of a town’s residents signed a petition requesting prohibition, the Governor in Council would order the town to hold a binding plebiscite.

More than a century later and such rare cases continue to pop up. Cardston, it seems, will remain dry for another generation. Though the town did approve making one modern leap.

The plebiscite posed several other questions to town residents. And while they voted against allowing hens to be raised in town yards and against the notion of allowing sporting event to rent community facilities on Sunday, they did vote yes once.

Cardston, Alta., voted in favour of adding fluoride to the drinking water.

So progress after all, apparently.

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