Dry community in southern Alberta keeps ban on alcohol sales

·3 min read
The Town of Raymond has banned alcohol sales for 120 years, although it is legal to drink there. (Jennifer Dorozio/CBC - image credit)
The Town of Raymond has banned alcohol sales for 120 years, although it is legal to drink there. (Jennifer Dorozio/CBC - image credit)

One of the last dry communities in Alberta will remain so thanks to outspoken residents and a motion defeated by town council.

Raymond, Alta., a prairie town about 240 kilometres southeast of Calgary, spent seven weeks engaging the public on whether restaurants in town should be allowed to serve alcohol.

The last step of that process was a town survey, made public Tuesday.

A majority of 52 per cent of the 885 respondents in the survey indicated they wanted Raymond to remain a dry community.

"I think they feel that the town has been this way for 120 years," said Raymond Mayor Jim Depew. "It's a great town, a safe community, and why introduce alcohol on that level?"

Jennifer Dorozio/CBC
Jennifer Dorozio/CBC

There are no restaurant liquor licences in the town of 4,100 citizens, many of them members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Council would have to amend the land use bylaw in order to allow for that.

After a brief discussion by council Tuesday evening, council voted down a motion to amend the bylaw to allow for restaurants in Raymond to have a liquor licence.

Depew said he was pleased with the resolution to the contentious community debate.

Nineteen per cent of survey respondents said they would be in favour of granting restaurant liquor licences in town, and 27 per cent said they wanted prohibition ended in Raymond altogether (two per cent were indifferent).

Coun. Kelly Jensen, who brought forward the motion to amend the land use bylaw, believes the survey results indicate a town fairly split on the issue.

"It came in very close when you take in those who totally oppose it and those who approve it on different levels," she said.

Jensen was the only one of seven council members present to vote in favour of amending the land use bylaw, despite survey results indicating a nearly evenly split population on the issue.

"There'll be disappointed people that want to have the alcohol.… I'm sure there will be," said Depew.

Over a century of prohibition

This most recent debate around serving alcohol was set off in town after a local restaurant owner indicated they wanted to apply to the Alberta Gaming Liquor and Cannabis commission for a liquor licence.

Raymond and other nearby towns had remained under prohibition until June 2020, when the province did away with the last of those laws.

But in Raymond, much of the land that the town rests on is still under restrictive covenants — placed there by the town's founder — which prohibit selling alcohol to this day.

Town council does not plan to remove those restrictions. If it had decided to allow alcohol sales, it would have considered liquor licence applications only for establishments on land that did not have those stipulations attached.

The survey analysis noted a "tension" that was apparent to the council throughout their discussions.

A second question polled residents' appetites for licensed restaurants in town should it benefit the local economy.

It yielded 52 per cent opposed, no matter the benefit, 33 per cent in favour unconditionally, and 12 per cent in favour if it benefited the town's economy.

"For most respondents, the issue is an ideological one, not an economic one," the analysis section of the survey stated.

"There is a tension between the desire to preserve small town values and tradition with a desire to become more inclusive."

Depew said this debate could resurface in a few years, but for now the decision has been made by town council and residents.

CBC Calgary has launched a Lethbridge bureau to help tell your stories from southern Alberta with reporter Jennifer Dorozio. Story ideas and tips can be sent to jennifer.dorozio@cbc.ca.

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