Vintage Photos from Prohibition Era Alberta

The irony isn’t lost on me that as I write this post I am sitting on a patio enjoying a frosty pint of craft beer. Nevertheless, prohibition has always intrigued me. Maybe it’s the rum runners and whiskey smugglers that are featured in Hollywood movies or the fact that something we have readily available today was once taboo. Whatever it is, the subject always hooks me and draws me in. I wanted to explore Alberta’s own journey down the prohibition path and decided to find as many photos as I could about those liquor-free days. Unfortunately there weren’t many to choose from in either the provincial or Glenbow archives. What follows is a brief recap of the ever-changing liquor laws in this province and a few historic photos to provide some context.

Liquor supplies of Edward Whymper, mountain climber

On July 1st, 1916 the prohibition on the sale of beer, wine, and liquor (except for medicinal purposes, which always makes me laugh) was approved by a province-wide vote in Alberta. The ban on alcohol sales didn’t last very long though, as opinions about the ban began to shift. A new plebiscite was introduced and the prohibition was reversed in 1923. The citizens of the province opted for stricter rules around the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages instead of an all-out ban. Even though the prohibition law was reversed, citizens of the province still weren’t able to freely consume alcohol. Instead, anyone wishing to purchase alcohol had to complete an application form, which was then filled by a government agent. Typically, only a single bottle was provided and that bottle needed to be consumed in the privacy of the purchaser’s residence. Believe it or not, the practice of filling out liquor order slips was kept all the way until 1965! Haven’t we come a long way since then?

Seizure of liquor at Crowsnest Pass by Alberta Provincial Police, 1925

Alberta’s liquor laws have changed at a glacial pace. Minor changes occurred throughout the intervening years, but the province didn’t see major changes to its liquor sale laws until the early ’70s when the legal drinking age was reduced from 21 to 18. Then in 1971, when the new Progressive Conservative government displaced the Social Credit government, many new and more relaxed regulations were introduced. The province had adapted a new attitude towards the consumption of alcoholic beverages and it was time for those attitudes to be reflected in current legislation.

Seven carcasses of dressed hogs containing contraband liquor, 1910-1911
Man in tent with liquor supply near Jasper, Alberta, 1912
Constable R. M. Dey, Alberta Provincial Police. Mounted on horse. Pursued son of Picariello, bootlegger, Crowsnest Pass, 1920s
Barrier set up by Alberta Provincial Police, during chase after son of Picariello, Bootlegger, Blairmore, Alberta, 1922
Alberta Provincial Police barrier. Car in process of search by Sergeant Scott, during chase after son of Picariello, bootlegger, Blairmore, Alberta, 1922
Lady showing liquor flask in garter, 1920s
Emilio Picariello, “Emperor Pic”. Whiskey runner in Coleman area. Convicted of murder and hanged, Blairmore, Alberta, 1922
Whiskey Cache, Under rocks, left centre, Pine Coulee, Nanton area, Alberta, n.d.
Whiskey still site, On open ground, left centre, Pine Coulee, Nanton area, Alberta, n.d.
Bootlegging in Frank, Alberta, late teens
Wooden boxes from shipments of liquor, Edmonton, Alberta, 1926
Moonshine still. Still is set up on running-board of automobile. Two unidentified men in picture, Irricana, Alberta, 1922
Aerial view of the Prohibition Parade that took place in Edmonton, Alberta. Parade on 97 Street, looking north from Jasper Avenue, 1915. Object #A4841
Prohibition in Frank, Alberta. A man carrying a cask, n.d. Object #A1745
Alexander Bourassa, Frederick Plamondon, Arthur Bourassa and Benoit Plamondon drinking and smoking inside the Plamondon store owned by the Chevigny Bros., M. Corbière Manager, 1920. Object #A7781
Temperance poster promoting the prohibition of alcohol. Published by the Dominion Scientific Temperance Committee, 1912. Object #PR1974.0001.0400a.0001
Another temperance poster promoting the prohibition of alcohol. Published by the Dominion Scientific Temperance Committee, 1912. Object #PR1974.0001.0400a.0005

The photos above were collected from the Glenbow Archives and the Provincial Archives of Alberta. If you’re interested, additional information can be found for each photograph on the Glenbow website by searching the identification number that is printed on the photo. There is also the option to purchase a high resolution copy. If you search the object number that can be found in the photo captions, you will find additional information about the photographs on the Provincial Archives website. Stay tuned for additional posts featuring historical photos from across Alberta. We’d love to know what you think in the comment section below.

About Tyler Dixon 217 Articles
Tyler is originally from Saskatchewan, and yes he cheers for the Roughriders, but don’t hold that against him as Calgary has been his home for the past eight years. He is a teacher working at a wilderness- based treatment program for youth working to overcome addiction. Tyler is also a volunteer with the GOT Parks initiative, which aims at reconnecting Canada’s youth with our national, provincial, and territorial parks. During his time away from work, Tyler enjoys outdoor activities, such as hiking, biking, and snowboarding, team sports, travelling, photography, spending time with good friends, and being at home with his wife and German Shepherd, Rome.