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Early Northern Alberta Prohibition

It was illegal in parts of northern Alberta to possess intoxicating liquor without a permit long before the November 1923 Alberta prohibition plebiscite. I am still trying to solve the riddle of why northern Alberta was dry, but have learned a few things since I published the story "The JP That Got Away" in the October issue of my magazine.

The northern Alberta prohibition came up in this article as the Justice of the Peace, William Mortimer Gardiner, issued a lot of fines for having intoxicating liquor in a prohibited district. He was the Justice of the Peace for Mirror Landing, which is near modern day Smith.

I spoke to Sara, the lady who created the prohibition exhibit at the Provincial Archives of Alberta. I learned that the Canadian Temperance Act (Sc. 1878, c. 16), also called the Scott Act, allowed for a county or city to make prohibition legal by putting together a petition signed by at least 25% of electors in district. I am still unclear if this was the case for northern Alberta, but it is a clue.

In the case of Gardiners fines, the Northwest Territories Act was referenced as the governing law, and I am still trying to find the exact reference point, which seems to be a bit elusive in the research avenues I have tried so far.

The confusion I feel today on the borders of the prohibited area, is a repeat performance from 1900, based on the following portion of the article, titled Athabasca Landing, which was printed on September 14, 1900 in the Edmonton Bulletin. The author is James Cornwall, also known as Peace River Jim. (I added paragraphs for readability)

"One of the privileges, at least a privilege sanctioned by the different N.W.M.P. Constables stationed here at different times has been taken away by the decision of Mr. L. Wood, J.P., against a freighter for importing into Athabasca Landing in the district of Alberta liquor proven at the trial to be for personal use. The defence raised is that it is customary and has been ever since liquor was allowed anywhere in Alberta to bring in or have brought in to Athabasca Landing, liquor for personal use.

Testimony was given at the trial by prominent men and members of the church, that it was customary to do so. They had received no notification from the police. They had consulted the different police stationed here at different times and were told that the prohibition line was six miles down the Athabasca River and eight miles up. The latest ordinance being produced and looked into and a map produced it was found the line is a few miles south of here, but just where no person seems to know as there is no notice posted. However, it left the J.P. no option in the matter. He imposed the usual fine and recommended an appeal. The case will be taken to a higher court and threshed out.

In the meantime freighters and all parties not previously knowing, had better avoid bringing any liquor to Athabasca Landing without a permit. The police have been requested by the people here to post a notice on the trail somewhere near the line warning the general public. As yet no action has been taken in the matter by them. The officer in charge gives his reason that if the general public is ignorant of the law and as to where the line is it is the fault of the licence commissioner.

In the meantime the freighters can make up their minds that upon their arrival here a search of their loads is in order and by men who will look your loads over carefully and nail you to the ordinance of 1898 for $50 or more, which will throw them back a trifle in their financing on fall purchases."

It didnt seem even the police of the time were sure of where the line was. I'll keep looking.

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