Digging through the archives: Edmonton’s liquor history

Digging through the archives: Edmonton’s liquor history

A couple weeks ago I holed up in Edmonton’s municipal archives to see what I could dig up on the city’s booze history. It culminated in this week’s Vue Weekly cover: an annotated timeline of newspaper headlines of local liquor history, spanning the last several decades.

And it’s a pretty great read! As I was flipping through pages and pages of newspaper clippings, I kept shaking my head at some of the ridiculous things I was reading. To say that our city has had a dysfunctional relationship with liquor is putting it lightly; we’ve gone from declaring Prohibition for the better part of a decade – kicked off by a parade of thousands down a nascent Jasper Avenue – to segregated drinking for 30 years (i.e. men and women couldn’t drink together in the same room) to a fully privatized liquor industry, the only one of its kind in the whole country.

Also? The casual and flagrant sexism in these articles would be hilarious if it wasn’t, you know, casual and flagrant sexism. Holy shit am I happy to live in the 21st century.

I didn’t get to do a full version of the story because it was simply too damn long – the published version is well over 2000 words but I could have tripled that easily. I didn’t even delve into the last 20 years of history under Alberta’s privatized liquor industry as there simply wasn’t enough room, so the story jumps from declaring privatization in 1993 to an article from a couple years ago analyzing that policy’s effects. I’m planning a follow-up article on the past 20-ish years of booze headlines at some point in the future, whenever I can spend some more time digging up additional resources. I didn’t even go to the provincial archives, so there may very well be another goldmine awaiting me there.

Until then, enjoy the following photos from the archives and then go read that cover story.

Edmonton's Prohibition parade down Jasper Ave on July 1915. The Pride Parade is so much better.
Edmonton’s Prohibition parade down Jasper Ave in July 1915. A century later we had a Pride Parade down Whyte Ave and it was so much better.
This was a bar in Edmonton circa 1950-something. Note the palm trees along the top of the bar, which are sadly not a great distraction from the line of eight super creepy barmen staring you down as you enter. “I’ll have a gin and…you know what? Fuck it, you creepy bastards.”
An Edmonton bar in the late 1960s, after the ALCB repealed the mixed drinking legislation. See? Look how much fun the girls and boys have when they're drinking together. Also, I think my grandma had that same table.
An Edmonton bar in the late 1960s, after the government repealed the mixed drinking legislation. It also seems to have captured a pretty awkward moment in which, judging by her facial expression, the lady wearing fur is about to spend two hours staring down her ex-fiancée while her bitchy younger sister and douchey brother-in-law look on with thinly-veiled mirth. Meanwhile, her older sister Susan is just happy to have been invited anywhere. “Oh for fuck sakes, who the fuck invited Cliff? That’s it, you are all dead to me.” Also, I think my grandma had this same dining set.


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