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It Was All About The Whiskey

Even here in Portage Lake Prairie, the name of the game was whiskey. Whiskey was the force that impelled the American fur traders into our Canadian West; and it was a liquid lorelei that lured the Indians to the trading posts and to their own destruction.

Whiskey kept the embers of the American annexation smoldering in the Rossin House bar on Main Street in the 1870s. It brought on to dispatch to the Northwest Mounted Police, to the Western Plains, to evict the American whiskey traders; whiskey fueled the engines of the political machines and corroded their steering mechanisms; whiskey oiled the escalators to political success and greased the skids to oblivion.

From Portage to Prairie to the Rockies, whiskey kept the prairies in ferment for 50 years. Other causes flared brightly for a decade or two and expired. The crusade against whiskey went on and on.

The Prohibitionist zealots that may have left their attentions wander occasionally to their belief in women’s suffrage, the eradication of prostitution, or, the adoption of the Single Tax, but in the end, they always came back to the anti whiskey crusade. Usually, trailing converts were picked up along the way from other movements. It was only natural that the religious Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterians who pioneered settlement of our west, and considered strong drink to be the ruin of mankind, never gave up the challenge to eradicate booze. Whiskey was to the fundamentalist Protestants, what pork was to the Muslims and the Jews, animal flesh was to Hindus, and coffee and tobacco to Mormons.

Not only was liquor an abomination to their religion, it was also a millstone grinding down their business interests, and in the rural areas, a threat to their physical existence. For sheer intensity of conviction and staying power over the long haul, no other prairie mass movement ever equalled the prohibition crusade.

Yet, the excitement and the political infighting that marked the long assault on the demon rum was hardly more boisterous than the uproar that developed after prohibition was enacted by law. Then as governments did their best to enforce the law, they were heckled continually, by the prohibitionists.

While the temperate spokesman was demanding more adequate enforcement, clutches of doctors, druggist, lawyers, judges, and freelance protectors of the public thirst, were conspiring to reduce law to an absurd, unenforceable state. Out of all this, they’re developed a bootlegging industry that kept the newspapers supplied with headlines and provided both the wets and the dries with speechifying ammunition, with which to bombard the current legislature.

Life, as its’ nature, has worked its magic on creating a prohibition era mythology out of polemic flotsam drifting in the back waters of our aging memories. It seems that we Western Canadians are convinced that prohibition either was foistered upon the country by Sir Robert Borden government during the First World War or was the result of granting voting rights to the women, while the men were off fighting in the First World War.

As a sidebar, there is the belief that an outraged and enlightened populace voted out prohibition at his first opportunity. The evident negative result was that Saskatchewan was turned into a rum running capital of the world, and as a result, law enforcement broke down an era of corruption, violence, drunkenness, and debauchery was ushered into our life.


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