Early Alberta hospitality came with strict rules

This week's Reflections looks at growth and welcoming at the turn of the 19th century.

Out west of Ponoka in the 1930-40s the Battle River UN Distillery Ltd. likely supplied countless customers with a soothing but potent sample from this very big jug of Muskeg Creek Moon Shine.

Out west of Ponoka in the 1930-40s the Battle River UN Distillery Ltd. likely supplied countless customers with a soothing but potent sample from this very big jug of Muskeg Creek Moon Shine.

At the turn into the 19th century, this area of Central Alberta joined the province in an exciting period of great growth and progression as new pioneer families and individuals moved into the thriving urban communities and rural districts in great numbers to establish their new homes, farms, and businesses. In the keen spirit of hard work and dedication in the face of all challenges and through the best and the worst of times in this rugged era, these hardy souls always looked forward to special occasions, usually on the weekends, when they could celebrate and share their successes together and look forward to planning for the future.

A toast to all that is good

These early hospitality and fun events would include ball tournaments, picnics, rodeos, dances and countless other community events, both in Ponoka and out in the pristine countryside, all of which were attended by hundreds of fine folks and families of all ages and nationalities. These gala get-togethers featured day long events, lots of homemade goodies and a midnight lunch following the dances. Along Chipman Avenue in the rapidly growing Village of Ponoka, both the palatial Leland and Royal Hotels were built in 1900-1901 to serve local and visiting patrons with accommodations, dining and congenial taverns, and free tie-up at the street side hitching rails, while playing host to three-day poker games and other year-round grand celebrations that were taking place in and around the robust new Town of Ponoka. During the same period, the Temperance Hotel was built just west of the Leland and operated in all its finest and luxury, but no alcohol until it burnt down in 1932; but other family social amenities added included the Capital and Empress Theatres, the Elks Hall, the Kangaroo weekend cruise boat outings at Gull Lake and many others.

In 1905, the province allowed the sale of liquor only at licensed hotels during operating hours from 1 p.m. until 10 p.m., but already popping up on the scene were other sources of supply at illegal trading posts in areas where the North West Mounted Police had little presence, as well as from the countless bootleggers, rum-runners, and ‘stills in the hills.’ Sales and distribution of beverage alcohol had been conducted privately under licence until 1916, when during the height of the Prohibition movement, the Liberal government called a plebiscite in which Albertans voted in favour of the Liquor Act, which banned the sale of alcohol in the province until 1923. As was the case in North America, Prohibition proved to be an utter farce in Alberta, and the Liquor Act was replaced by the Liquor Control Act and the creation of the Alberta Liquor Control Board in 1924, which would go on to maintain a very tight control over the Albertan Liquor Industry for the next seven decades. Meanwhile, the populations continued to grow at a rapid pace and always loved to socialize and vent their hospitality, and here are some of the strict rules they had to follow until the government began loosening up on the restrictions in the 1950s and 60s.

*Tavern patrons, who had to be 21 and over were not allowed to stand up with drinks in their hand and no entertainment was allowed in the taverns, although some delightful unscheduled performances did occur. Woman were allowed to drink alongside their male counterparts at first, but these mixed drinking activities were later blamed for riotous behavior and in 1928, the ALCB ordered special rooms for ‘ladies and escorts’, which stayed in place until 1967. The drinking age was dropped to 18 in 1971.

*In the 1930s, the ALCB hired armed officers to enforce the Liquor Control Act, but these duties were assumed by the RCMP in 1932. Beer off-sales were permitted from hotels in 1934, but sales of wine and liquor remained tightly controlled and could only be purchased at a designated ALCB stores by only patrons who were in possession of an Individual Permit to Purchase Liquor, which cost 50 cents. There was a bunch of lines on the back of the permit where all liquor purchases had to be listed by the holder, as well as a strict notification that stated it was illegal to open or consume liquor in a public place or carry unsealed liquor, to lend your permit to another party or to be in possession of liquor which was not purchased by permit.

Ponoka’s first Alberta Government Liquor Store opened in 1954 across the street from the present ATB, followed by a new outlet which was constructed just west of the Town Hall in 1961, and then complete privatization of Alberta liquor retailing in 1992 saw many new stores open in all areas. There is no doubt that the hospitality industry has changed a great deal over the years, but the keen and friendly tradition of gathering together to share refreshments and cheer with family, neighbours, friends, team, club and community will always remain, with hopes that everyone will always show sincere respect for the well-being and safety of others by never mixing drinking and driving.