Lethbridge's role in bootlegging during Prohibition subject of new book

By Geoff Smith (@GeoffSmithLNN on Twitter) with files from Lara Fominoff (@LaraFominoff on Twitter)
November 2, 2018 - 11:20am

LETHBRIDGE – When Prohibition was introduced in 1916 as a result of a plebiscite one year earlier, Lethbridge went against the grain, so to speak.

It was the only city in the province to vote against Prohibition, though the vote was close. Ultimately, some members of the community played a role in illegally making and distributing liquor during the Prohibition years of 1916 to 1924 in Alberta.

That’s the subject of local historian Belinda Crowson’s new book, Squirrel Whiskey, Mr. R and Prohibition in Southern Alberta. It spans from before to just after the Prohibition period.

“For various reasons, we stood out as the one place in Alberta that said, you know what, Prohibition isn’t going to work. And we were essentially proven correct,” Crowson said in an interview. She said a couple of reasons stand out for Lethbridge voters to have opposed going dry.

“The brewery was one of our largest industries, so we had a lot of money tied up in it,” she explained. “We’re also very close to the Montana border, the British Columbia border, and many people remembered trying to stop whisky trading in the 1800s. So, they had those memories and how hard it had been for the mounted police.”

A major opponent of Prohibition was the Moderation League of Alberta. Crowson said it received a good deal of funding and support from Lethbridge, and one of the people to serve as its president was C.F.P. Conybeare, known as Lethbridge’s first lawyer.

This is Crowson’s sixth book, after penning volumes about such topics as the sugar industry, strange local stories, and a history book for kids. She said bringing the story together involves a lot of time.

“With this, I went through a lot of the community history books. And thank heavens for those families who actually were honest and wrote about, like, Grandpa was a bootlegger. And then I had some place to start,” she said.

“A lot of time in the newspapers, looking at who was arrested, what crimes and things like that. Through the archives in the Glenbow and the Galt and through personal discussions with people, there’s just this big detective work that you just keep collecting and collecting until you have a story.”

The book will be officially launched at an event at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 3 at Theoretically Brewing, 1263 – 2 Ave. S. It will be available at a number of locations in Lethbridge and surrounding area afterward.

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