One of Alberta’s Last Dry Communities Could Soon See Alcohol Spills

About a half-hour drive from Lethbridge, Alberta is the town of Raymond, a community known for the accomplishments of its high school sports teams, religious traditions, and the location of the nation’s first stampede rodeo.

On a cool spring evening, locals flock to the Raymond Senior Center located just off the town’s quiet Main Street. The crowd came to debate an issue long settled in other parts of the country: should restaurants in the city be allowed to serve alcohol.

Following an address from the city council, there are warnings about the dangers of absorption; we worry about young people. Some say it’s not much — it’s the 21st century, after all. Others, like Chonita Sims, don’t want any part of a town that serves alcohol to its residents.

“I feel like if we’re going to open this door, we can never close it again.”

What is clear is that the discussion goes beyond whether or not to serve alcohol; it goes to the very identity of the city in southern Alberta.

The town of Raymond has approximately 4,200 inhabitants. (Jennifer Dorozio/CBC)

Raymond, a close-knit farming community about 250 kilometers southeast of Calgary, has been dry since its founding in 1903. These days you can drink in town. You simply cannot buy alcohol there.

The public engagement session between the city council and townspeople last week was the second of its kind in recent weeks.

This isn’t the first time the alcohol debate has popped up in the city’s history, but it may be the first time it’s brought about change.

When Alberta’s prohibition ended in 1924, some municipalities voted to maintain the ban on liquor stores and other licensed establishments. This included the area around Raymond.

Kiddle, who is the president of the Raymond and District Historic Society, stands next to the likeness of several of the area’s settlers at the Raymond Pioneer Museum. (Jennifer Dorozio/CBC)

Now, that ban could end in the city due to a combination of provincial rule changes and an appetite from a few local restaurants to start serving alcohol.

The city says it would only consider Class A liquor licenses, which means a restaurant where minors are allowed.

The city council wants to hear from the people of Raymond before voting on whether to change their land use by-law to allow a licensed restaurant.

Why the ban is blocked

Raymond’s long-standing dry status has been rooted in three things: lingering prohibition laws in the area, restrictions attached to land titles in the city, and deeply held beliefs in the community.

After Prohibition ended across the province a century ago, municipalities were allowed to weigh in on the issue through what were called local option votes.

“It was up to the local areas to decide for themselves whether they wanted to seek local option voting,” said Sarah Hamill, an assistant law professor at Trinity College Dublin, who has studied Alberta’s prohibition laws. .

Depending on the result of the vote, a community would remain dry or not. Raymond opted to stay dry under prohibition until June 2020. That’s when the last of those old prohibition laws were scrapped by the provincial government under an omnibus bill.

“Raymond is no longer a prohibited community, it’s just an unlicensed community,” said Kurtis Pratt, the city’s administrative manager.

The nearby towns of Cardston and Magrath are also gradually making changes to allow alcohol to be served. The village of Stirling, northeast of Raymond, still refrains from selling alcohol.

A man named Jesse Knight

Even though the blanket ban on serving liquor and liquor stores has been removed, other restrictions, older than Alberta’s ban, remain.

When the town of Raymond was established, a wealthy silver miner named Jesse Knight donated much of the land that now makes up the town, said Richard Kiddle, president of the Raymond and District Historical Society.

“[He] was encouraged by the church to come and share its resources and settle in the area here,” Kiddle said.

Indeed, religion is an important part of history.

A copy of the Land Titles Act of 1894 and a photo of Jesse Knight, a major benefactor to the town of Raymond, in the Raymond Pioneer Museum. (Jennifer Dorozio/CBC)

The people who built the town of Raymond were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said Kiddle, a church member himself.

He says abstaining from alcohol was part of Raymond’s “code of conduct”.

“It was something they … wanted to carry on for their families, the same tradition, and I hope their children and their families would refrain as well,” he said.

Knight built the sugar beet factory in the area, and over time his holding company acquired thousands of acres of land in the area. When he finally left land to the city, he attached covenants.

Wording varies, but an example from 1894 said that “no building, tent, or erection…shall at any time be used or occupied as a place where intoxicating liquors are sold, bartered, or bartered, whether by license or otherwise” .

These alliances still exist on most of Raymond’s lands. The town hall plans not to remove them. They say it would be a long and expensive process.

Rather, they would only consider liquor license applications on lands that are not under this protection.

“It’s not a dry city”

Now Raymond is at a crossroads.

Gillian Eaves attended last week’s public engagement session on liquor licensing. She grew up in Raymond and now lives in Stirling. His business, Cowboy Bistro, is one of the local establishments intending to apply for a liquor license.

She said she didn’t want the town to have a liquor store or bar, but wanted restaurants to be able to serve alcohol, adding “we just want inclusiveness.”

Eaves says people get excited about the city’s heritage and “dry status”, but in fact people will continue to get engrossed.

“It’s not a dry city. I grew up here,” she laughed.

Chonita Sims, left, opposes the idea of ​​allowing restaurants to serve alcohol in town. Town Hall Kelly Jensen says Raymond is more than just his stance on alcohol. (Jennifer Dorozio/CBC)

Sheva Whitehead, who has lived in Raymond for two decades, said at the same town hall that she loves her town but wants to see it grow beyond its dry identity.

“Raymond is a really great city, but we kind of have this bubble mentality,” she said.

On the other hand, Chonita Sims doesn’t want to see alcohol sold here. In fact, it’s one of the reasons she moved to Raymond decades ago.

“It’s been our culture, our heritage, and I really don’t want to lose that. It’s a point of attraction for people in our community,” she said.

Com. Kelly Jensen, who has lived in town for nearly four decades, says it’s a controversial issue in town because it’s tied to people’s personal values ​​and their personal experiences with alcohol.

For her, Raymond’s appeal lies not in his booze-free stance but in his community strength. It’s a place, she says, where people feel safe as their children play, walk and walk to school.

“I think the biggest thing is the fear of the unknown, the fear of change.”

CBC Calgary has launched a bureau in Lethbridge to help tell your southern Alberta stories with journalist Jennifer Dorozio. Story ideas and advice can be sent to [email protected]