Tag Archives: Canada

A sobering anniversary: Prohibition in British Columbia, 1917-1921



  • 1.the action of forbidding something, especially by law
  • 2.the prevention by law of the manufacture and sale of alcohol, especially in the US between 1920 and 1933.
October 2017 marks a sobering anniversary. Prohibition in British Columbia came into force October 1, 1917 after a controversial referendum that had arisen largely as a result of the Temperance movement and the pressures of wartime. The September 1916 vote was close, 41,904 voted for prohibition, and 36,102 voted against. But the No side actually won – the votes of many of the beer thirsty soldiers serving overseas did not arrive in time. Once these had been counted it showed a final count of 42,736 for Prohibition and 43,558 against. In an affront to democracy (and good whisky!), Prohibition was enacted anyway. Initially, it was more of an inconvenience; people stockpiled booze prior to the ban and others got round it by ordering alcohol in from outside of the province.
another prohibition ad
A Pither & Leiser ad from the Victoria Colonist in 1917 encouraging people to purchase ‘high quality’ supplies from ‘one of the largest and choicest stocks’
Liquid prescriptions and rum runners
Prohibition really began to bite in March 1918 when the Federal Government banned the inter-provincial trade of liquor into any province under prohibition. But even this did not stem the flow of booze completely. Many physicians and pharmacists became wealthy writing prescriptions for medicinal alcohol for their ‘ill’ patients and these tended to be whiskies of the smoky, peated Islay variety! In 1919 alone, 181,000 prescriptions for alcohol were issued to treat any acute cases of sobriety. Ironically, a similar approach to a prohibited substance is in evidence today with the ubiquitous medicinal marijuana dispensaries dotted around BC.
Sailors, rum runners and bootleggers also played their part. The five-masted Malahat schooner was B.C.’s most notorious rum-running ship between 1920 and 1933. She was known as “the Queen of Rum Row” in her day. She was essentially a floating warehouse based off the Pacific Coast. Smaller, faster ‘mosquito’ vessels would buzz back and forth to re-stock. The Malahat is said to have delivered more contraband liquor than any other ship.
The Malahat Schooner in all her rum running glory
Prohibition in British Columbia effectively ended in British Columbia in 1921 with the introduction of liquor control legislation and government liquor stores. To this day BC remains one of the most regulated liquor markets in the world. Good luck trying to buy a bottle of whisky from your local supermarket. However, due to the insatiable appetite of the pioneering, saloon loving BC population, prohibition was always doomed to failure!
Some fun Prohibition propaganda!

Victoria Distillers – A new life in Canada

A warm welcome to Sidney BC, complete with totem pole

Two and a half years ago I left the banking industry for the last time not knowing where the distilling journey would lead. All I knew was that being part of the whisky industry is something that I would enjoy every day. I had no idea that I would end up 5,000 miles away in a little place called Sidney. The number plates on local cars proclaim ‘Beautiful British Columbia’ – and they are not wrong. The  west coast of Canada is blessed with gorgeous islands, stunning coastline and an abundance of incredible wildlife. Victoria Distillers (formerly Victoria Spirits) moved from their forested location in central Saanich to the seafront in Sidney earlier this year. The new owner has grand ambitions to grow the brand in Canada and the US. With such an interesting proposition and wonderful location I jumped at the chance to join the distilling team.

Victoria Distillers production area

Craigdarroch whisky may not be familiar to you yet, but one day I hope my contribution will bring it international recognition as a malt reflecting the character of Vancouver Island. A small batch was released a couple of years ago and sold out almost immediately. The delectable whisky has a lovely banana note. With a new seaside location I hope maturation will bring further coastal complexity to the whisky.

The distillery has a stunning waterfront location

The new role is a great opportunity to be creative in other areas too. The existing products include Victoria Gin, Oaken Gin, Hemp Vodka, Eau de Vie and a selection of Bitters. This week we have also begun production of a chocolate liqueur and trials of a spiced rum. With all these different spirits the head bar tender has done a great job of putting together a cocktail list to suit all palates for customers in the distillery lounge.

Laid back Sidney

The lifestyle is very laid back, which suits me perfectly. I live a a simple life with hardly any possessions. I have no car and no bike, my sole mode of transport is my skateboard. I have no TV and no bills to pay as everything is included in my minimal rent. The team at work are great, fun and friendly. I have a free gym pass at work (which I sometimes use), but most of my free time is spent socializing in the local bars or exploring my new surroundings. All in all, life is good in Beautiful British Columbia!

Having fun at the distillery with random bloke behind me working on still