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BC Celebrates 100th Anniversary of Repeal of Prohibition

Next week is the 100th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition in British Columbia. The last day of Prohibition in BC was June 14th 1921. The next day, June 15 1921, the \”government control\” system for liquor distribution and sales began with the opening of the first government liquor store (now \”BC Liquor Stores\”). Prohibition had only lasted in this province for 3 years and was repealed after a referendum which asked citizens to choose between maintaining prohibition or the implementation of a government control system. The government control option won handily: the vote was 92,095 to 55,448. The only areas of the province that voted in favour of prohibition were Chilliwack and Richmond. Both Vancouver and Victoria voted in favour of government control by margins of two to one.


The government then set up a system of control which was initially very strict. Early government liquor stores did not have windows (see photo above) and all product was kept behind counters. In order to purchase product, customers had to buy an annual or one-time permit … and logs were kept of how much liquor was purchased by individual customers. One legal expert at the time warned that the switch to government control would create problems because a system that \”swell(ed) the profits of the government monopoly\” would lack \”any moral or popular psychological backing\”. Nevertheless, that is what the people had chosen and government control went ahead, becoming a significant source of government revenue from that point onward. Eventually, and over the decades, the constraints were relaxed but the legacy of the system lives on today. There is still monopoly control over the wholesale distribution of liquor in BC. A significant portion of retail sales is still made through government stores … and government collects large amounts of revenue from the liquor business. Indeed, it was only last year that government permitted hotels/bars/restaurants to buy alcohol at wholesale prices – almost a hundred years later. 

Of course, efforts continue to \”modernize\” the liquor system and to remove lingering aspects of the control system. Nevertheless, in the mean time, BC\’s citizens can \”celebrate\” the anniversary next week … by opening a nice bottle. Cheers!

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