Abstract: Getting Pinned: The Canadian Brewing Industry's Weak-Kneed Response to Prohibition, 1900-1930

Matthew Bellamy


At the dawn of the twentieth century, prohibition became part of a broader impulse in Canadian life to regulate business and enhance public power over private capital. It has long been the position of historians that prohibition was destined to become a factor in Canadian life during the early twentieth century. As a result, historians of Canadian business have been preoccupied with how the nation's brewers overcame the challenges of the prohibition era. The existing historiography is without exception complimentary of the efforts of Canadian brewers and their ability to survive during this "difficult" period and to "make the most of their opportunities." Contrary to the established position, this paper argues that the unwillingness and inability of the brewing industry to organize itself and lobby effectively, as well as its failure to reach out to other anti-prohibitionists in society (e.g., labor), were as much a factor in the onset and continuation of the prohibition of beer as the actions of prohibitionists. Had the brewers been better organized, less parochial, more proactive and defensive and far more strategic in thought and action, they might well have had beer exempt from prohibitionist legislation. In the end, theirs was an extremely weak-kneed response.