Remembering the moral challenges of 1918

The biggest debate involved Prohibition

After a miserable start, the year 1918 increasingly became a year of hope.

The great German spring offensive on the Western Front, which initially had attained significant success, began to falter and then fall apart.

One of the challenges for the German forces was that they had been unable to forward supplies fast enough to keep up with the rapidly advancing troops.

Of even greater significance was the fact that the German army was exhausted by the brutal and bloody losses suffered since the start of the First World War in August 1914.

Meanwhile, the Allies were bolstered by fresh troops from the United States which had finally entered the War in 1917. As the spring progressed, the Allies launched a major counter-attack.

The depleted German forces were unable to stem the assault. Their lines began to collapse across the Western Front.

Back in Canada, there was a growing optimism that the Great War might finally be coming to an end.

However, as the news from the War started getting better, the community became embroiled in some serious debates on moral issues.

The biggest debate involved Prohibition.

The sale of alcohol became illegal in Alberta on July 1st, 1916.

However, as time went on, it became increasingly obvious that stopping the sale and consumption of alcohol was a lot more difficult that just passing the Prohibition law. People found all kinds of loopholes in the legislation. Others increasingly ignored the law by illegally making and selling ‘bootleg’ liquor.

The law was strengthened and loopholes closed.

People became concerned that pool halls might become one place where the illegal sale and consumption of liquor might take place. Hence, the Alberta Government brought in new, and very strict regulations.

While the danger of pool rooms becoming illegal bar rooms passed, people paid increasing attention to the other ‘problems’ with such establishments. In particular, people felt that pool halls remained places where gambling took place, where profanity and ‘rough language’ were frequent, and where impressionable young boys under 17 years of age might slip in and thereby become corrupted.

Hence, in June 1918, a public meeting was held at the Gaetz Memorial Methodist Church to discuss pool rooms and other issues of morality, particularly as they applied to the young in the community.

Many people felt that the best way to head-off any such problems was to create clean and healthy attractions for children and young adults, such as a public recreation centre.

Others felt that the best approach was to ban pool rooms in the community altogether.

As the debate heated up, so did the strength of public allegations being made. One letter to the editor stated that boys, the day after they turn 17, can legally go into a pool hall, “And use the filthiest language and express it in a modern and scientific way that will take the breath away from the most seasoned in the place.”

Soon, allegations were being made about other places of recreation and entertainment. Criticisms were made about the ‘immorality’ of some of the movies that were being shown at the local Lyric movie theatre.

Consequently, City council made a formal request to the Chief of Police to ensure that all laws, particularly on the operations of pool halls and the prohibition of alcohol, were being strictly enforced.

The Police Chief reported back that he found all of the billiard parlours had been fully following the law.

He also reminded City council that local crime had dropped to almost insignificant levels. He noted that only two people had been held in the City cells in all of 1917.

Most police activity was devoted to dealing with by-law infractions, traffic enforcement and health code violations.

Red Deer remained a very clean and safe community in which to live.

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