Residents of small Alberta town reject alcohol sales in plebiscite

A ban on alcohol sales that has been in place since Alberta first became a province will remain in effect after residents voted overwhelmingly against the proposal in a plebiscite in the town of Cardston on Monday.

CARDSTON — A ban on alcohol sales that has been in place since Alberta first became a province will remain in effect after residents voted overwhelmingly against the proposal in a plebiscite in the town of Cardston on Monday.

The predominantly Mormon town, 240 kilometres south of Calgary, has been dry for the past 109 years. It was founded in 1887 by Mormon settlers.

The religion prohibits drinking coffee, tea and alcohol, and believes Sundays are holy and should be about reflection.

But local business owners, concerned they were losing business to other communities that allow the sale of alcohol, pushed for the non-binding plebiscite that would have limited the sale of booze to restaurants with a meal or at the local golf course or recreational facility.

Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of the town’s 3,500 residents, who are 80 per cent Mormon, rejected the proposal. The final results were 1,089 voting no and 347 in favour of the move.

“I am not surprised because at the end once the people have had the chance to really consider the outcome of the prohibition law, it’s very difficult to have a middle ground,” said Cardston Mayor Maggie Kronen.

“At this point I would say this puts it to rest. I think perhaps you would have to have a new generation of people before that happens again.”

Throughout the day, a steady stream of residents made their way into the Cardston Civic Centre, located just a few blocks from the Cardston Temple. The gleaming granite monolith, built over 100 years ago on four hectares of land, is visible from almost everywhere in Cardston.

But the sale of alcohol didn’t seem to be a religious issue for some of those voting.

Ernest Watts, an Australian who moved to Cardston more than 50 years ago, was worried the town would lose part of what made the community special if alcohol was allowed to be sold.

“At my age, I like Cardston the way that it is and that’s the reason I’ve stayed here for 55 years,” said Watts, who is Mormon.

“If it passes there will be major changes in the town and the changes that would be coming if it did pass would be much like everywhere else. We just love Cardston for what it stands for.”

Watts said some of the business people would prefer it because of the extra money it would bring in. He was reasonably confident the proposal would fail.

“I’d be worse than shocked if it passed. I think I’d get on the booze,” Watts said with a chuckle.

But Marilyn Williams, who is also a member of the Mormon church, said she didn’t see what the big deal was all about.

“I agree that the restaurants and the golf course should be able to because they lose thousands of dollars every month,” Williams said.

“So I’m for alcohol in the restaurants but not to be sold in liquor stores on the streets. I don’t drink and make my choice. I don’t shop on Sunday either but the stores are open.”

Kronen said in the end, the Mormon beliefs at least played a role in the decision.

“It is really difficult to determine what motivated people one way or the other but I’m sure their faith and their values has something to do with it.”

Currently the two nearest communities where alcohol can be obtained are Fort Macleod to the north and Lethbridge to the northeast.

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