My Town Monday - Samuel B Steele - Twenty Miles For A Drink
[Yoho National Park - Cathedral Peak with CPR locomotive above Kicking Horse River ca. 1920 - click to enlarge]
By the end of 1883, the Canadian Pacific Railway had reached the Rocky Mountains, just eight km (5 miles) east of Kicking Horse Pass.
In April 1884, Samuel Steele of the NWMP was assigned to maintain the law during the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway in British Columbia. Their jurisdiction was along the surveyed line of the railroad which consisted of an area 20 miles wide. This area was proclaimed on May 6, 1884 by the Parliament of the Dominion of Canada under the Preservation of Peace on Public Works Act. The Public Works Peace Preservation Act was amended on 2nd of June 1884 to the original ten miles on either side of the CPR railroad construction line to encompass one hundred and thirty miles.
In 1884 the sale of intoxicating liquor was prohibited. The only location where liquor could be sold was if there was a bar in a tent or cabin. Any person caught in the act of selling, were liable to a fine of $40.00 for the first and second offences; for the third they could be imprisoned. As the Public Works Peace Preservation Act covered a narrow strip of land, the CPR labourers (“navvies”) were able to leave that specified area at any time after they received their month’s wages to spend the entire amount if desired on a prolonged spree. This delayed the progress of the construction to the railroad line.
The Government of British Columbia determined they should not be deprived of internal revenue and issued licences to sell “spirituous and fermented liquors” within the land proclaimed under the Act. The NWMP were given the right to ensure that the building of the CPR would not be delayed. Steele enforced the laws to the limit, dealing with those under the influence in public places as to set an example to deter others. He recommended to the government to increase the width of the railroad belt to 40 miles and the NWMP’s powers to enable the magistrates to punish with imprisonment for the second offence of selling intoxicating liquor. The suggestions were approved and to good effect. The wholesale and retail stores on the edge of the 20 mile area had to move, and the “navvies” found the distance too long to walk for a drinking spree.
When I prepared this post it came as a surprise that the Preservation of Peace on Public Works Act was the first one passed in Parliament for the Dominion of Canada in 1884. In the previous MTM post about the protests during the G20 Summit in Toronto I had been only aware of the Public Works Protection Act of 1939 with current amendments.