"The Drug problem" in Western Canada, 1900-1920
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AbstractWhile studies of early twentieth century Western Canadian social history have concentrated upon the impact of prostitution and prohibition on society, the equally prevalent social vice of opium usage has largely been ignored. Although such neglect would appear to be warranted, a closer examination of the source material reveals that the problem was indeed profound. Drugs in general, and opium in particular, formed the basis for two royal commissions, debates in both federal houses, and discussions at women's meetings and church gatherings. These sources, coupled with a multitude of articles in the popular magazines of the day and the first intensive study of drug abuse compiled in 1922 by Judge Emily Murphy, a leading Western Canadian suffragette, indicate that the problem formed an intregal part of Western Canadian society. In the triangular concept of vice which characterized the thoughts of early twentieth century reformers, opium abuse formed the tip of a pyramid that had as its two foundations, alcohol and prostitution. As reformers came to demand an end to deviance in moral behaviour, success was dependent upon a legislation of morality on all three fronts. This three-pronged assault against social vice was the crucial element in a growing reform movement which crystallized under the guise of Progressivism and the Social Gospel. As the campaign for moral reform rapidly swept the country, the reformers were not content to confine their fervour within national boundaries. In joining forces with other opium plagued nations, Canada participated in a worldwide campaign to eliminate the non-medical use of opium and related addictives. This crusade was a united effort by several countries to maintain their white, anglo-saxon, protestant virtues in the wake of increased social vice. In the latter decades of the nineteenth century, the fear of the immigrant was primarily founded on an economic basis. By the mid 1920's, however, the social and moral implications of unrestricted immigration were of much importance to zealous reformers. As the awareness of drug usage increased, Canadians no longer perceived the consequences of smoking opium as solely attributable to the addicted Chinese worker. The Chinese were portrayed as cunning dope-pedlars, who, through the introduction of opium, were consciously bringing about the demise of the white race. Such an attack however, merely redirected the campaign in order to obtain greater public support. It becomes evident that as a new field in Western Canadian social history, the problem of opium abuse must be explored if a greater understanding of the reform mentality is to be obtained. To discuss social history in terms of prohibition and prostitution is to ignore the broad impact of drugs on early Western Canadian society.
Bibliography: p. 157-168.