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Plebiscite required to convert North River to a wet community

North River is one of the few remaining areas in Colchester County that remains as a dry community.
North River is one of the few remaining areas in Colchester County that remains as a dry community. - SaltWire Network

TRURO, N.S. – Although the prohibition on alcohol in Nova Scotia was lifted in 1930, there are still 105 areas still defined as “dry” communities under provincial legislation.

And while people are allowed to consume alcohol in these so-called “dry” communities, alcohol products cannot be legally manufactured or retailed in bottle form until a plebiscite has been held to convert the area to a wet community.

“There are two types of wet/dry plebiscites in Nova Scotia,” said Marla MacInnis, spokeswoman for the province’s Alcohol, Gaming, Fuel and Tobacco (AGFT) division.

For instance, the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission (NSLC) is required to hold a plebiscite in a dry area if it wants to open a store or issue one of its licences to a satellite location. The AGFT, a division of Service Nova Scotia, requires a plebiscite if it is asked to issue a liquor licence to retail or produce alcohol in a community designated as dry.

Nova Scotia is the only remaining area in Canada where such plebiscites are required to change what many would argue is outdated provincial legislation.

That, despite the fact that over the past 20 years, every plebiscite held in the province has been in favour of converting to a wet community, including Kemptown and Masstown where plebiscites were held in 2007, when Masstown Market and Scotts Bakery became satellite NSLC operations.

In the Masstown case, only 23 people participated in the plebiscite, which passed by a landslide margin of 21-2.

The cost of recent plebiscites has run between $10,000 and $15,000, which is paid by either the NSLC or the AGFT, depending on which category the vote is held under.

North River is one of the few remaining areas in Colchester County that remains as a dry community. But residents there will be asked in coming months if they are in favour of taking the plunge to become a wet community because of a company that is planning to produce craft spirits.

Raging Crow Distillery Inc. hopes to produce rum, gin, rye, vodka and other flavoured spirits if the plebiscite comes out in its favour.

In situations where a liquor license is required for an eating establishment – such as with the recently closed River Run Golf Course – plebiscites are not required because permission is granted under a Special Premises Licence with club-type conditions. In those cases, only public consultation is required.

The North River Fire Hall also doesn’t require a plebiscite because its permission to sell alcohol is based on Special Occasion Licenses, which are one-day permits for special events. Public consultation is not required.

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