Iqaluit's beer and wine store opens today

For the first time in more than 40 years, people in Iqaluit are officially able to buy bottles of beer and wine in town.

Residents voted in favour of store in a referendum, but opposition to alcohol sales persists

Nunavut Finance Minister Keith Peterson made the first purchase at the store on Wednesday as more customers lined up behind him. (Sara Frizzell/CBC)

For the first time in more than 40 years, people in Iqaluit are legally able to buy beer and wine to take home. 

Nunavut's Finance Minister Keith Peterson officially opened the city's beer and wine store at noon today in the city's liquor warehouse, which served as a liquor store until it was shut down in the 1970s.

For some of the store's first customers, including Iqaluit's Ragee Adla, it's about more than accessibility.

The store is in a new extension to the city's liquor warehouse, which served as a liquor store until it was shut down in 1976. (Sara Frizzell/CBC )

"When we go down south we can buy alcohol all the time," he says. "We're all Canadians, you know. We got to be treated equally. Like, as a Canadian citizen."

The opening comes more than two years after Iqaluit residents voted overwhelmingly in favour of the store in a referendum.

The votes came despite strong public opposition by many, including member of the Nunavut Legislature Paul Okalik, who resigned as justice minister over the issue, saying he "could not just sit there and accept" cabinet's decision to open the store while the territory has no alcohol treatment centre.

The three-year pilot project is part of a government-led strategy to reduce the harm of alcohol consumption in the territory by making lower-alcoholic beverages more accessible.

That was one of the recommendations made by a task force struck in 2010 to review the territory's Liquor Act. Its 2012 report, Halting the Harm, also noted a persistent opposition to making any alcohol available in the North, with some people suggesting a territory-wide ban on alcohol.

Others argued such a ban would simply fuel the trade in bootlegged alcohol, another scourge the beer and wine store is meant to disrupt.

Iqaluit's beer and wine store opened its doors for the first time Wednesday. The opening came more than two years after Iqaluit residents voted overwhelmingly in favour of the store in a referendum. (Nick Murray/CBC)

Nunavut's assistant deputy minister of finance, Dan Carlson, says beer and wine are not at the heart of the North's bootlegging problem.

"We know that when people do bootleg, it's not the beer and wine," says Carlson. "It's the hard alcohol." In Nunavut, a 60-ounce bottle of vodka can sell for more than $200.

"If someone's choosing to bootleg in a serious way, we don't think it's going to be … a merlot or a pinot grigio."

The store opening comes just days after The Snack restaurant began serving beer and wine during lunch and dinner. As of last Friday, customers there can order a maximum of three drinks with food. Customers younger than 16 now need to be accompanied by someone of age during the hours when liquor is being served in the restaurant.

A menu displays the selection of beer at Iqaluit's new store. The three-year pilot project is an effort to reduce the harm of alcohol consumption in Nunavut by making lower-alcohol beverages more accessible. (Nick Murray/CBC)

A new microbrewery, Nunavut's first, is expected to open in the capital later this year. It will sell beer directly to the Nunavut Liquor Commission and possibly export some outside of Nunavut.

Customers at the new beer and wine store need to be at least 19 and will have to set up an account in order to use the store. The store will be open Tuesday to Saturday, from noon to 7 p.m. ET.

There is a daily purchase limit per customer of twelve bottles of beer and two bottles of wine. The store stocks nearly 70 wines and 23 types of beer, with wines ranging from $14 to $22 a bottle and beer ranging from $2.50 to $4.50 a can. 

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly said a new microbrewery is on track to open next year. In fact, its owners are aiming to open it this year.
    Sep 06, 2017 9:53 AM CT