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'Dry' rural community discovers it's wet

STEINBACH, Man. - A dry community in southern Manitoba has discovered it's actually wet.

Staff with the Rural Municipality of Hanover discovered this week that a ban on alcohol sales, which has existed as long as anyone can remember, was never actually put into law. It's something residents, politicians and others have always just assumed was official.

"I didn't know any better," Reeve Stan Toews said Thursday.

Toews, 63, has lived in the area his whole life and said the municipality's dry status pre-dates him.

Like other communities in the area south of Winnipeg, where there is a large Mennonite population, Hanover has considered allowing booze sales in the past. Alcohol is readily available in stores and restaurants in some neighbouring communities. The city of Steinbach voted to end its dry status more than a decade ago. The Rural Municipality of Stanley followed three years later.

Hanover held a referendum on allowing liquor in 2006, but it was defeated by a narrow 30-vote margin.

City staff were preparing to hold another referendum this fall, to coincide with the Oct. 22 municipal election, when they discovered no Hanover council had ever passed a bylaw to officially ban booze.

"We weren't quite sure yet, so then we hired some municipal lawyers and they went through all the records and they could not come up with anything either," Toews said.

"We went back to 1880 and we could not find a bylaw that said Hanover is dry."

One restaurant owner in Hanover has already expressed interest in serving alcohol — it's what prompted plans for this fall's referendum. Toews said the owner can now simply apply for a provincial liquor licence like any other establishment.

To be fair, Hanover has not been completely booze-free. There is a small convenience store, with a provincial liquor outlet inside, on the southern edge of the sprawling municipality. Municipal officials have left it alone.

"It's been there since the early '70's and I've often asked, 'How did this come about?' but nobody seemed to have the history," Toews said.

— By Steve Lambert in Winnipeg

— Follow @stevelambertwpg on Twitter

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