Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Hidden Hooch: Alcohol Smuggling

Dominion Brewery Invoice, Toronto, 1896.

Dominion's Club Ale, ca. 1900.
As Craig Heron's engaging history Booze (2003) explains, drink has a long history in British North America. While the story of alchohol prohibition in Canada is mainly focused on the 1920s, temperance crusaders have been active since the early nineteenth century.  By the 1870s, control over alcohol cut a major federal-provincial divide.  The Scott Act of 1878 allowed for municipalities to hold a plebiscite over the issue, and some localities became dry.  This did not stop the Dominion Brewery of Toronto, however, who sewed 4-5 dozen bottles into flour sacks for sale in "dry" districts.(Heron, 97)

Between 1919 and 1929, the sale of alcohol was prohibited by retailers and bars alike in Canada. The making of alcohol, however, could still provide a source of income.  One Alberta farmer was reputed to claim as the police were charging him, "Yes, I voted for prohibition, and I'd vote for it again.  I went broke farming."  (Heron, 240-242).  While making alcohol was still legal in Canada, the completely dry United States provided another potential market for rum-running (or perhaps rye-running) Canadians.

Pig Carcasses Stuffed with Whiskey. Glenbow Archives.
Methods of delivery were ingenious and varied.  Royal commissioners had learned of a whole host of methods which had sought to break the prohibition of liquor to the Northwest Territories in the late nineteenth century: "It was brought in secreted in packages of merchandise; in tins specially prepared and labelled "bibles"; as canned fruits, a single peach, perhaps, floating in alcohol valued at $5; in casks of sugar and rice; in packages of bottles, supposed to contain nothing but temperance drinks; in carloads of hogs or lumber, or as eggs."

Later in the 1920s, all conceivable products were again used to hide a shipment of booze.  Liquor was disguised with lumber, laths, and even packaged as Christmas trees.  Coffins were even used to try to hide liquid assets bound for the United States.  Talk about importing a stiff drink!

Heron, Craig. Booze : a distilled history. Toronto Ont.: Between the Lines, 2003. 

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