Friday, January 22, 2016

Rum-running Hazards

Wednesday, we left off talking about crime in Vancouver in the 1920's. Another crime that was foremost on people's minds was prohibition. (Prohibition was in effect in Vancouver from 1917 to 1921) By the end of 1918, there was an enquiry held in the city and it produced some remarkable evidence even though many witnesses suffered a loss of memory for many important details.

The provincial liquor commissioner was committed to Oakalla for refusing to answer any questions at all. One prominent Vancouver businessman who was involved blew his brains out with a shot in a New York City hotel. Draymen and teamsters testified they delivered cases of "canned goods" and barrels of "oil" from liquor warehouses to scores of citizens - both notorious and respectable.

Freight cars of legitimately imported liquor were mysteriously spotted on lonely sidings before arriving at their destinations minus a half or two-thirds of their initial loads. There was particular interest in the delivery of 40 cases to a Shaughnessy address. This address was never exactly identified. The manager of the provincial "prescription store" declared that nobody, at any time, ever suggested he sell a pint without a proper medical prescription. Yup. He even said it with a straight face.

The chief of police stated his force was unable to cope with the problem of enforcing prohibition and it was little wonder. In December of 1920, the dry squad raided 108 bootleggers and 18 disorderly houses and collected $9750 in fines. The booze flowed free from Chinatown to the Fraser and from West Point Grey to Boundary. The Sikhs had pint bottles wrapped in their turbans and stood at the entrance to downtown alleys.

The police got a little relief with the inception of government sale of liquor, and of club licenses and beer parlours in 1921 but the bootlegger had already become an established civic institution and remained so.

Being a port city added to the problem. Not because of the provincial laws but due to those by the US. Coal Harbour became the rendezvous point of one of the finest assemblages of adventurers, pirates, skilled seamen, gangsters and murderers the eastern Pacific had ever seen.

"Mother ships" and prohibition blockade runners from Vancouver operated from the Gulf Islands to San Diego. Some of the liquor exporters, distillers and brewers in Vancouver made fortunes.

Not all the exports went by sea. Some liquor crossed the border from Blaine, Washington to Grand Forks, BC by car, pack-train and even mountain climbers. It sounds romantic and exciting, a game not a crime, but the disregard for the law that was nurtured by this 'game' culminated in one of the coast's most celebrated crimes in 1924.

Officials found the fish boat rum-runner Beryl G. adrift off the southern end of Vancouver Island. Captain W.J. Gillis and his son were both aboard, murdered and the cargo gone. Mount Police, Provincial Police and U.S. officials co-operated in a manhunt that eventually resulted in the hanging of the hijackers, Owen "Cannonball" Baker and Harry Sowash on January 14, 1926.

Thanks to the book Vancouver, From Milltown to Metropolis by Alan Morley for the above information.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Karen Magill

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