Canuck Whiskey Pouring Into U.S.

Toronto Star Weekly/June 5, 1920

A man living in a small town in Iowa recently paid two hundred and fifty dollars a case for ten cases of Canadian whiskey. They were delivered by motortruck from Detroit. He has more ordered.

Canadian whiskey can be bought by the case from bootleggers in almost all of the Michigan border towns for one hundred and twenty dollars a case. Single quarts cost fifteen dollars. There is plenty of liquor and there are plenty of purchasers and the price seems to be no deterrent.

It is no wonder that the question that is most often asked of an American returning to the States from Canada is, “How long are they going to be able to ship grog out of Canada?”

There is both organized and unorganized rum-running across the border on an unbelievably large scale. Fortunes are being made by the bootleggers who have the liquor shipped to their carefully established residences at Windsor and nearby towns, and then run it across the river to the States. That short trip across the river is one of the most expensive in the world. A case of whiskey, which retails at forty-eight dollars in Windsor, is ferried over to the United States side in a skiff—but as soon as it touches the alien shore its minimum value is automatically one hundred and twenty dollars.

On the train from Toronto to Windsor, I talked with a man who was bringing twenty cases of whiskey to Windsor. He estimated that his profits on the liquor when it was deposited on the United States side would be fourteen hundred and fifty dollars.

“It’s a little risk,” he said. “We run it all at night in small boats. The revenue agents have motorboat patrols, but we keep out of their way pretty well.”

According to this bootlegger the recent story about the electrical torpedo which was said to be shot from Canada to the United States filled with liquor is a pipe dream of some overworked newspaperman. “It is either a straight newspaper fake or else the revenue men started this yarn,” declared this man, who ought to know. “There is so much booze coming into Detroit that the revenue gang have to have an alibi somewhere, so they may have framed the torpedo story.”

Another bootlegger in Detroit quizzed me about the length of time the importation of liquor between the provinces would be allowed.

“I’m afraid of that referendum. The farmers are liable to cut us off. But if we can have six months more of this, even if I get pinched a couple of times, I’ll be able to retire.”

All the rum-running is not confined to the cities. You hear tales of lonely shacks along the rocky north shore of Lake Superior, where hundreds of cases of whiskey are stored. You hear of the trapper who invested the savings of a lifetime in liquor that he plans to smuggle into the States this summer. You hear stories of mackinaw boats manned by Ojibway Indians from around the Garden Riverdistrict, which stop in at Upper Peninsula ports after dark and are gone in the morning.

You hear of cities like Grand Marais in Upper Michigan, which have been dead for twenty years, that are now coming back to a furtive, silent existence since the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment.

In the cities you see the evidences that there is a liquor traffic between Canada and the States. I saw a slack-lipped, white-faced kid being supported on either side by two scared-looking boys of his own age in an alley outside a theater in Detroit. His face was pasty and his eyes stared unseeingly. He was deathly sick, his arms hanging loosely.

“Where’d he get it?” I asked one of the scared kids.

“Blew in his week’s pay for a quart of Canuck bootlegged.” The two boys hauled him up the alley. “Come on, we got to get him out of here before the cops see him.”

If the people who talk about “good liquor” could see a kid drunk—but this isn’t a sermon. It is merely a few facts on the way liquor is coming into the United States from Canada.

It is coming in in large quantities in as widely divergent places as New York City and Minneapolis. The other day in New York a schooner from Halifax successfully smuggled in enough liquor to make the owner a fortune. Twenty-five dollars a quart is the price for the cheapest whiskey in New York.

There is a long unguarded frontier between Canada and the States and as long as liquor is allowed to be shipped to border provinces that are supposed to be dryit will find its way into the States. What interests the people of the States, both bootleggers and the people who voted the States dry, is how long is the liquor going to come in? They are watching for the result of Ontario’s referendum on prohibition.

(Source: Toronto Star: The Hemingway Papers,