By Devonna Edwards, Columnist
The Temperance Movement brought about prohibition. Temperance members wanted to bring about the total abolishment of the “Evil Alcohol”. They believed that drinking alcoholic beverages caused most of society’s bad behaviour. Both Canada and the United States individually declared war on the rum runners during the 1920s, but the “Demon Rum” won the battle in the end.
For years Nova Scotia was the centre for liquor traffic; Halifax, Lunenburg and Yarmouth were the three large ports in mainland Nova Scotia during the rum running era. The liquor came to these ports and left there by boat, sea plane, automobile, truck, horse and wagon, or by rail, where it was shipped as cargoes of fish or lumber. In 1925 large cargoes of contraband liquor landed at the Northwest Arm and the Bedford Basin, where rum runner headquarters were established.
Rum running was extremely dangerous work both on the sea and the land. The runners had to be creative to outrun the coast guard cutters, the police, and the hijackers, sometimes while being peppered with bullets.
One famous rum runner schooner called “IM ALONE” was built for a Boston man, who was serving time in jail at the time. He named his boat “IM ALONE” because after breaking away from a rum running gang, he wanted people to know that he was working alone.
The Schooner was subsequently sold in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, in September 1928 to Jamie Clark who was representing two New York bootleggers. Thomas Randall, a Newfoundlander, was hired to be the captain. In March 1929 when, at the end of a rum running trip to Louisiana, the schooner was chased by the cutter “Walcott” and Captain Randall was ordered to stop, which he ignored. Randall continued to head for the Mexican coast. Another cutter called the “Dexter” was now chasing the rum runner and when Randall continued to disobey orders to stop, the “Dexter” opened fire on the schooner. Randall still refused to stop, so the cutter continued to fire into the ship, breaking windows and blowing the engines to pieces. Surprisingly none of the crew was injured, but the ship was flooding and domed to sink. The captain and crew jumped overboard and were picked up by the cutter, while the schooner “IM ALONE” sank below the waves. One crew member of the schooner, named Leon Mainguy drowned when the ship sank. The captain and crew were taken to the Custom House at New Orleans where they were imprisoned, but later released.
In September 1926, authorities raided a place in Tantallon, and confiscated a large quantity of smuggled liquor hidden by the rum runners. They moved the liquor to Smith’s barn in Glenhaven and two Customs Officers by the name of John O’Neil and John Flemming were left to guard the booze, until the Royal Canadian Mounted Police could pick up the cargo the next morning. Shortly after midnight, “Wild Archie” McLellan, a Glace Bay boxer, and his gang of fifteen rum runners decided to regain their confiscated liquor. The Customs Officers were hopelessly outnumbered. The rum runners opened fire on the barn, keeping open a barrage for upwards of half an hour. The Customs Officers had only one gun and were powerless to meet the attack. Finally, the Customs men were forced to seek shelter under the hay when the door to the barn was broken open by one of the raiders. At least fourteen kegs of rum were taken by the gang. It took some time before the city was notified and the Mounties arrived to help, but by that time “Wild Archie” and his gang of rum runners, along with their booze were not to be found, even after an extensive search of the area. Miraculously no one was injured or killed during the gun battle. Not long after the brazen attack at Smith’s barn, the smugglers goods were once again seized by the Mounties near the property of the Dauphinee family in Glen Haven. The liquor was then brought into the city of Halifax late at night in motor transports and was placed in the Customs House on George Street.
Fairview had their own bootlegger establishments through the years, at the top and near the bottom of Main Avenue. My brother John (Nonnie) O’Brien told me a story of a police raid that happened in the late 1950s near the bottom of Main Avenue. Nonnie and his friends were watching the incident, while sitting on the grass across the street from the raid. The police were tipped off that a recent liquor delivery had been made. The authorities searched the property extensively for the cargo, but nothing was found. They finally left empty handed. The bootleggers had an ingenious hiding spot, “the booze was hidden under a false floor in the outhouse.”
Nova Scotia voted against prohibition on October 31, 1929, and The Liquor Control Act in 1930 brought an end to prohibition, but the rum running years continued well after World War 11, although liquor smuggling was not as frequent. The first liquor stores in Nova Scotia were opened on August 18, 1930, with three in Halifax and one in Dartmouth. The Seahorse Tavern was the first tavern in Halifax to be licensed and opened in 1948.