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Rum-runners — Manitoba tourists accused of smuggling booze
Oct 02, 2014

by Bruce Cherney (part 5)
Poised on the car’s running board, the constable was about to jump aboard another car containing two men intent upon evading capture. Both the police car and the rum-runners’ auto swerved wildly on the icy road, making the constable’s anticipated leap significantly more death-defying than the normally less-risky methods used to take law-breakers into custody.  
On November 25, 1927, the Winnipeg Tribune reported that a high-speed chase on the “treacherous icy roadbed of McDonald highway (the road to Lac du Bonnet), six miles east of Winnipeg” resulted in the capture of two men for “alleged violation of the Manitoba Temperance Act ...
“After failing to stop as requested to shouted demands of the officers (Camer, Beeman and Crombey of the morality squad), the alleged rum-runners were brought to a halt when Constable Camer leaped from the running board of his own car to that of the two men as both machines swayed side by side travelling at a terrible speed.” 
The”terrible speed” was reported to have sometimes reached 55 mph during the chase, and while it was occurring, the occupant of the passenger seat was engaged in tossing out and breaking liquor bottles as his partner drove.  
Besides the odd high-speed chase reminiscent of Hollywood gangster movies about the prohibition era, another offshoot of the illegal liquor trade between Manitoba and the U.S. was called a “return cargo” sale of retail goods. After delivering their cargo in the U.S., Manitoba liquor smugglers would pick up retail products at cheap prices on the American side of the border near Manitoba points of entry into Canada.  
The practice caused Winnipeg and border-region merchants, who were suffering financially, to lobby Canadian Customs to step up their prevention of “cross-border shopping” for goods that  hadn’t been subjected to customs duties. 
“Apparently the business is highly organized ...,” according to a January 14, 1924, Tribune article entitled, Smugglers Busy Trading Liquor for Fine Attire. “While a little of everything is brought in, the investigations by the (customs) department here, indicate that particular attention is paid to silks, satins and wearing apparel which are offered for sale at prices below the actual cost to the local trade. They cannot compete with it ...
“Many of the operatives are women, and among the demands being made by the trade are the appointment of more women inspectors. The staff of women is being reinforced at many points while instructions have gone out for a closer watch all along the border. It is said that the operatives alternate between various points of entry and most of them utilize high-power motor cars.”
Following a trip to Winnipeg, where he investigated “conditions under which liquor was sold,” federal prohibition director A. Stone of North Dakota, reported to Washington that restrictions on sales were “very tight” and, “despite reports to the contrary, little liquor was coming across into the United States” (Tribune, November 30, 1923).
But he also admitted that as long Manitoba was lawfully selling $12,000 worth of hard liquor a day, “a little is bound to leak across the border.
“Of course,” wrote Stone in his report, “a ‘rum-runner’ from the States might have assistants in Manitoba who buy the liquor for him, but they can only buy a case a day, and if they buy the limit for any length of time the police are going to become suspicious.
“By the time the ‘runner’ has paid his agents and gets his cargo across the border his price must necessarily be beyond most people and he does not find the business very profitable.”
Actually, Stone’s comments were contrary to what was reported in the Edmonton Bulletin 20 days earlier.
“There is every indication that whiskey runners are busy on the border line and that quantities of whisky are being sold in the Twin Cities,” said S.H. Quale, the Minnesota state prohibition director. “We have been watching the border situation since Manitoba went wet and we are now convinced that liquor running has been renewed.”
Quale asked Washington to send more prohibition officers and customs agents to protect the border from rum-runners.
In attempting to stop the flow of liquor into Manitoba, the U.S. government assigned 40 special revenue officials to patrol along the U.S. side of the border from Lake of the Woods to Vancouver. The revenue officers supplemented U.S. immigration officials at all ports of entry to control tourists entering the U.S. from Canada.
“It is claimed ‘booze’ is taken over the line by alleged tourists, and drugs brought back,” according to a May 28, 1925 report in the Empress Express.
No tourist from Canada could enter the U.S. without an identity card issued by American immigration officials in Canada.
The Manitoba Automobile Association, which sponsored excursions to the States, arranged that its membership received identity cards.
No one without such a card was allowed to enter the U.S. In fact, 50 cars were turned back to Manitoba within a period of two days when attempting to cross the border without proper identification.
(Next week: part 6)