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Today in the twenty-first century alcohol is used in many different

ways including self-medicine, relaxation, cooking, and even just having

a good time with your friends and family. But in the beginning of the

twentieth century, alcohol was seen as the evil that was corrupting the

youth and the source that turned the men in America into to mean,

ruthless people. During World War I however, alcohol was used as a

tool that would give the soldiers courage to fight the enemy, as well as

the strength to get though the hardships that they had to endure

during their time. Nonetheless, there was massive debate on whether

or not alcohol was a product that the United State should continue to

allow to be a controlled substance on the streets of their country. On

January 16, 1920, the Volstead Actalso known as the National

Prohibition Actwas implemented throughout the United States, even

though the making and selling of alcohol was the fifth leading industry

at the time. Now that America is a dry country, those who opposed

this Act had to find other ways to ensure that they still receive the

product thousands of people craved. The interwar period was a time

where everything in both Canada and America was culturally and

socially changing; and as the Prohibition era was becoming

increasingly stricter, the question remains in how the relationship

between Canada and United States citizens strengthened during this

In American society it was seen to be normal to have a drink with

every occasion: That could include dinners, baptisms, celebrations,

plus countless others. This was seen as a major problem that has been

brewing for a while, and higher authorities were worried about what

alcohol was doing to their society. When the

Volstead Act was introduced it outlined that no person shall, on or

after the date when the Constitution of the United States goes into

effect, manufacture, sell, barter, transport, import, export, deliver,

furnish or possess any intoxicating liquor except as authorized in this

act.1 However, there was a loophole in the act stating that in the case

for using alcohol for medicinal, sacramental, or industrial purposes,

and it can be used only by a doctor, dentist, or veterinarian and only

they could obtain a permit from the federal government, only if the

alcohol for use in treating patients.2 Meanwhile in Canada, in October

1920 just a few months after the American Volstead Act was passed

provinces including British Columbia, got together to decide whether or

not prohibition was right for them. What Canada did was abandon the

idea of prohibition, and instead implemented the Government Liquor

1 The Jazz Age (New York: Printed in the USA): 110.

2 Anne J. Funderburg, Bootleggers and Beer Barons of the Prohibition
Era (Jefferson: McFarland and Company Inc., Publishers, 2014): 12.
Act that outlined the regulation of liquor sales in government stores;

this came into effect in June 1921.3

With these laws introduced, it is safe to say that those

Americans who were not ready to take on this new dry sensibility, had

to start looking elsewhere to get what they want; and what they want

is booze, and Canada looked like their only option to get it.

Having thus rejected prohibition, many Canadians became rather

cynical of the moral experiment in the United States. Moreover,
the exportation of liquor to the United States had never been
prohibited, and it now promised to be more lucrative than ever.
Many Americans had no intention of letting legal technicalities
interfere with their social behaviour.4

So for the Americans to get the liquor they desired, they had to get it

through Canada because the Canadian liquor laws allowed for the

exportation of liquor out of Canada, that went straight into the United

States. So Americans and Canadians saw this as an opportunity to

gain what they wanted from one another. The difference between the

American liquor law and Canadian liquor law at this time, is that

Canadas is more lenient on exports. Similarities are that these laws

can be bent without the government knowing because the laws do not

3 Robert A. Campbell, Demon Rum or Easy Money: Government

Control of Liquor in British Columbia from Prohibition to Privatization
(Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1991): 1.
4 Richard N. Knottman, Volstead Violated: Prohibition as a Factor in
Canadian-American Relations, Canadian Historical Review, 43 (June
1962): 108.
outline that it is illegal to possess or consume alcohol.5 So when it

comes to Canadian-American relations in this period can be seen in

microcosm by concentrating on prohibition as a diplomatic problem.6

But the Americans had to take their secret stash somewhere, away

from the prying eyes of the law enforcement and the dry community.

Where did the wet Americans take their precious supply of alcohol?

Thus the emergence of the speakeasy as they are commonly known, as

is the place for the wets to get their good times rolling, and less risk of

arrest for violating the Volstead Act. Speakeasies had 100,00 plus

locations all over the United States. There were even a few in some

provinces in Canada because the Canadian law outlines that it is

still illegal to be drunk in public.7 As well the Canadian law stated that

all drinking must be done in private homes and the like, because

displaying any type of bar or saloon name was also illegal.8 These

secret establishments allowed Americans to come in, relax, and to be

themselves, but it came with a price.

Running a speakeasy could net its owner a lot of money. But it

took money to make moneyone New York proprietor put the
cost at $1,370 a month. Of this, $400 was graft to federal
Prohibition agents, the police department and the district

5 David J. Goldberg, Discontent America: The United States in the

1920s (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999): 56.
6 Knottman, Volstead, 106.
7 Warsh, Cheryl Krasnick, Drink the Canada (Montreal and Kingston:
McGill-Queens University Press, 1993): 24
8 Campbell, Demon Rum, 47.
attorneys. The cop on the beat got another $40 to turn his back
whenever beer was delivered.9

This allows the owners to jack up the prices of drinks because of how

expensive it is to keep the dirty law enforcement from raiding their

place. However, the money can also help with:

The alternative to making payoffs was to have an elaborateand

expensivesystem for concealing the evidence whenever there
was a raid. (For example) and Manhattans 21 club there were
four alarm buttons at various points in the vestibuleso that if a
raider prevented one of them from being pushed, the doorman
could read another). There were also five separate liquor caches,
reachable only through secret doors; complicated electric
switches opened the doors, and the switches were instantly
short-circuited whenever an alarm button was pressed.10

With the elaborateness of keeping the liquor safe, the owners and

workers of the underground society had to make sure that their

services and establishments were kept a secret as well. With drinking,

dancing, and underground gambling they had to be careful on who

they were letting in. Those who wanted to participate in the fun would

either have to know the secret route and password, or they would have


be connected to someone. And when they say you have to know

where to go it is meant literally because a speakeasy could in a

persons basement, apartment, or even in the back of a cigar shop.11

9 Jazz Age, 114

10 Jazz Age, 114.
11 The Speakeasy, film, directed by Fran Calderone and David Raiter
(A & E Television Networks, 2005).
For those who seek the secrecy and enjoyment of the speakeasies,

there had to be a way for the alcohol to continue to flow in these

establishments. There was oneillegal by a misdemeanor, not a

felonyway to have that happen.12 Bootlegging, also known as rum-

running, is describe in the dictionary as the alcoholic liquor unlawfully

made, sold, or transported, without registration or payment of taxes,

and something, as a recording, made, reproduced, or sold illegally or

without authorization.13 This aspect of the prohibition was the center

in regards to Canadian-American relations. As historians have studied

in this period, we do know that most of the alcohol sold in speakeasies

and other watering holes were brought into the United States from

Canada. As the prohibition was becoming increasingly harder for the

wet Americans, bootlegging became the vice that criminals and

ordinary citizens would turn to, too gain money, and access to the

most elite of speakeasies, as illegal liquor was becoming increasingly

difficult to find, and to buy.14 The profession of bootlegging was the

most important factor that strengthened Canadian-American relations,

and also was appealing for those on both sides of the border:

On January 31, 1920, only two weeks after the law had taken
effect, the director of the Customs Service, George W. Ashworth,
informed the Appropriations Committee of the House of

12 Joseph K. Willing, Profession of Bootlegging, Modern Criminal: Its

Prevention and Punishment, 125 (May 1926): 40.
13 Dictionary.com
14 Campbell, Demon Rum, 23.
Representatives that liquor smuggling into the United States has
begun . . . The principal source of supply was Canada: spirits
were brought into the United States by land, sea, and air. The
individuals who smuggled overland devised the most ingenious
means to escape detection. However, several factors made their
task somewhat easier than it might have been.15

In regards to how the liquor came into the United States from Canada,

there were many ways this could have been achieved, across their

adjoined border.

Access between Canada and the United States was relatively

easily through travelling by land, sea, and air as mentioned above; but

some of the creative techniques used to actually bring the liquor were

extremely entertaining. Besides the obvious ways of going between

countries (i.e. cars, plane, boat), once the officials became increasingly

suspicious of these usual ways, the unusual techniques bootlegging

developed almost always throw off the officials.

One result was the hip flask . . . People had also hid the stuff in
false books and coconut shells, in hot-water bottles strung from
their necks and hidden under their clothing, and in garden hose
wrapped around their waists, in prams with babies perched on
top and in carpenters aprons with big fat pockets. One man was
caught hustling over the International Bridge at Buffalo carrying
two boxes of eggs, every one of which had been drained and
refilled with liquor. Another tossed some life preservers from a
steamship to a friend waiting in a boat in New York Harbor.16

As mentioned before, officials working the Canadian-American border

were becoming increasingly suspicious of bootlegging at this time. The

same can also go

15 Knottman, Volstead, 109.

16 Jazz Age, 113

with the law enforcement agencies that do not receive the pay offs

through the speakeasies.

As residents of North America know, the border that separates us

is extremely vast. Most of the time bootleggers can just go right

through, even when they are carrying false tank of gas full of Canadian

Club whisky. Once prohibition came into effect, the American side had

to strengthen their numbers of enforcement, but this made the

Canadian side feel as though their independent identity was being

over took.17 However, those working the border knew that they had to

work together. This noble experiment was suppose to bring peace to

the United States, but at border crossings like Niagara Falls, it was

anything but peaceful: Not only is there a road at the Falls and other

crossings the officials had to worry about, but it also included the river

crossing and airports.18 Some law men would even go as far as to

dress up like a married couple to go undercover to raid the

speakeasies.19 For the thirsty Americans however, bootlegging from

Canada was seen not only as their only option to get alcohol, but they

also saw Canada as a sanctuary from the restrictive shackles of

17 William H. Siener, A Barricade of Ships, Guns, Airplanes and Men:

Arming the Niagara Border, 1920-1930, The American Review of
Canadian Studies, 4 (2008): 1.
18 Siener, Barricade, 1.
19 Jazz Age, 119.
Volstead, essentially using the northern country as a vacation spot

where Americans can sit around and enjoy an alcoholic drink with little

to no hassle.20 Nevertheless, bootlegging was becoming increasingly

difficult for those

involved in the enterprise was becoming violent, disturbing the peace

at an increased rate.

The prohibition-era gave opportunity for both America and Canada for

economically gain through the illegal business of bootlegging. But the

question is who is involved in such a thing? By now in the twenty-first

century most of North America has heard of the main persons that

were considered professional bootleggers like American Al Capone and

Canadian Rocco Perri; but there were more people involved in this

business then the public thought. The 1920 prohibition-era was seen

as the birth of organized crime all over North America, and within

hours of the Volstead Act going into effect, the bootlegging war had

begun.21 It was not only the bootleggers who were willing to break the

law that was prohibition, but everyday law-abiding citizens also went

20 Stephen Timothy Moore, Bootlegging and the Borderlands: Canada,

America, and Prohibition-Era Northwest, (Ph diss, College of William
and Mary, 2000): 65-69.
21 Craig Gingold, Bootleg Wars (cover story), Cobblestone, 8
(October 1993): 1
against the law. In a book entitled Bootleggers and Beer Barons of the

Prohibition Era, states that:

The traditional rigid line between an honest citizen and a criminal

became very fuzzy in the United States . . . Disrespect of the law
reached heights unheard of in American history. Hordes of
citizens broke the dry law every day without feeling the slightest
prick of guilt. Veteran criminals embraced liquor trafficking as
the fast track to easy money. Throngs of Americans who
regarded Prohibition as a joke or an injustice became enmeshed
in crime for the first time. The ranks of the novice liquor
traffickers included a vast number of women and children . . . 22

Another book entitled Discontented America: The United States in the

1920s states that:

Young, middle-class urban residents who patronized speakeasies

took special delight in defying a law . . . Many historians believe
that because of the elimination of the saloon, the working class
drank less during the 1920s but the middle class, including many
women, imbibed more. Indeed, illicit drinking became
fashionable in a decade when many people rejected Victorian
notions of propriety and began to enjoy new forms of leisure and

As mentioned earlier, everyday citizens that were involved, especially

women, would be those who were more creative with how they would

transport the liquor across the Canada-United States border, like

garden hoses, false books and the like. They would use women more

often because they were seen as the innocent victims that the Volstead

Act was put in place for, so the officials working the border would not

22 Funderberg, Bootleggers and Beer Barons, 31.

23 Goldberg, Discontented, 56.
suspect them in any way, shape, or form. Little did they know that the

women wanted the liquor almost as much as the men. But none

people who were most important factor in the bootlegging relationship

between Canada and the United States, then the criminals that were

the underground society of prohibition.

Gangs of criminal enterprises have existed throughout the world for

years; it was not until the 1920s where organized crime took a huge

step forward in America. As the North American border was becoming

even harder to police, the export of liquor coming into the United

States was also starting to increase due to the supply and demand of

the product; because of this, bootleggers were forced to jump the

border almost daily.24 Organized crime enterprises were more

connected through the major cities all over the United States. They

were the prohibition


underground and had control of an enormous empire of breweries,

distilleries, warehouses, fleets of trucks and fast boats, and tens of

thousands of speakeasies.25 Bootlegging was a huge operation, which

allowed these groups to have been able to successfullyfor a while at

leastexport liquor from Canada, more or less, without any hassle

from the enforcement agencies. But who were these men? As

mentioned before Al Capone was one of the prohibitions most

24 Funderberg, Bootleggers and Beer Barons, 50.

25 Gingold, Bootleg Wars, 1.
notorious gangsters, but it was not a one-man operation. These

organizations discovered that once the Volstead Act was put in place,

they were presented with an opportunity of a major financial gain

through bootlegging liquor across the Canadian border. In doing this

they were able to give the public what they needed. Not only was it

the alcohol that they needed, but the gangsters also provided the

speakeasies and other illegal watering holes.26 Many other famous

bootleggers like George Remus, Johnny Torrio, and Canadas Rocco

Perri were very sneaky when it came to exporting goods, but

sometimes their operations can get extremely violent, and bloody.

Most of the time these events happen along the Canadian-American

border. More often then none, the violence would be directed towards

rival gangsters, especially during the bloodiest two-year battle that left

at least a dozen of them dead towards the end of the prohibition.27

One famous example comes from Al Capone himself, when he ordered

his men to eliminate some rival gang members in 1929, and steal their

stock that is known as the St. Valentines Day Massacre. These

gangsters were the


saviors to the American citizens. Keeping their whistles wet instead of

letting them go dry, opening places for them to do their drinking in

26 Funderberg, Bootleggers and Beer Barons, 33.

27 Gingold, Bootleg Wars, 1.
secret, and creating a relationship with their neighbor to the north that

benefitted both countries, underground.

One of the most well known Canadian-America prohibition myth that

has to this day made the public believe that the connection between

gangster Al Capone and his men, and the Silver Springs Breweryaka

the Sleeman Brewery. Today, the Sleeman Company plays up this

event in their commercials, contests, marketing campaigns, and

what have you. However, evidence that would prove this connection is

virtually not existent. Further research has proving to be unsuccessful

no matter where one goes looking for it. If this was a true event,

wouldnt the Sleeman company have it attached to their family history

that they have posted to

their website? Unfortunately no evidence was recovered.

Nevertheless, in a newspaper article entitled Sleemans Capone

Connection: Brewerys history

includes tales of bootlegging, legendary gangster, outlines also that

there is no evidence that this had ever happened, but instead citizens

could have gotten Capone confused with Canadas version of him

Rocco Perri; who also happens to have a striking resemblance to

Capone.28 An easy mistake yes, and a great myth that unites Canada

and America on a cultural level.

28 Eric Volmers, Sleemans Capone Connection; Brewerys History

includes Tales of Bootlegging, Legendary Gangster, The Record, sec.
B, February 2005: 1.
When prohibition ended on December 5, 1933, it was to be believed

that organized crime would cease, because theythe government

were taken away


their biggest payday of bootlegging. However, a few years earlier on

October 29, 1929, the government had an even bigger crisis to deal

with that was effecting the worlds economy, and liquor was no longer

the number one concern. The relationship between America and

Canada was put through a major test with the creation of the Volstead

Act, thus changing the relationship forever. Through bootlegging did

these two countries find a common ground and interest when it came

to serious business. Canada was the answer to the demands of alcohol

that the Americans wanted, and Canada was happy to take their

money for it. Although Canada and America have had their

differences, it was through the Volstead Act and bootlegging that

brought these two countries together.